Exploring all the nature Knoxville has to offer is easier—and closer—than you’d think
Words by Paige Townley
Knoxville is a vibrant city with a walkable downtown featuring unique shops, amazing restaurants, and plenty of fun attractions. But this East Tennessee city is also known for outdoor adventure. Knoxville features more than 150 miles of trails and greenways, rivers for paddling, and forests for hiking—not to mention the beautiful wildflowers and colorful dogwood trails to be enjoyed along the way. Unlike most other cities, however, visitors don’t have to venture out too far from the heart of the city to enjoy all the beauty Knoxville has to offer; it’s all located minutes from downtown.
Just three miles from the heart of downtown is Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, a spectacular 1,000-acre nature area ideal for any outdoor enthusiast or adventurer. Hike, bike, swim, paddle, play, explore, and simply enjoy nature. Its 50-plus miles of trails and greenways connect a nature center, lakes, historic sites, playgrounds, city parks, quarries, bike park and 500-acre wildlife area.
A morning visit to Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness will reveal lots to explore in whatever way you choose. Anderson School is a 10.6-mile trail that’s a popular spot for walking, running, birdwatching, and wildlife watching. In addition to nature trails, Baker Creek Preserve is also home to a playground and bike park, making it a natural destination for families. William Hastie Natural Area is another area featuring miles of trails through heavily forested natural areas well-suited for mountain biking.
Lovely and wooded Marie Myers Park is an integral connecting point through Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. It includes one of the paths to Ijams Nature Center, a 300-acre nature preserve and environmental learning center on the Tennessee River. It features habitats, exhibits, and trails and is home to Navitat Knoxville, a tree-based zipline adventure park. It also features access to a piece of the city’s history: Ross Marble Quarry and Mead’s Quarry. The quarries offer great recreational adventure with a unique glimpse into the city’s past. There are multiple trails for hikers and bikers to enjoy scenic overlooks, rock bridges, and gorges. More history is waiting nearby at Fort Dickerson Park, one of the best-preserved earthen forts from the Civil War era, and High Ground Park, which commemorates the historic site of Fort Higley. River Bluff Wildlife Area also features the city’s history and offers incredible views of downtown from bluffs high above the Tennessee River.
Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness offers plenty of reasons to get outdoors, but what’s sure to draw you back a few miles to downtown Knoxville is the call for food, including brunch. Knoxville boasts some of the best brunch spots around with menus sure to please any palate. You’ll find traditional dishes like pancakes and eggs, tastebud tempting plates like sourdough French toast and authentic French crepes at The French Market Crêperie, and uniquely Southern-inspired dishes such as the braised pork belly with cream cheese grits at OliBea. Whatever you’re craving, one of Knoxville’s downtown restaurants is sure to have it, complete with your beverage of choice.
With so much adventure and food to enjoy, why wait? The weekend calls for exploring all the beautiful nature Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness has to offer. When you’re ready for a break, head on over to one of the nearby brunch spots where everything is served with a side of genuine southern hospitality.