We're all about high energy adventures here at RootsRated, but we also know that sometimes you just need to take it down a notch—especially in the high heat of an East Tennessee summer. So here are a few of our favorite outdoor spots to kick back, relax, and rest that heart rate for a minute. We've searched out the best spots for swimming, shade, and that ever elusive cool breeze in this chilled out list.
1. Wade in the Water at Big Ridge State Park
Big Ridge is the quintessential lakeside park. It was originally built by the Tennessee Valley Authority as a demonstration park to model the potential for lakeside recreation in East Tennessee. Miles and miles of trail trace along the lake, up into the ridges, and down into the secret valleys of this historic park . The thick canopy offers hikers a shaded stroll along the gentle Lake Trail and Ghost House Trail, and there's always an option for more more intense hiking on the Dark Hollow and Big Valley Trails. Camping spots with full amenities are located beside the shore with free backcountry camping available with a permit. A sandy beach and swimming area nestled in an inlet of Norris Lake complete the summertime lake culture vibes and cements this park as a solid warm weather spot. Go up for a mid-day swim or spend the whole weekend playing in the water with family or friends.
2. Drop off the Kids
Beloved Parents. We know you love your kids. But if you're looking for a mini-vacation from the endless cycle of PB&J's and sunscreen applications, imagine us nonchalantly sliding this list of Knoxville's 2015 summer camps across your crumb-covered table with a "just think about it" shrug.
You can search the camps by interest, age-range, keyword, and provider. We were pretty astounded (and maybe even a little vexed) by the diversity of camps available (We're looking at you, Ice Princess Camp), but the variety will at least increase the odds of finding something that interests your little sprites. We suggest something like the YMCA's Camp Ocoee on the Ocoee River or one of the numerous day camps available at Ijams.
3. Walk along the Norris Songbird Trail
Just below Norris Dam is one of our favorite little circuits. Part pavement, part crushed gravel, and very flat, this is by no means a backcountry trail. But with beautiful views of the Clinch River and a diversity of local plant-life and song birds, this 2.3 mile stretch is surprisingly peaceful and wild. And, as is important in summer months, much of the circuit is shaded by more than 60 different varieties of local trees. It's a fun loop to run for sure, but the avian symphony of chirps and gently flowing river will likely convince you to slow your pace and take in the sights and sounds of the loop.
4. Play a pick-up game of disc golf
If you're looking for a good mix of leisure and activity, it's hard to beat an afternoon tracing your way across one of the many disc golf courses in and around Knoxville.
Morningside Park is almost completely dedicated to disc golf, with nearly all the foot traffic through the park coming from disc golf denizens. And with a full 18-hole course, there's little need nor desire to do anything else in the park.
But if you're only going to make it out to one course, we suggest the one at Victor Ashe Park. This is the most extensive course in the area. With 18 holes spread across the 120-acre park, the course hardly ever gets overcrowded, even with its huge popularity. Victor Ashe itself is one of most well-maintained parks in Knoxville, with high quality facilities including a dog park, soccer fields, sand volleyball courts, playgrounds, picnic shelter, fishing pond, horseshoe pits, water fountains, and restrooms.
For a full list and maps of local courses, check out [knoxdiscgolf.org](knoxdiscgolf.org).
5. Go Tubing in Townsend
You haven't spent a summer in the south until you've tied a tallboy to a inner-tube and drifted downriver. Just outside the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains is the Townsend Y , a popular water hole and perfect put-in for a fun and relaxing soak in the Little River. There will be a few small rapids, but nothing to get worked up about. If you're planning your own trip, the best take out spot is probably around the first mill dam just before the Highway 321 bridge. But you can always hop on with a commercial outfitter like Smoky Mountain River Rat and leave the planning to the professionals.
6. Kayak at Concord Park
If you're looking for water access a little closer to home, try Concord Park . The water access here provides paddlers access to Fort Loudon Lake, frequently used by paddlers and boaters of all kinds. On a summer evening, the water is spotted with boats of all shapes and sizes. Its convenience makes Concord Park perfect for an easy after work excursion.
7. Soak Up the Sun at Ijams
This summer, Ijams introduces both a new climbing crag and a high ropes adventure course! And we're admittedly super psyched about that. But Ijams is ultimately committed to providing everyone with access to nature, no matter your skill, interest, or energy level. Relax on the grass in the ample field encircled by the Universal Trail, rediscover your inner-child in Jo's Grove, or take a break from the sun while exploring Ijams indoor nature exhibits. Check out the Ijams event page for great outdoor activities like the family-friendly drum circle and recurring creature feature .
8. Swing as the Sun Sets
Once the day is almost wholly wiled away, head to south Knoxville to catch the last light fading over the city. Start in the dirt parking lot at 1121 Cherokee Trail near High Ground Park. You'll follow the gravel trail into the River Bluff Wildlife Area. Veer right at the first major fork to maintain your elevation (the left trail leads down to the water) as you curve around through the dense, forested area. It doesn't matter which way you go at the second fork. Both lead to the overlook and the swing. The entire hike shouldn't take much more than 10 minutes.
This is probably the best view of the city and well worth the trip, but be aware that this is a relatively unregulated area and popular amongst UT students of all stripes. Bring a flashlight, camera, and maybe even a couple of trash bags. We filled up two whole bags of cans and bottles people had left behind.