Knoxville is a city with a surprising number of things to do. With everything from music to football to outdoor adventures, this growing city has a lot to offer. And one of the best ways to get around is by jumping on the extensive greenway system. Though there are already 60 miles of greenway trails developed, and a plan to build 24 more, making it easy to get in a workout or get around town.
The entire greenway system is made up of sections and loops that require you to take some sidewalks and cut through neighborhoods to make the most of things. But it’s worth it—the outskirts of downtown Knoxville hide a recreational playground capable of moving you around the center city (on bike or on foot) with ease.
The paths range from just a quarter-mile in length (like West View Greenway) to more than 10 miles (Ijams Nature Center), often connecting with other greenway legs directly or through short neighborhood rides, making for suitable outings regardless of experience or stamina. The path described below is about eight miles encircling downtown, but you can also take the greenway to wilder areas. Ijams, for example, is connected to the Will Skelton Greenway, which starts near the South Waterfront, continues past Mead’s Quarry, and feeds into Forks of the River Wilderness Management Area and the greater Urban Wilderness.
First Creek Greenway
To make this proposed downtown loop, you’ll have to get a little creative, but that’s part of the fun. You can start anywhere on this route to make the trip, though a logical jumping off point may be the 1.5-mile First Creek Greenway. Find the trailhead at the intersection of N. Broadway and Cecil Ave.—there’s ample parking across the street at Fellini Kroger. From here the trail only goes one direction, meandering southeast along First Creek and into the historic Fourth & Gill neighborhood. Most of the houses here are built in architectural styles from 1880—1940.
A short pedestrian bridge connects to Grainger Ave., and the well-manicured paved trail follows a series of high-voltage power lines before reaching E. Glenwood Ave., where the interstate interrupts the trail. A short detour is needed to connect with the next segment in Caswell Park, but there are plans to connect the trail under the interstate.
Meeting the end of the upper section, take a left onto the wide sidewalk following Glenwood, then the first right onto N. 6th Ave., where you’ll find a mammoth mural commemorating the surrounding neighborhoods. Then take an immediate left onto Washington Ave., followed by an immediate right onto Mitchell Street. You’ll pass the historic Standard Knitting Mill building on your right before feeding directly into the trail at Caswell Park. Here you can let your inner child out on the Ashley Nicole Dream Playground, a fully accessible playground and a popular destination for families and weekend birthday parties.
The trail forks just south of the playground. Veer to the left, taking a right out the park’s entrance to follow along Winona Street facing south—and prepare for a hill climb!
Morningside Park to the Tennessee River
The calm Winona Street is a direct line through East Knoxville’s Warehouse District, before ending at Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave.—just downhill from the north entrance to Morningside Park and 1.6-mile of trails connecting to the Neyland Greenway along the Tennessee River. Hang a right on MLK and a quick left onto Dandridge Ave. Climb the short hill and you’ll see signs for the park. Or continue on up Dandridge for a stop off at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, a museum to local African-American history.
An oversized statue of Alex Haley, the famed Knoxville author of Roots, sits just inside the entrance to Morningside Park to the left. It’s worth a sweaty selfie and marks a good spot to catch your breath after conquering the hill. Fortunately, the next leg is mostly a downward coast. Stay on the paved and well-marked trail, but watch for flying frisbees as you make your way through the disc golf course at the park.
The trail funnels into a pedestrian walkway on the south end of the park, which follows an onramp for the James White Parkway down towards the Tennessee River. There are a couple of major road crossings here, but outside of rush hours there is usually minimal traffic or dangers. Keep your eyes open and the path will lead directly to the Neyland Greenway, connecting on the far eastern end near the Governor Ned McWherter/Riverside Landing Park (which is much more of a gravel parking lot and boat launch than an actual park).
Neyland Greenway is a well-maintained and heavily-traveled path along the northern banks of downtown’s waterfront—possibly one of the most popular trails in town due to its host of attractions and proximity to downtown. You can follow it along all the way past the University of Tennessee to Tyson Park, or keep going over Alcoa Highway (protected from foot-heavy motorists by a pedestrian walkway) to the southside of the river and a small grassy area at the end of the line at Marine Park.
If you find yourself in need of a quick refuel, stop at Volunteer Landing. It’s the only stop for provisions besides the restaurants along the river. If you want to get out on the water, paddle boards, kayaks, and bicycles can be rented at Billy Lush Board Shop next to the Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Or, for the literary minded, opt for the Cormac McCarthy tour, which includes a series of immediate landmarks with ties to his novel Suttree.
Also make time for World’s Fair Park, about 1.5 miles from the start, marked by a red light and pedestrian crossing not far after passing under the Henley Street Bridge.
World’s Fair Park is iconic, and is one of the things Knoxville is known for. World’s Fair Park played host to the 1982 World’s Fair, and it’s 266-foot glistening gold Sunsphere can be seen from nearby interstates on sunny days. It’s also the best place to get a bird’s eye view of the entire city.
The paths through the park have a few offshoots that may lead you to a dead end or park exit. Fear not, this place is worth exploring, but stick with it until passing the Sunsphere and then the L&N Stem Academy building. The wide trail will turn to a sidewalk, which you can follow up to connect with N. Broadway at Jackson Ave. If you’re in need of a refresher at this point, Balter Beerworks across the street has a list of original and local beers on tap, plus a delightful menu.
Blazing Your Own Path
Here is the greenway end of the line in some ways. The route back to your starting point at the First Creek Greenway trailhead is yours for the making, but here are a couple suggestions.
The most direct route is to hang a left on N. Broadway and take the straight shot back to Fellini Kroger, though this is a heavily-trafficked road and most bikers prefer to stick to the sidewalk. Just past the Knox Area Rescue Mission you’ll spot the entrance to the historic Old Gray Cemetery on the left, the eternal resting place for many Old North Knoxville residents, with unique tombs and monuments. For a shot of caffeine to get you back, there are two local coffee shops along this route: Remedy on Cooper St. and K-Brew at Wells Ave.
Another option is to continue on down Jackson Ave. to the Old City, where you’ll find historic brick buildings and a bunch of late-night attractions, restaurants, and music venues. The heart of this district is centered on Jackson Ave. and Central Street. Take a left onto Central, climbing a small hill up toward Crafty Bastard Brewery. From here, the preferred route is to cut back through the Fourth and Gill neighborhood, exploring its crooked roads and alleyways. There’s a short greenway segment along 4th Ave. just south of Gill Street. This section of neighborhood is sandwiched between major thoroughfares of Hall of Fame Drive to the east and N. Broadway to the west, so it’s hard to get too lost. Keep heading north, eventually following N. Broadway briefly to make the final connection back to your starting point, or hopping back on the First Creek Greenway at E. Glenwood Ave or Grainger Ave. to avoid the major road all together.
Originally written for BCBS of Tennessee.