What better way to celebrate National Hiking Day than by actually going on a hike? Some of the best and most iconic trails in our country are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but you don’t have to drive to the Smokies for a hiking fix. Knoxville offers plenty of ways to move, and Ijams Nature Center’s trails suit a variety of fitness levels. We’re sharing three distinct trail opportunities to explore Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness.
Will Skelton Greenway – Easy
At 3.57 miles, Will Skelton Greenway stretches from Island Home Park to the far end of Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area. This paved greenway runs through Ijams, has multiple entry points and passes through a variety of habitats. It’s great for strollers and people with mobility concerns, but there are a couple of steeper hills. It’s lovely for walking, running or road biking.
Hickory Trail – Moderate
Hickory Trail is one of Ijams’ less-traveled trails, but it’s a staff favorite. The 2.1-mile loop winds through areas impacted by former quarry operations as well as undisturbed, upland hardwood forest, where big trees and wildflowers put on a show. Take Imerys Trail from Mead’s Quarry parking lot, turn left on Gravel Road Trail, and then take a right on Hickory. This delightful, quiet hike nets about three miles total.
Tharp Trace Trail – Difficult
At just over a mile, Tharp Trace doesn’t sound hard, but the elevation gain on this spectacular loop around Mead’s Quarry Lake is no joke. Start this trail to the left of the swim area or follow Pink Marble Trail past the Stone Area of Ijams’ Primal Playground (another place to “go wild” with a workout), go left up the hill on the gravel trail, and turn right at the top on Tharp Trace.
Stop at Stanton Cemetery, which has graves marked from 1870 to 1939 and includes a man who survived the Sultana sinking in April 1865, the worst maritime disaster in American history (largely overshadowed as President Lincoln was assassinated the day prior). You’ll continue through a mature oak/hickory forest and two overlooks. Both have beautiful views of the lake, and you can see Mount LeConte from Tharp Trace Overlook.
With 12+ miles of trails for walking, hiking, and biking, Ijams Nature Center always has something new to see. Stop by the Visitor Center to get directions, nab a map or restroom break, and head out to find your connection to nature. View the Ijams trail map PDF.