There may be no other city in the country that better combines outdoor adventure with urban excitement than Knoxville, Tennessee. With mountains, rivers, and trails within minutes of a vibrant downtown, Knoxville offers endless opportunities to play outside and still enjoy the world-class restaurants, breweries, and arts scene. From mountain biking in the Urban Wilderness to a quiet day of fishing on the Tennessee River, the area offers something for everyone. Here are 10 ways to take advantage of Knoxville’s incredible outdoor playgrounds when planning an active trip to the region.
1. Kayak In Mead’s Quarry
In Knoxville, you’ll find water in every direction, but few places rival the intimate setting of Mead’s Quarry. The wildlife sanctuary is sheltered by the wind and surrounded by towering cliffs—and motorboats aren’t permitted, making it the perfect setting for kayaking. River Sports rents kayaks and other watercraft at the location, so you can simply show up and get to paddling.
2. SUP At The Knoxville Adventure Collective
Stand-up paddleboarding (or SUP) is extremely popular in Knoxville, and you can explore the beautiful Tennessee River with a paddleboard rented from the Knoxville Adventure Collective. Located on the downtown banks of the Tennessee River near the Gay Street Bridge, the outfitter offers paddleboards for as little as $20. If you want to try something a little more adventurous, there’s also SUP yoga sessions and night paddles. During the day, paddle west along the river to get an impressive view of Neyland Stadium.
3. Rope Up For Indoor Rock Climbing
Any respectable adventure town needs a good climbing gym, and Knoxville has two for indoor bouldering and harnessed climbs that are great on their own or as a way to prep for an outdoor trip. The Climbing Center at River Sports, located just west of downtown, is a long-running gym where both beginners and international mountaineers hang out to climb and shop for new gear. Onsite Climbing Gym has the largest indoor climbing wall in Tennessee, and both establishments offer an introductory safety course to get you and your group up to speed with safe climbing.
4. Hike Knox County’s Highest Peak
Knoxville lies in the Tennessee Valley, flanked by the Cumberland Mountains to the west and the more famous Smoky Mountains to the south. But east of town, the House Mountain Natural Area offers stunning panoramic views of the valley’s pastoral farmland. It’s home to the highest point in Knox County and features 5.8 miles of trails. Take advantage of the two moderately difficult 1-mile routes that lead to the summit. It’s also a great place for trail runners to get plenty of hard mileage close to town.
5. Make New Friends with a Running Group
You can’t go very far in Knoxville without finding a park or greenway. Runners and walkers have miles and miles of trails that help you access different historic neighborhoods. One example is the Sequoyah Greenway, which can help you explore the Sequoyah Hills area, featuring old homes, beautiful landscaping, and views of the river. Of course, running with the locals is an even better way to get to know the area.
Check out 865 Running to find a listing of running groups—many of which meet at local breweries. After a workout, you can stick around and sample some of the locally made beer. Some breweries even offer their own workout groups and yoga sessions as well, so it isn’t hard to find a spot that fits your interests.
6. Mountain Bike In Knoxville’s Nationally Renowned Urban Wilderness
Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness is one of the city’s gems, featuring more than 50 miles of trails and greenways that connect area parks, lakes, historic sites, and a 500-acre wildlife area. It’s been recognized as one of the top outdoor resources in the country, and there are endless opportunities for hiking, running, paddling, rock climbing, and cycling.
For mountain bikers, it’s a gold mine of serious trails easily accessible from anywhere in the city. Ranging from gentle gravel paths to expert-only downhill runs, the trail system has something for everyone. To help you get started, try one of the suggested loops that match your ability level, but it’s also a lot of fun to explore on your own. If you need a bike, shops like River Sports and TVB offer rentals and can point you in the right direction.
7. Go Fishing On The Tennessee River
The Tennessee Valley is a wonderfully diverse fishery with dozens of game species available in the area. With a simple short-term fishing license and minimal equipment, you can target largemouth and smallmouth bass, striper, white bass, catfish, and nearly a dozen panfish without leaving the sights of downtown. The Tennessee River is fed by the Holston and French Broad rivers above downtown, giving you plenty of room to explore.
Local outfitters like 3 Rivers Angler and Frontier Fly Fishing offer fly and light tackle guided trips for trout and bass. If you’d like to try it on your own, 3 Rivers Angler and C&C Outdoors can help with all the gear you need.
8. Try Ice Skating at the Ice Chalet
Tennessee isn’t generally known for its cold-weather sports, but Knoxville has ice skating that’s available year-round. Just west of downtown, the Ice Chalet has been the center for figure skating, ice skating, and hockey in Knoxville since 1962. Take advantage of its public skate sessions to cool off and enjoy some time in the rink.
9. Go Birdwatching At Seven Islands
Located on the site of a historic farm, the Seven Islands State Birding Park on the French Broad River features one of the most diverse avian habitats in all of the Southeast. It’s home to 190 different species of birds, and the peninsula on which it’s located includes more than eight miles of nature trails and unforgettable views of the Smoky Mountains.
There’s a variety of terrain to explore, including open fields, brush cover, the riverbank, and open hardwoods. Take your time exploring this beautiful place and you’re guaranteed to see a good assortment of feathered creatures. If you want to take to the river, the park also features a canoe and boat launch to take advantage of the great fishing or simply look at the wildlife from water-level.
Written by Charlie Morgan for Matcha in partnership with Visit Knoxville.