I love living in Knoxville because we are perfectly situated in a valley surrounded by the mountains and the great outdoors. We are within a short drive and day-trip away from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Big South Fork, Obed Wild and Scenic River, and the Hiwassee River Area (all full of camping, hiking, and amazing swimming holes). More locally, we have developed green-ways, parks, and an urban wilderness that are practically in many of your backyards.
Knox County has an extensive park system. Some of the parks can be hidden away so plan for a scavenger hunt. Also, plan to go with another adult for your safety! This park list from Outdoor Knoxville provides you with a list of Knox county parks by location. You can also check out our favorite parks list and our general park list!
Knox, Blount, and Anderson counties offer paved green-ways that are perfect for bike riding. The one in Knoxville is 14 miles one way from downtown to Cedar Bluff. Oakridge, Farragut, and Maryville also have green-ways. My coworker Deidre recommends the Melton Lake Green-Way that connects to Haw Ridge in Oakridge. Diedre also recommends the North Boundary in Oakridge (possibly beavers and owls abound) and Gallaher Bend–a quite, man-made sandy beach, playground, and has lots of ball fields. I love the Maryville green-way because it has a Sandy Springs Park at one end and either BBQ from Full Service or Mexican from Los Amigos! These are perfect for a ride along toddler or a tween. Check out our guide to Best Knoxville Family-Friendly Bicycle Rides.
Knox County has an amazing urban wilderness! The Knox Urban Wilderness is 1,000-forested acres along the downtown south waterfront. The urban wilderness has over 40 miles of multi-use trails, 10 parks, and our civil war sites–a perfect opportunity to work on survival, compass, and tree identification skills with your tweens. There are also a wilderness patch program, for which your family can log your miles and progress towards traversing the entire 42 miles (over time of course!). Once complete, you can submit your list with $10 to receive a patch. More details about the Urban Wilderness can be found here.
My Favorite Sanctuaries
This is my go-to place. I know for a fact that Jeff Tweedy of the alt-rock band Wilco loves to visit when he is in town (he has claimed so twice on stage). The New York Times, USA Today, and Trip Advisor have rated it as one of the top attractions in Knoxville. The older section offers a forested area, wetland board-walk, and river-side boardwalk. The playground with cabin, butterfly house, and indoor nature center is perfect for little ones to use their imaginations. The newly developed quarry area offers canoe, kayak, bike, and paddle board rentals. My son loves the old railroad tracks and giant owl silo. They also offer summer camp, birthday party rentals, special movie and music programs, owl prowls, plant sales, seed swaps, and a Hike-A-Thon.
This place is serene. There is an initial hike off to the right of the parking area that offers tall grass fields (and if you are lucky in July…blackberries!) that slope down to a riverside hike or you can go directly into the meadow from the parking lot. Here is a map. Bring your binoculars and birding guide because this place is a true birding sanctuary. Check out this list of birds! If you like to canoe or kayak…this is the perfect place to launch for a five-mile trek or all the way into downtown. Check out this map of the Blueways!
This is great for kids 7 and older. This 500-acre natural area is located eight miles from Knoxville. From the 2,100-foot crest you can see the Unakas and Cumberlands some 30 miles away and to the northeast–Clinch Mountain. House mountain has four miles of natural surface trails, from easy .03/mile loops to more demanding hikes that can total nearly 5 miles (with backtracking from the trail’s end).
Check out all the national parks in East Tennessee and our guide to 17+ lakes and rivers near Knoxville.