Kayaks + Culture in McMinnville, TN
A list of some of the best places in town to eat, explore, and play
A GUIDE TO EXPLORING THE CUMBERLAND RIVER BASIN
Drive into McMinnville, TN on a summer day and you’ll be immediately struck by the abundance of greenery lining the city streets––maple trees dappling the sidewalks, flowers blooming alongside brick walkways. But there’s more to McMinnville than just excellent landscaping–it’s the easy warmth of the residents and the welcoming feel of the town that’s really remarkable. You can tell that the locals are proud of what their town has to offer. McMinnville is a little ways off the beaten path, but if you make the trip you’ll find a quintessential southern charm without the rush of tourists. Worth the drive indeed!
Vanilla Bean Baking Company
224 E Main St, McMinnville, TN 37110
Upon arrival, my coworker and I stopped for a coffee and cookie(s) at the highly rated Vanilla Bean Baking Company. The mother-daughter owned and operated bakery featured a wide variety of sweets and an extensive drink menu. We especially enjoyed the funfetti cookie but don’t take it from us––we recommend sampling them all! On a nice day, you can enjoy your coffee on the patio overlooking the farmer’s market.
Collins River BBQ and Cafe
117 E Main St, McMinnville, TN 37110
As employees of a river organization, it’s hard for us to pass up an opportunity to eat at a restaurant named after a body of water. The Collins River BBQ & Cafe did not disappoint. The restaurant started out as a food truck in 2009 and the current menu offers a mix of southern & barbecue classics. More in the mood for a drink? The Collins River BBQ & Cafe is also a hotspot for craft beer and they regularly feature local brews in their selection of bottled beer and 13 rotating taps.
Depot Bottom Country Store
215 Bridge St, McMinnville, TN 37110
The Depot Bottom Country Store is the type of place where they call customers by name. Located in an old railroad depot building that has passed hands several times but remains a local gem, the restaurant is accustomed to a line out the door during the lunch rush. The owner’s friendly demeanor, the sweet tea served around the clock, and the homestyle cooking are sure to make you feel like an instant part of the community.
Black History Museum of Warren County
203 W Main St, McMinnville, TN 37110
The Black History Museum of Warren County is a must-see ode to the forgotten history of the McMinnville area. Wayne Wolford Sr. is the director and curator of the museum. After living in St. Louis, MO and spending childhood summers with his grandmother in McMinnville, TN, Wolford was struck by the difference between living as a Black person in a big city vs. a small town. “I lived it,” he told us. The history of Black folks in McMinnville wasn’t really talked about and at times “it was like we didn’t exist.” Wolford wanted young people growing up in Warren County to know about its rich Black history–so he spent 17 years learning it. The result is a fantastic museum as well as a book authored by Wolford. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday from 12pm – 4pm and Saturday from 12pm – 2pm. Hour-long tours can be scheduled by contacting Wolford at 931-212-6609.
Warren County Farmers Market
100 Market St, McMinnville, TN 37110
From 7am – 1pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer and early fall months the Warren County Farmers’ Market can be found in downtown McMinnville on Market St. The market, run by the Warren County Agricultural Association, is a great place to buy fresh local produce and handmade goods. Rumor has it that Saturdays are the day to go!
Barren Fork River
Perhaps the biggest attraction in McMinnville is the Barren Fork River, a tributary of the Collins River that runs through the town. There is truly no better way to spend a hot Tennessee summer day than on the water. The most popular paddle trail on the Barren Fork starts at Pepper Branch Fork and ends at the old VFW bridge at Wild Bill’s BBQ and Grill, where you can grab a bite to eat after a long day on the water! The paddle is about 8 miles and takes 4-5.5 hours to complete. While you’re floating, peer through the ripples and see if you can spot the endangered Barrens topminnow, which is found in only a few waterways in Tennessee including Barren Fork.
If you don’t have your own boat or tube, or if you’re just looking for a shuttle service, Smooth Rapids Outfitters has you covered. Beginners and those under a time crunch can check out the shorter paddle routes they offer as well. Not to mention Smooth Rapids is a full service operation–they’ve also got a restaurant called The Grill and space for camping. They even have a few AirBnB options if glamping is more your style!
If you’ve got the paddling bug and want more options for where to put in your boat, check out any one of the 10 access points in the McMinnville area.
Barren Fork Greenway
120 Riverfront Park Street, McMinnville, TN 37110
If floating isn’t your speed or it’s too chilly to be on the water there are still great options for recreation in McMinnville. The Barren Fork Greenway is a 1.8 mile round-trip shady oasis that runs from Riverfront Park to Pepper Branch Park. Whether you choose to travel by foot or on two wheels, it’s a great way to get a taste of nature close to the downtown area. At Pepper Branch Park at one end of the Greenway there is also a nine hole disc golf course!
The Doodle Fish Studio
108 W Main St, McMinnville, TN 37110
If bad weather keeps you indoors, try exploring your artistic mind instead. Owned by a local art teacher, The Doodle Fish Studio is the perfect place to get creative! You can paint your own pottery, take a painting class, or even throw a painting party. Need to get inspired before you sit down with a paintbrush? Check out the storm drain art along Morford St. nearby!
If you’re in the area for longer and want to do more exploring, there is a lot that this part of Middle Tennessee has to offer! Rock Island State Park, located at the confluence of the Collins, Caney Fork, and Rocky Rivers, has some of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the state and is a great spot to camp. Nearby Cumberland Caverns is a whole different kind of adventure, especially if you happen to be there on a day they are hosting a concert. I mean, when else are you going to hear live music more than 300 ft underground?