Find Out Why This Town was Named CNN Travel’s – America’s Best Towns to Visit in 2024

Knoxville, Tennessee, is a nature-loving-adventure-seeking-artsy-kinda town with plenty of fun things to do. Downtown, Old City, World Fair Park, and the UT campus are very walkable and stacked together like a yummy urban sandwich.

Just south of town is the Tennessee River and then the South Knoxville urban wilderness, which includes five parks, 60 miles of trails, and a 600-acre wildlife area.In between, there’s live music, romantic hotels, delicious food, colorful galleries, public art, and friendly people.

Whether you’re nature-loving, adventure-seeking, or just a little artsy, this is your kind of town! If you’re all three, it’s a win, win, win!

Mountain Bike the Baker Creek Trail System

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Baker Creek Trail System is the poster child for incredible riding opportunities throughout the South Knoxville Urban Wilderness, with a specialty bike park, a brand-new pavilion, and loop rides for every skill level.

There are also Bear Paw Bikes for rentals and anything else you might need for your ride, Crafty Bastard Brewery to quench that post-ride thirst, and 71 South fueling you up with delicious food from a converted church adjacent to the bike park. It’s a one-stop bike spectacular, but it doesn’t have to stop there.

The Urban Wilderness has well-maintained, purposefully built trails extending in all directions with enough riding for an entire weekend of two-wheel fun. I’d love to come back and write a detailed guide with full pictures and descriptions, but my ride notes will have to suffice for now. You can also double-check the trails on Trailforks to see current trail conditions.

Take a Hike in the Urban Wilderness – Ijams Nature Center

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

If hiking is your jam, you’re going to be an Ijams fan. Like any good hike, you have to start with a plan, but don’t worry; I’m your Ijams plan man.
Ijams is a 318-acre urban greenspace divided into two sections by Island Home Road: Quarryside and Riverside.

The Ijams Nature Center is in the Riverside section and has restrooms, snacks, and some exhibits. You can also pay your $5 daily parking fee there or online in the parking lot. One of the most popular hikes in the area is the River / Tower Trail loop, which is just over a mile long with fabulous views of the Tennessee River from the River Boardwalk.

Continue to Ijams Quarryside

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Most, but not all, of the Quarryside Trails are open for bikers and hikers. Two notable hiking-only exceptions are the Rock Bridge Trail to the Keyhole and Tharps Trace / Pink Marble, which circumnavigate Meads Quarry.

Keyhole is an old marble quarry with fascinating rock features that’s about 1/2 mile down Imerys Trail. It’s a great combo with exploring Meads Quarry, either by trail, waterside, or both.

Make a Splash at Mead Quarry

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

There’s no better way to cool down after hiking Ijams than playing in Mead Quarry. There’s a swimming area and kayak / SUP rentals from River Sports Outfitters.

Cool off at the Augusta Quarry

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Augusta Quarry in Fort Dickerson Park is another local favorite swimming hole. It’s currently (2024) undergoing a $3.6 million improvement project to add restrooms, a new overlook, a renovated pedestrian pathway, and new floating beach and swim platforms. You can follow this link for construction updates, but the upper entrance with access to the overlook is open now.

Zip Down Navitat at Night

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Navitat is a zip line / ropes course within Ijams. Some of the signage confused us initially, but the check-in is next to the Ijams Welcome Center. In total, there are six courses (adventure trails) in the woods. Each adventure trail consists of 8-12 elements, including zip lines, bridges, swings, nets, climbs, and more. The easy trails are easy enough for anybody, but the progress up so that even the most ardent and fit adventurer will feel challenged.

If you’re up for an even bigger challenge with a magical vibe, try Navitat at Night. Some lights are strung through the trees, but you’ll still get those butterflies in your belly as you zip out into the relative darkness.

Bike the Greenways

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The riverfront, UT Campus, and downtown are very bikeable, and there is a collection of short greenways that can be strung together into a 20-plus-mile ride.

We did this ride and loved cruising through World’s Fair Park, along the riverfront, and around the old homes of Sequoyah Hills. Some of the connections weren’t intuitive, so we had to do a little route-finding, and there were definitely some hills in Sequoyah Hills that will make you earn at your Plaid Apron pit stop.

Kayak the Tennessee River

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Another way to get some great riverfront views is to rent a kayak or SUP from Knoxville Adventure Collective. You can paddle from the shop for views of downtown, or they can arrange custom shuttle trips down the river. They even rent bikes if you’re looking for a set of wheels to try out the greenways.

Explore the Old City Galleries

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Old City is a highly creative neighborhood around the old train depot. It’s also a sneaky way to find free parking for a day of exploring downtown. It’s also home to the First Friday Art Walk, part block party, party gallery walk, and entirely a good time.

Notable businesses include:

RALA – Gifts + Local Art: Home to the best “Dolly” art in the city

Emporium Center / Arts & Culture Alliance: Five galleries in one

UT Downtown Gallery: A contemporary art gallery exhibiting professional work

Pretentious Beer Co: Possibly the only place in the world where the beer and beer glasses are both made on-site

Curious Hot Dogs and Sandwiches: More than 30 varieties of hot dogs

All Hail the Ale Trail

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Pretentious Beer Company is just one of many breweries in the Old City. Other watering holes include Xul, Crafty Bastard, Next Level, and Gypsy Circus. Go a little further and you’ll find Hi-Wire and Schulz Brau, Knoxville’s first beer garden that happens to be in a German castle. You’d think there should be an Ale Trail in Knoxville, and you’d be correct. Follow the link and check in to win prizes.

Gallivant Down Gay Street

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Gay Street traverses the heart of the city. It was on the original 1791 plan of Knoxville and the city’s first paved street. If you download the Visit Knoxville walking tour, it takes you down Gay Street from the Visitor Center to Blount Mansion, the birthplace of the state of Tennessee. Along the way, you can stop in for ice cream at Cruze Farm, stop into the East Tennessee Historical Society and Museum, or snap a photo of the historic Tennessee Theater blade.

Find Your Muse at a Museum

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Blunt Mansion and the Tennessee Historical Society are just two of Knoxville’s museums. Other notable museums are:

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame – The only one of its kind in the world!

Candoro Marble Building – Find out why Knoxville is “The Marble City”

McClung Museum of Culture and History – learn about the communities that call East Tennessee home

Enjoy Market Square

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Your walking tour of downtown can return along Market Street, which ends at the pedestrian-only Market Square, home to the Market Square Farmers Market on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons in season.

Be sure to pop into Yassin’s Falafel House, once named the nicest place in America, and the authentic French Market Creperie. Of course, you will notice the statues in Krutch Park.

Surprise Yourself in Strong Alley

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Strong Alley is sandwiched between Market and Gay Streets. If you weren’t looking, you might not notice it, but you’d be missing out. It’s a 500-foot-long graffiti gallery filled with larger-than-life works. Megan Lingerfelt’s glamorous Dolly Parton mural is a local favorite, but there’s art for everyone in Strong Alley.

Try the Blue Plate Special

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Before you leave downtown (or maybe as a reason to come), you owe it to yourself to experience The WDVX Blue Plate Special®. It’s a live performance radio show at the Knoxville Visitors Center (or Fridays at Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria). Besides being live, local music, the production quality is remarkably good because it’s also a radio broadcast.

Wander World ‘s Fair Park

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

World’s Fair Park is the former fairgrounds of the 1982 World’s Fair hosted in Knoxville. It’s home to the Sunsphere (which was closed when we visited) and the Tennessee Amphitheater, the two remaining structures from the exposition. It’s also home to a family-friendly splash pad. Even if you don’t climb the Sunsphere, it’s still a great place to walk, relax, and see how many unique ways you can photograph this iconic building.

Feed the ‘Gram

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

We’ve already introduced you to Knoxville’s street art, iconic architecture, sweeping nature scenes, and sculpture gardens. If that’s not enough to get you feeding the ‘Gram, I have one more idea. We could put the best photo ops onto an interactive map to make it just that easy.

Relax on a Rooftop

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Radius Rooftop Bar is for anyone who thinks “Up on a rooftop click, click, click” is about photography. I’m not one to say no to an Espresso Martini, but theirs were exceptionally good. The sunset views were also fabulous.

It’s a great way to end your nature-loving-adventure-seeking-artsy-kinda day in Knoxville or for us to end our Knoxville post. So cheers to you, and we hope all your sunsets are stunning!