During our time in eastern Tennessee, we made 2 trips to Knoxville. We have stayed away from larger cities, but we really wanted to explore Knoxville, as we had heard amazing things about the city. It did not disappoint.
In our 2 trips, we visited some amazing sights and ate some really great food.
World’s Fair Park
In 1982, Knoxville hosted the World’s Fair. The Sunsphere was the main attraction, and the city has established a park commemorating the event. In my research on things to do in Knoxville, visiting this park was high on every list. Many recent visitors had commented that they were disappointed that everything was closed, and the park was now only a good place to walk your dog. That kind of review is music to our ears! We were ecstatic to find a quiet place in the city and knew Daisy would love it, too.
We ended up going to this park on both of our trips to Knoxville, mostly because we really enjoyed walking around the Sunsphere, but also because we found free parking and felt comfortable walking to the places we wanted to visit in the city.
Little Bird had so much fun running through the lawn squealing with delight and would have been happy staying there all day (I know this because getting her back in the stroller was like wrestling an octopus/alligator with tears and the saddest face).
From World’s Fair Park, we walked along Second Creek, which led to the Neyland Greenway. This area is adjacent to the University of Tennessee, so we saw quite a few college students out and about. One of the things that struck us was just how polite and well-mannered everyone was who we encountered. Everyone maintained social distance, even if it meant they needed to step off the sidewalk to ensure we had room to get the stroller through. Since we have been in other parts of the state where our 6 foot bubble was encroached upon purposefully and uncomfortably, we were very appreciative of the courtesy we experienced.
The Neyland Greenway is a fantastic walkway along the Tennessee River. We really enjoyed seeing the different bridges and getting a close-up view of the city. There were several fountains along the way that Little Bird really enjoyed, and I loved getting up close views of the beautiful bridges.
On both of our visits, we made our way to Market Square, which seems to be one of the hearts of downtown with lots of restaurants and shops. There are also lots of statues, art, and murals around the square that gave us more insight into the history of Knoxville. We really enjoyed wandering around this area and ended up eating delicious food both times as well.
When we were walking back to the truck on our first visit, we passed Union Ave Books, an independent bookstore. Because we have such a small space, it makes little sense for me to have actual books, but I also cannot pass up a good bookstore. However, this store’s response to COVID is very strict, and they are only permitting one customer in the store at a time, and you must make an appointment in advance. You know where this is going, I am sure—obviously, I made an appointment to go in on our second visit (we all knew this was inevitable). It was a true joy getting to peruse the shelves with no other customers around. It felt indulgent and special, and I loved every second of it. I left the shop with a book for myself (that I plan to pass on when I am finished, so as to not clutter up our space) and a couple of books for Little Bird, because of course I did.
In addition to the bookstore, I visited a couple other small shops, and each experience was really great. This part of the city definitely left me wanting more time to explore, as we found something special around every corner.
Ijams Nature Center
When researching places to hike and enjoy the outdoors, Ijams topped every list. After looking at the website, we knew this was a place we needed to explore.
Our first stop on arrival was the visitor’s center to get a trail map. The woman at the counter showed me where trails were currently closed and recommended her favorite hike, which is one of the trails we ended up taking.
We started on the Tower trail, which led to the River Boardwalk. The geology in this area is incredible, and the boardwalk was unlike any hike I have ever been on with the boardwalk attached to the side of a rock cliff and the river running below our feet. Parts of the boardwalk are currently closed due to landslides, but I had no hesitation making the trail an out and back to see as much as we could.
From there, we followed the River trail to eventually meet up with the Imerys trail. This is the trail that the employee recommended as it leads to the Ross Marble Quarry loop and the Keyhole. This part of the nature center once housed 2 marble quarries, and it was so neat to see these quarries up-close and to explore the remnants of the operations. On the Ross Marble Quarry loop, we walked across the Rock Bridge, then meandered down under the bridge where you find the Keyhole. When you pass through the Keyhole, you enter into what felt like the heart of the quarry and can see exactly where marble was removed from the surrounding rock. The trails leading to this location were rough on Daisy’s feet, but she is such a trooper and forged on with us.
On our way back to the parking lot, we passed Mead’s Quarry Lake, which was the second quarry that is part of Ijams. This lake was absolutely gorgeous and would be a great place to take the paddleboard. By the time we arrived here, it was getting late in the day and our feet were all getting a tired, so we only took a quick peek at the lake before wrapping up our hike.
We absolutely loved our time at Ijams and cannot recommend it enough. On our second trip to Knoxville, we opted to explore another park, but if we are ever back in this area, I cannot wait to return.
On our second Knoxville trip, we made our way to Sequoyah Park, which is situated right along the Tennessee River. One of my colleagues recommended this park, and we are so glad she did. There is not much to this park, but it has a really nice trail along the river and some amazing open greenspace. Roundtrip, we walked about 2 miles, and even let Daisy run beside us off-leash when we were exploring the open grassy areas. This was a perfect park to get in a little exercise without taking too much time to get to or too much time to complete a nice walk. Little Bird loved getting out of the backpack and exploring the final 0.25 miles or so back to the truck.
For being very city-adverse lately, we were more than pleasantly surprised with what Knoxville has to offer. If we had made the trip earlier in our stay in Tennessee, I have no doubt that we would have made at least one more trip to continue exploring. We truly loved getting to know this part of Tennessee and hope to be back soon.
Make sure to check the YouTube video from our time in Knoxville below, and we look forward to seeing you on our next adventure.