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By Amy Eskind

There is nothing quite like a lazy kayak run down the Cumberland River, putting in at a bucolic park launch, maybe spotting a blue heron, beaver, goose or purple martin along the way, and ending up an hour later giving a royal wave to visitors while passing under the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge in downtown Nashville. You’ll get a spectacular view of Nissan Stadium, the refurbished Bridge Building, the Ghost Ballet riverside sculpture, the “Batman Building,” the Hard Rock Café, and the bustling urban center. In fact, a local weekly paper voted “sitting in a kayak in the Cumberland River” the Best View of the City.

The Cumberland is a working river with large barges and other wake-creating vessels. After a big storm expect debris and trash, but on most days the water is generally smooth, a tranquil retreat from the city. Access points at Peeler Park, Shelby Bottoms, and the east bank of Riverfront Park are easy to find, and full boat ramps at Clees’ Ferry and Tail Water Access Area at Old Hickory Dam may also be used. Mill Creek, a tributary, also has three access points, at Blue Hole Road near the intersection of Una Antioch Pike, the Mill Creek Greenway at Harding Road, and Old Glenrose and Thompson Lane East.

Visitors to the city without their own gear are in luck. Two companies sprang up last year after Metro Parks opened downtown access. Both supply and haul kayaks, paddles, lifejackets, maps and dry bags, and offer shuttles so kayakers can park a car at the endpoint. River Queen Voyage runs a three-mile self-guided tour from Shelby Park to Riverfront Park ($29 single, $59 tandem) every Wednesday to Sunday. A guide will accompany the trip for an additional $30 for the group. If earlier time slots fill up for the day, an afternoon or early evening ride may be added, but all kayakers have to land by dark. Cumberland Kayak Urban Adventure Company offers the same tour on weekend mornings, as well as a Friday night float at 5:30 ($25 single, $50 tandem), a perfect way to ease into a frenetic Music City weekend. If requested in advance, a guide will accompany the trip. More paddling trips may be added soon. Paddlers can go to the web sites to check schedules and to reserve a kayak.

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Later in the summer, Cumberland Kayak will also offer kayak rentals for a three-hour self-guided tour beginning and ending at Riverfront Park. From here, experienced paddlers can haul it upstream to feel the draft from Demonbreun’s Cave while passing the national landmark where one of the first Nashville settlers lived while trading fur in 1779. Another attraction is Mill Creek, a quiet tributary that is home to the endangered Nashville crayfish. The tour ends with an easy float back to downtown ($35 per person). Check the web site for special events, such as the costume-encouraged Halloween paddle.

Cumberland Kayak is also partnering with Cumberland River Compact, a non-profit aiming to protect biodiversity. While out on the river, kayakers can contribute sightings to the wildlife count.

One word of caution. While Music City Triathalon participants do the swimming leg of their race in the Cumberland River, and everyone agrees the water is cleaner than it used to be, many locals are wary about diving in.

— Check out more TRAVEL ideas, paddling destinations and trip reports on CanoeKayak.com