Find Your Footing Along Sharp’s Ridge in Knoxville

Sharps Ridge.
Sharps Ridge. Clay Duda
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South Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, with more than 50 miles of trails, soaks up a lot of the city’s outdoor cred. But just north of downtown lies Sharp’s Ridge Memorial Park, a 111-acre natural area splayed out along the south face of a ridge by the same name that offers a narrow network of trails and stunning views of the Tennessee Valley.

Upon first arrival, you’ll likely notice two things after following the slender asphalt road up to the summit of the ridge. The first is near-panoramic views of Knoxville’s skyline to the southeast, flanked by the pale blue outline of the Smoky Mountains in a distance. On a clear day, you can stand at the overlook and point out the distant mountain peaks with the help of the handy placard. To the northwest, the hilly peaks of the Cumberland Plateau come into view.

The overlook at Sharp's Ridge offers a guide to the peaks and gaps in the distant Smoky Mountains. Clay Duda

The other thing you may notice are the towering TV and radio antennas protruding from the hilltop. The ridgeline serves many of Knoxville’s broadcast stations, a high point for their transmission towers, and even the vista point is marked by a thick metal support cable splicing through the picturesque view of downtown.

The Trails

Sharp’s Ridge has a developed a well-earned reputation as a go-to spot among Knoxville’s growing mountain biking community. It’s trails are among four networks maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, a local chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, that has played key roles in boosting the city’s outdoor amenities in recent years. But the trails carved into the thick underbrush welcome more than just pedal pushers, making it a quick getaway for local trail runners or hikers in a hurry.

There are almost five miles of winding trails carved into the southern face of the ridge, but AMBC is currently building more trails that will bring that up to about eight miles. The Firebreak Trail is 1.3 miles with a few hills, Sharp Shin Trail is a narrow 1.5-mile path, and the Lincoln Trail is a wider, two mile hike (or run). While Sharp’s Ridge is a well-known destination among bikers, all except one of the trails, Knight Fall Trail, is also open to foot traffic. Always keep an eye out around blind curves, but outside peak weekend times or group events, you’ll likely be one of the few people out on the trails.

Trails ebb and flow on the south face of Sharp's Ridge in North Knoxville. Clay Duda

A series of trailheads dot the only road in and out of the park, though some are not well-marked. At the end of the road, there are two trailheads that head off either side of the cul de sac area, both linking to the start of the Firebreak and Sharp Shin trails. Parking is allowed along the shoulder. The north side of the hill is mostly private property and broadcast antennas, so steer clear—stick towards the side facing downtown.

The ridgeline peaks just under 1,400 feet above sea level, with much of it rising 200-300 feet around the surrounding valley floor and Knoxville neighborhoods. The trails hug the hillside, offering three tiers, each more or less running horizontally along the south face with plenty of cut-throughs and side trails. It can be a bit confusing grid for some newcomers, but fear not, even if you get turned around just keep moving and pretty soon you’ll find yourself exiting the woods somewhere along the park’s only roadway.

How to Get There

Cut out the broadcast infrastructure and Sharp’s Ridge offers a chance to escape city trappings without ever leaving the center city. Yet it’s surprisingly underutilized, sans a few stray bikers and peak weekend times, making it an easy jaunt before or after work and accessible from much of north Knoxville in about a 10-minute drive.

A sign marks a mountain bike-only trail at Sharp's Ridge Memorial State Park. While known as a mountain biking destination, most trails are also open to hikers. Clay Duda

Bordered on the north by Interstate 640, the easiest access to the ridge is from North Broadway east of the park. There are also two small parking areas and access trails in the Lincoln Park-Oakwood neighborhoods that border the park to the south, one at the northern tip of Dill Street and another at the end of Hanover Street.

Traveling either direction along North Broadway, turn onto Ludlow Street and follow it until it dead-ends, taking right onto Sharp’s Ridge Memorial Park Drive at the stop sign. This is the sole road in and out of the park itself, so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding your way. There are a series of small gravel turnoff areas near trailheads along the way in. Park in any of these, or continue onto the cul de sac at the end and park along the shoulder. There are a handful of picnic pavilions along the ridgetop that are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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