As an adventure-seeking writer based in Johnson City, TN, I recently found myself drawn to the thrill of off-roading. My journey began with a series I found on YouTube called "Tennessee Uncharted," where the host explores the rugged terrains of Windrock Park in an early Bronco.
What is Off-Roading?
Off-roading is the activity of driving or riding a vehicle on unsurfaced roads or tracks, made of materials such as sand, gravel, riverbeds, mud, snow, rocks, and other natural terrains. Vehicles suited for off-roading include ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicles), SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles), and specially modified vehicles. Sounds like a good time to me!
Light Off-Roading vs. Rock Crawling
Light off-roading involves driving on dirt roads or mild trails, while rock crawling is a more intense form of off-roading that involves navigating through rocky terrains using a modified vehicle.
We were going to start with more light off-roading but I heard we might have a chance to hit the rock crawling trails at Windrock. Definitely got my nerves going but I figured I should take the opportunity while I had it.
What was I going to need? I didn’t want to spend a ton of money but I knew I had to buy the bare minimum just to be safe.
After another quick Google search, it looks like off-roading requires appropriate gear and safety precautions. This includes a suitable vehicle, a basic tool kit, recovery equipment, first-aid supplies, plenty of water, and navigation tools. I had everything except the recovery equipment but a few texts later found out there would be plenty on the trail with all the people that were coming on this trip. Perfect, more money for food.
I wouldn’t say you need a ton for the regular trails. Rock crawling, yes. Don’t try to do that on your own, you can see some of the crazy stuff from the TN Uncharted video, but there were plenty of fun places to drive where you didn’t need to be an expert. Just take your time and pay attention and you can have the off-roading adventure like you see on the TV. And you can grab a couple of cool photos of your new friend’s Bronco at night too. I’m trying to be Instagram cool.
Rentals at Windrock Park
Yes, Windrock Park does offer side-by-side rentals. It wasn’t super crowded when we went but I’d still try to book early. No point in finding out what you want to do isn’t available because you procrastinated (talking to myself here.)
Best Off-Roading Trails in Knoxville
While there are a lot of off-roading trails in and around Knoxville, Windrock Park stood out as the top choice after looking at reviews online. Between the reviews and the YouTube videos, I knew we had to give it a try. With over 500 miles of trails, it's often stated as one of the “best off-road and ATV parks” in America.
Scenic Trails for an Easy Drive
I also wanted to take my family for an easier scenic drive while I was in town. I love adventure, but with small kids - rock crawling felt like it might be a little too much for them. Back to Google and I found that the Foothills Parkway was really close! I’ve heard about it for years but had never done it so we put that on the list! Let’s drive!
What to Do in Knoxville?
While in Knoxville, don't miss out on the vibrant downtown area. We went bowling at Maple Hall, my wife found a blog on the “Best Local Places in Knoxville to find vintage items” so we had to check those out, and finally, we visited Market Square to eat at The Tomato Head. It turned into a weekend that everyone enjoyed (the family was worried it was all going to be about me.)
Where to Stay in Downtown Knoxville?
There are a bunch of great hotels in Downtown Knoxville now. Rooftop bars, fancy restaurants, and coffee shops are in most of them. We chose to stay at The Oliver Hotel, a boutique hotel in an 1876 building located on Market Square that has been renovated to offer a modern experience with a unique twist.
Mountain Views and Hiking Spots in Knoxville
We wanted to do a quick hike while we were in town and chose the House Mountain State Natural Area. It was a great hiking spot with panoramic views of Knoxville, the Unakas, and the Cumberland Mountains. It wasn’t the easiest hike, with a lot of elevation gain, but it was a good time and we all enjoyed the view and a picnic at the top.
Are There Black Bears in Knoxville?
While black bears are native to Tennessee, they are more commonly found in the Great Smoky Mountains than in Knoxville. However, occasional sightings have been reported on the outskirts of the city. Did that ease my kid’s minds? A little. They had seen a YouTube video and asked about 1,000 times if we were going to see a bear. We didn’t.
Knoxville offers a diverse range of off-roading experiences for both beginners and seasoned adventurers. From the adrenaline-pumping trails of Windrock Park to the scenic Knoxville overlook at Sharp’s Ridge Veterans Memorial Park, there's something for everyone. So gear up, buckle in, and get ready for an unforgettable off-roading experience in Knoxville, Tennessee.