With mountains and rivers and lakes in every direction, Knoxville is surrounded by some of the best outdoor adventures to be had in the southern Appalachians. While you may already know about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Big South Fork, and Cherokee National Forest, all of these destinations are more than an hour and a half from the food, music, and culture that Knoxville has to offer. Look a little closer, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to hike, ride, fish, and explore close to town.
The following are eight underrated Knoxville adventures that will satisfy the itch without driving too far from the city. These spots can be enjoyed year-round, but put them on your bucket list and enjoy them through the next year.
1. Mountain Biking
Knoxville has one of the best urban wilderness areas in the country, and it offers lots of opportunities for mountain bikers, including the Devil’s Racetrack, the region’s only double black diamond trail.
A short drive from Knoxville, to experience more trails, head to the banks of the Clinch River in Anderson County where you’ll find nearly 30 miles of trails that make up theHaw Ridge system. It’s open almost year-round (closed just a few weekends during hunting season), and riders of all skill and endurance level will find something to love.
Want to go a bit further off the beaten path? You’ll find fewer crowds when you venture out to the flowy trails atLoyston Point. Less than an hour from downtown and surrounded by the clean and scenic waters of Norris Lake, Loyston Point is a local favorite for a long afternoon ride. The trails are cross-country style and easily tackled for beginners, but 2-4 foot table top jumps are sprinkled throughout for extra rowdiness. Since you’re right by the lake, take a cooler and take a dip after your ride to cool off.
2. Warm Water Fly Fishing On Beaver Creek
Many fine trout anglers have honed their skills on small creeks with bass and bluegill, and no stream is better in Knoxville than Beaver Creek. Located in West Knoxville around the Karns and Hardin Valley area, Beaver Creek offers pocket water, deep pools, and long riffles that perfectly emulate the trout streams of the southern Appalachians. Take a fly rod and practicing nymphing, swinging streamers, or even dry fly fishing to catch more bass and panfish than you care to count.
3. Canoeing Around The Cove
You’d be hard pressed to find a Knoxville native who hasn’t spent a humid summer night playing at The Cove in West Knoxville. A peninsula on Fort Loudon Lake, The Cove offers canoe rentals in the summer via local outfitter River Sports. With a cooler and fishing rods, you and your friends can meander through the neighboring yacht club or find the hidden swimming holes away from the crowds around Concord Park (which also has a pretty nice mountain bike trail system) by paddling "left" from the launch and going under the bridge.
4. Explore the Obed Wild And Scenic River
Most locals already know about the Obed, but a lot of folks don’t realize how amazing this area is, and it’s only an hour from Knoxville. While the Obed is a fantastic place to paddle and rock climb, the real underrated part of this destination is the hiking. With high granite cliffs and abundant wildlife, it’s definitely worth a trip to explore the area’s trails.
5. Go Running at Sequoyah Hills
The 2.5 miles of crushed stone in Sequoyah Hills, dubbed "The Boulevard," ambles past beautiful riverside homes in the median of Cherokee Boulevard and through one of the most impressive neighborhoods in Knoxville. Runners can do a simple out-and-back or mix it up with a return run closer to the water in Sequoyah Park or cross Kingston Pike and connect to the Third Creek Greenway for a longer workout.
6. Flat Water Paddling on Melton Hill Lake
Melton Hill is a clean, scenic reservoir in Northwest Knoxville. The lake is narrow, largely undeveloped, and scattered with islands, so it’s a great lake for a long, wild paddle. Melton Hill is also an excellent fishing lake. Head out for Melton Hill Park off of Williams Bend Road and use the boat ramp as a launch. Melton Hill also happens to be one of the state’s best muskie fishing spots.
7. See the Sunflowers at the Forks of the River
Located just minutes south of the city, the Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area is a large part of Knoxville's expanding urban wilderness corridor. It features 8.4 miles of trails within 331 acres and connects to the Will Skelton Greenway, and it’s perfect for hiking, mountain biking and trail running. The greenway winds along the Tennessee River to the east and the WMA fields to the west. As the greenway begins to fade, the cross-country trails start to appear. The Legacy Parks Foundation is largely responsible for this incredible gift to the city of Knoxville, and with the help of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, they've created a system of trails that is great for anybody and everybody. The trails feature all sorts of surprisingly diverse environments: from hardwood forests to open fields to the banks of the Tennessee River. But the real treat comes in the summer, when you’ll find an explosion of magnificent, bright yellow sunflowers in bloom.
8. Gravel Grinding in Cherokee National Forest
Whether you have a true cyclocross/gravel bike or just your trusty hardtail, there’s just something cool about riding a lot of miles over dirt roads to high vistas, and the southern section of the Cherokee National Forest is a great place to do it. Drive about 40 minutes south of Knoxville and turn east to find hundreds of miles of dirt and gravel roads along the Tellico river. Use a GPS app to link together a circular route, or just explore a massive and under-appreciated public land area with plenty of fishing and camping opportunities to be enjoyed.
Written by Charlie Morgan for RootsRated Media in partnership with Visit Knoxville.