Many people associate Memphis with the blues and Elvis Presley, and thousands flock to Graceland searching for a quintessential Memphis experience. I was looking for a different type of Memphis experience, however. While browsing hotels, I was quickly drawn to a place that married the South’s passion for the outdoors with a level of flashiness the King himself couldn’t have dreamed of.
The Big Cypress Lodge is located inside the Memphis Pyramid, the 10th tallest pyramid in the world. It was originally built as a sports arena in the 90s and then was abandoned in the 2000s before being brought back to life by Bass Pro Shops. The Pyramid is a Bass Pro megastore with an archery range, a nautical-themed aquarium and restaurant, a stage for live music, and more. Millions of people make a pilgrimage to the flagship shop to stock up on outdoor gear and partake in the available activities. Fewer stay at the on-site hotel, but more visitors to Memphis definitely should — whether they consider themselves outdoor sports enthusiasts or not.
Here are seven reasons why staying at the Big Cypress Lodge is the most fun way to spend your time in Memphis.
1. Shooting ranges, bowling, and more make for the most over-the-top playground
One look at the Fishbowl bowling alley online was enough to sell my booking at the Big Cypress Lodge. The Fishbowl over-delivers, with neon blue lights, neon blue drinks, aquatic décor, and bowling balls that shoot out of an octopus statue. What more do you need?
However, if you do need more, there’s also a carnival-style shooting game on the Bass Pro floor where you can compete against a friend to see who can hit the most cartoonish animatronics. There’s also a shooting range with real guns on the second floor of the Bass Pro Shops store, but I was happy to stick with the toy rifles that make very satisfying pew-pew sounds. It’s all very tacky in the best of ways, and if you lean into it, you’ll spend most of your time doubled over laughing at your terrible aim.
2. It takes glamping to a whole new level
Yes, the Big Cypress Lodge is unapologetically gauche, with its bright décor and live alligators crawling around. But make no mistake — this hotel delivers on luxury if you splurge on the best rooms (Big Cypress Lodge suites can run between $500 and $1,000 a night, and some of the fanciest don’t list the price online and are book-by-phone only). The hotel is a huge honeymoon destination and bucket list trip for the type of country fiend who is just as happy catfish noodling as they are getting a massage at the spa (the Pyramid has a lovely one on-site).
I stayed in the Treehouse, a sky-high luxe suite that sleeps six, with vaulted ceilings, a porch with rocking chairs, and enough antler décor to upstage Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston. It felt like glamping with a fire I didn’t have to build myself. There are also smaller lodges geared toward couples or small families, like the Duck Cabin styled after a vintage waterfowl hunting cabin or the Fly Fishing Lodge with a spiral staircase. The Governor’s Suite is the prime offering, with huge leather couches in the spacious sitting area, a gaming table, and a massive stone fireplace. Even if you don’t spring for the big suites, the standard rooms at the lodges are all decorated with cozy log cabin-inspired décor, and many include porches.
3. It’s like camping out for Black Friday without freezing on the sidewalk
Stepping onto the porch of the Treehouse suite with a cup of coffee in hand in the morning is a surreal experience. A canopy of Cypress trees and moss crawling up the roofs of your neighbors’ cabins makes it feel like the outdoors, yet there’s no daylight (you’re inside a pyramid, after all). You’re overlooking the bright lights of a city-like megastore that’s slowly coming alive. There’s an omnipresent smell of caramel, toasty nuts, and popcorn that encourages you to get out of your comfy PJs and venture below to the on-site fudge stand. Or just stay in those pajamas while having fudge for breakfast.
The overwhelmingly large Bass Pro retail floor of the pyramid is strangely intoxicating. I’m not one for shopping on vacation, and I’m even less of an outdoors person. But there’s something about waking up surrounded by flannel, fishing poles, and cast iron camp gear that makes you think, “wait, no, I actually do need a portable turkey fryer in my life, and maybe a crossbow?” The plethora of hunting gear available may be a turn-off for many, but the bulk of the store is high-quality outdoor clothing and camping gear that would make great presents for the actual outdoor pros in your life. There are also home décor oddities for the friends who would just love a singing Big Mouth Billy Bass. Look out for the Bargain Cave deals you won’t find online.
4. You can walk like an Egyptian…kind of
The landmark Memphis Pyramid is rooted in the city’s connection to one of the Ancient Egypt districts. While the similarities between the two regions end with being situated on a magnificent river, Memphis has taken advantage of the namesake by offering several (not very authentic) Egypt-themed attractions. The exterior of the Memphis Zoo is styled with an Egyptian aesthetic, and the University of Memphis has a statue of Rameses II that’s a replica of the Colossus of Ramesses. Over 1,400 ancient Egyptian antiquities are housed in the Art Museum at the University of Memphis in partnership with the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology. Staying at the Pyramid, as the locals refer to the Big Cypress Lodge, is an excellent experience for Egyptology enthusiasts, even if your time here will be a far cry from an actual trip to Egypt.
5. You’ll learn about Mississippi River wildlife
Any attraction that features captive wildlife will be controversial and not for everyone, but Big Cypress Lodge takes steps to responsibly care for its resident animals while educating visitors. The pyramid houses a giant aquarium filled with hundreds of Mississippi River fish that staff divers take care of daily while educators teach visitors about the local species. There’s also a swamp filled with fish meandering throughout the shop floor and gators chilling from a safe distance. An interactive wetlands museum educates guests on waterfowls common to the Mississippi River area. If you’re into taxidermy, you certainly won’t be lacking in up-close opportunities to admire the birds.
6. There are views for days, inside and out
If you’re staying in one of the upper rooms in the Pyramid, like the Treehouse, you’ll overlook the twinkly Bass Pro Shop that could be a small city. But the views at Big Cypress get even more epic. The hotel has the tallest free-standing elevator in the country at 300 feet, and it’s made of glass on all four sides. The 28-story elevator leads to a glass observation deck and an expansive outside terrace that looks over the Memphis skyline and the Mississippi River. You can see the Memphis Lights if you time it right. The nightly show on the river illuminates the Hernando de Soto and Big River Crossing bridges with colorful LED lights and patterns. Regular shoppers at Bass Pro need to pay to access the elevator, but guests of Big Cypress ride for free.
7. You’re in one of the best locations to explore the rest of Memphis
It’s very easy to get stuck in a Bass Pro trance while staying at the Big Cypress Lodge and never see daylight the whole time you’re here. But don’t forget that you’re in Memphis, one of the coolest cities in the US. The Pyramid is less than a five-minute drive from Beale Street, and it’s close to popular attractions like the National Civil Rights Museum and Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Rather than eat at the Big Cypress Lodge, save room for classic Southern food and barbecue at spots like B.B. King’s Blues Club and Blues City Cafe. As for the live music, Beale Street needs no introduction — plan on having a long night out. Rest assured, your Uber driver will have no trouble finding the Pyramid when you’re ready to come home.