The city of Knoxville is no shrinking violet when it comes to offering up public spaces in which to hike, bike, fish, paddle, and generally enjoy the great outdoors. Home to no fewer than 83 public parks, preserves and municipal golf courses within its city limits, it’s a fantastic place to get out in the sun (or rain, or even occasional snow, for that matter) and enjoy the all perks the city provides. From a simple downtown landmark to a beloved local nature center, here are Knoxville’s top six city parks and the best thing to do in each.
1. Concord Park
Thirty minutes from downtown Knoxville, Concord Park offers something for everyone looking for a physical challenge with nature as their backdrop.
What makes it great : With 9.4 miles of impeccably maintained natural trails for hiking and mountain biking, you can easily spend hours challenging yourself on the singletrack path, dotted with roots and offering up plenty of twists and climbs as it veers away from Springs Creek and into the woods. Likewise, it’s a great place to get on the water and do some paddling. In fact, lots of SUP races take place here, and Turkey Creek Shoals is a popular place for casual paddlers, too, whenever it’s nice out. To round things out, there’s a dog park on-site, as well as tennis and soccer courts, a skate park, a junior golf club, and paved trails for running and walking.
Who will love it : Those who don’t mind taking a short drive to raise their heart rate and break a sweat.
The best thing to do here : Paddling the cove is a must, as is experiencing the natural trails, either by foot or by mountain bike.
2. Fort Dickerson Park
Another prime spot for those who love being on the water or getting in a good hike is Fort Dickerson Park.
What makes it great: This park offers a quarry that’s great for paddling, as well as a scenic overlook (one of several) that is just a short walk from the parking area. Jumping is prohibited at Fort Dickerson Quarry (aka Lambert Quarry), but the view’s a dramatic one, so stroll up to the overlook before you head into the water to wade, float, or paddle from a more accessible point. Likewise, the one-mile out-and-back trail to the right of the overlook, leading away from the water, makes for a nice, shaded hike.
Who will love it : People in search of a semi-secluded place to enjoy the water (or just a short hike near an awesome quarry), surrounded by dramatic scenery.
The best thing to do here : Floating or SUP—just don’t jump from the quarry’s lip or you might get a ticket (or even worse, an injury).
3. Ijams Nature Center
For a truly mesmerizing experience while in Knoxville, spending a few hours at Ijams Nature Center is critical.
What makes it great : Across its 300-acre sprawl, you’ll find the Will Skelton Greenway, the Urban Wilderness Corridor, Mead’s Quarry, and, of course, the nature center itself. Boasting 10 miles of trails interwoven alongside streams and ponds through a protected wildlife habitat with some beautiful overlooks, the nature center does an amazing job of educating visitors about the flora and fauna of the area, making you forget you’re actually in the heart of a thriving modern city.
Who will love it : Anyone and everyone—visitors can move at their own pace and take advantage of as much or as little of the center’s delights as they choose.
The best thing to do here : Walking or running the River Trail, which connects the nature center to the Tennessee River and offers stunning shoreline views.
4. Lakeshore Park
Named after a young Knoxville resident who passed away in 2013 just a few days before his first little league game, the Hank Rappé Playground celebrated its grand opening in his honor in 2016, debuting the first big step in a long-term master improvement plan to make Lakeshore Park a top destination in the city.
What makes it great : The universal playground is designed specifically to meet the needs of children of every ability level, complete with resilient surfaces and special equipment to make it entirely inclusive. That’s great news for families looking for just such an environment, and the park offers far more than that—its 185 acres lend themselves to views of both the Smokies and the Tennessee River, as well as a farmers’ market that runs from 3 to 6 pm every Friday during the growing season (typically April through November). Ongoing expansion plans include trail lengthening, recreation fields, a canoe/kayak launch and more.
Who will love it : Families of all kinds will find community enrichment here while enjoying the views and watching the park evolve.
The best thing to do here : Enjoying the new playground, taking a walk to enjoy the scenic views, and stopping in during the weekly farmers’ market from spring through fall.
5. Sequoyah Hills Park
The 87-acre Sequoyah Hills Park is a runner’s dream come true, perched on the river with scenic views along its paved surface’s entire length.
What makes it great : The Sequoyah Greenway, which is unpaved, runs alongside the park and branches off past Kingston Pike, offering lengthier stretches for those who want to get a few miles in, and for visitors who’d rather get on the water than lace up their running shoes, the park offers two put-ins at the river’s edge. Since it’s so close to downtown (and the University of Tennessee campus), it’s a popular spot for post-work exercise and dog walking. Rarely is it empty, and the energy level is always high in the evenings thanks to the array of people working out before the sun goes down.
Who will love it : Those who want a proper city park experience, close to the action of downtown but surrounded by people engaged in similar outdoor pursuits.
The best thing to do here : Trail running on the greenway, or paddling.
6. World’s Fair Park
The sweeping green lawns and architectural remnants of the 1982 World’s Fair found in World’s Fair Park are somewhat synonymous with Knoxville itself—it’s one of the places many visitors have in common on their lists of things to see when they first arrive in town.
What makes it great : Large enough to host public outdoor concerts, the dogwood-dotted park is also big enough to accommodate games of Frisbee, one of the more popular pastimes that take place on a typical day. It’s a central spot for Knoxville residents to unwind and enjoy some downtime, and likewise, it serves as a metropolitan oasis for those just passing through to relax in a public green space just steps away from Market Square, the riverfront, and the university campus nearby.
Who will love it : Those looking for low-key outdoor fun in the heart of the city.
The best thing to do here : Playing some Frisbee on the lawn, or head up 266 feet to the top of the golden Sunsphere.
Written by Amy Lynch for RootsRated.