From the splash fountain to the soap box derby, here are seven family-friendly activities in Cookeville.
When you get the chance to vacation and explore a new place with your kids, chances are you’re always on the lookout for memorable experiences to share together. In Cookeville, those types of experiences are around every corner. Whether you and your kids love playing outside or you prefer indoor fun and games, you’ll find a fantastic range of unique family-friendly activities that everyone will enjoy. Here are a few of the very best things to see and do when visiting Cookeville with young ones.
1. Dogwood Park
This beautiful, well-kept downtown park has quickly become a hub for residents and visiting families. Located between downtown Cookeville’s two main historic districts, Dogwood Park is within walking distance of many shops and restaurants. Plus, the park itself is home to many activities and events throughout the year. Many of these happenings are explicitly geared toward families with young children, such as weekly outdoor movie nights with fun films like “Finding Nemo,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” and others that both kids and parents can enjoy.
The part of the park that really speaks to kids, though, is the interactive splash fountain that runs during the warm months. Make sure to pack swimsuits and towels because your kids will want to play for hours in the streaming waterfall and the jets that spurt and bubble up from the ground.
Dogwood is also home to the Heart of the City Playground, the region’s only all-inclusive, fully-accessible playground. This 12,000-square-foot playground has play structures designed specifically to allow specially-abled children to join in on the fun.
2. Fall FunFest
Cookeville’s signature autumn event offers a little bit of everything that a family would want to find at a fall festival. For two days each September, the Fall Fun Fest takes over the historic downtown square and fills the streets with vendors, games, and all things autumn. Little kids will love meeting characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog, using their creativity at the WCTE/PBS’s Imagination Stations and, perhaps most of all, choosing which of the many, many bouncy houses to jump around in.
Adults will enjoy perusing crafts from local artisans, sampling fare from food trucks and vendors, and taking in live musical performances in the evenings. No matter your age, Fall FunFest will get you in the autumn spirit and keep you entertained all weekend long.
3. Red, White & Boom
Cookeville’s Red, White & Boom Celebration takes place each year near and on the 4th of July. This multi-day, freedom festival boasts patriotic parades, concerts, a 1,000-foot water slide through the middle of downtown, a firecracker flea market, food trucks, a watermelon eating contest, lawn games, and bouncy houses. At nightfall, there’s a fireworks show, and it’s been deemed one of the largest free fireworks shows in all of Tennessee.
If you have little ones who get nervous from loud fireworks, you can easily choose from several places around town that are close enough to see the action but a bit removed from the noise. To complete the experience, tune into one of several local radio stations that broadcast a soundtrack synchronized with the fireworks.
4. All-American Soap Box Derby
If you thought that soapbox races were a thing of the past, you might be surprised to learn that they are still alive and well all across the nation. The All-American Soap Box Derby was formed in Ohio in 1934, and kids have been competing in local and national races ever since.
These gravity races have been held in Cookeville each summer since 2002, and people ages 7 to 20 can build and race their own soapbox cars in different divisions. Soapbox racing is definitely a spectator sport; even if you don’t know any of the competitors, it’s a pretty special experience for kids to be able to watch and cheer on other kids in this truly unique event.
5. Cookeville Children’s Museum
For a day filled with fun and creativity, visit the Cookeville Children’s Museum, which is geared toward children ages 1 to 10. This community-minded nonprofit organization features imaginative play stations, interactive games, STEM-based activities, and more that are designed to challenge kids in engaging ways.
CCM offers a revolving schedule of daily events like unique arts and crafts projects, dress up days, rotating exhibits, and even Free Popcorn Wednesdays. The best part is that all of these special activities are included with admission, which is only $5 per visitor. Want to explore downtown, but your little one needs a nap or is too tired to walk far? Rent a little red wagon and pull your kiddo around downtown. If you find that you might like to have an adults-only day during your visit to Cookeville, CCM offers activity-packed day camps for kids, and you can pre-register for the camps over the phone.
6. Putnam County Fair
For nearly a century, the Putnam County Fair has been thrilling visitors of all ages with its vast range of agriculture-themed events, exhibits, and activities. The enormous 10-day fair includes everything from lassoing competitions and horse shows to live music and karaoke. Young children will love the petting zoo and “Farmer for the Day” exhibits, while older kids will thoroughly enjoy spectating at the junior rodeo and the greased pig catching contest. (That’s a real thing!)
Adults are invited to attend workshops on gardening, quilting, and other time-honored crafts. If you’ve never seen a tractor pull, a genuinely unique Southern pastime, the Putnam County Fair is the place to check that off your bucket list. (Tractor pulls are notoriously loud, so you might consider bringing earplugs for your kids.)
7. Cumberland County Playhouse
In the early 1960s, when Cookeville was a small rural town of only 5,000 people, a man named Paul Crabtree put together a unique performance of Pinocchio that starred more than 200 local children. The performance immediately sparked excitement in kids and adults county-wide, and they came together and built the Cumberland County Playhouse. The theatre became a hub of art, culture, and creativity in a region where those valuable resources were mostly missing.
Today, the Playhouse serves nearly 150,000 guests each year and is one of the largest rural theatres in the country. It presents plays, dances, and other creative performances that will delight, inspire, and educate anyone who visits. Though the schedule and the cast continually rotate, the variety of performances caters to all ages. For example, this year little ones will delight in “Junie B. Jones” adults will get a kick out of “Young Frankenstein,” and the whole family can agree on “Elf” during the holidays.
Written by Madison Eubanks for Matcha in partnership with Visit Cookeville.