Old Forest Class II Natural-Scientific State Natural Area

OldForest_Apr 2 2013_AJT

The 125-acre Old Forest State Natural Area (locally known as “The Old Forest”) is part of the 342-acre Overton Park in Memphis, Shelby County. The natural area protects an important remnant of an old growth ecosystem that has largely vanished from west Tennessee. By the late 1800s, much of the vast virgin forest that once covered the Chickasaw Bluffs had been cleared for timber and farmland. In 1901, a 342-acre tract of land known as “Lea’s Woods” was purchased by the City of Memphis, from Overton & Ella Lea of Nashville, to be transformed into Overton Park. When Overton Park was created, in the first few years of the 20th century, it contained 200 acres of old growth forest that was widely recognized as a civic treasure.

The natural area canopy is largely dominated by tulip poplar, eleven oak species and five hickory species. Other common trees include white ash, green ash, black cherry, sassafras, sweetgum, hop hornbeam, American hornbeam, sugar maple, red maple, box elder, redbud, sugarberry, American elm, slippery elm, three dogwood species, red buckeye, and pawpaw. Shrubs include spicebush, hazelnut, common hydrangea, and hearts-a-bursting. Herbaceous plants include prairie trillium, celandine poppy, wild ginger, white avens, cut-leaf toothwort, Solomon’s seal, black snakeroot, Jack-in-the-pulpit, inland sea oats, smooth yellow violet, woodland phlox, Virginia knotweed, tall bellflower, jewelweed, cut-leaf coneflower, Jacob’s ladder, and thirteen fern species.

The natural area contains a network of unpaved public trails and is circled by a 1.4-mile gravel path and more than 2 miles of paved roads that are closed to motorized traffic. This trail system is used by the general public for activities such as walking, birding, pet walking, photography, and nature study.

Site Management

The Overton Park Conservancy, 1914 Poplar Avenue #202, Memphis, TN 38104, phone (901) 214-5450. The City of Memphis, City Hall, 125 N. Main Street, Memphis, TN 38103, phone (901) 576-6000. Division of Natural Areas, Jackson Field Office, 1625 Hollywood Drive, Jackson TN 38305, phone (731) 512-1369, Division of Natural Areas, William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower, 312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue, 2nd Floor, Nashville TN 37243, phone (615) 532-0431.

Public Access

Open to the Public - Full Access

Overton Park allows day-use only. Visitors may park at any designated parking area, which are all located outside of the natural area boundary. Many of the park trails are handicapped accessible. Because the natural area is located within a City of Memphis park, all visitors are subject to the requirements of the City of Memphis Code of Ordinances, Park & Parkway Regulations, Section 12-84 et seq.

Parking: Yes
Trail: Yes
Dogs on Leash: Yes
Hunting: No
Fishing: No
Camping: No


From I-240 in downtown Memphis take exit 32 onto North Parkway east to State Hwy. 79 (East Parkway North). Go about 0.3-miles south on State Hwy. 79 to the parking lot for Overton Park on the right. Trailheads into the natural area can be found along the paved perimeter trail that surrounds the forest.

Details & Map

  • Map to Old Forest
  • Owned by the City of Memphis
  • Buckman 7.5-minute quadrangle
  • Coastal Plain Physiographic Province
  • Designated in 2011