It’s the regular changing of the calendar, when we all promise ourselves to do better in the New Year. Whatever your New Year’s resolutions may be, whether it’s fixing that broken tail light or spending less time binging on Netflix, hopefully they’re commitments you can keep throughout the year.
Fortunately, Knoxville is surrounded with beautiful nature and scenic getaways, some even hiding within the city limits. Here are 10 New Year’s Resolutions to inspire you to get out and discover the Knoxville area in a whole new way.
1. Summit House Mountain.
Just eight miles northeast of Knoxville proper, House Mountain is a pointy bit of hill that marks the highest peak in Knox County, a moderate hike that summits to a wide ridgeline with spacious trails. It’s an easily accessible destination for hikers, trail runners, and families alike with rocky overlooks of the Cumberland Mountains to the west, the Smoky Mountains to the east, and the sprawling Tennessee Valley below. And there’s always a gratifying sense of accomplishment when you summit a peak.
2. Get lost in the Urban Wilderness.
Knoxville’s crown jewel of outdoor adventure, the Urban Wilderness is situated in the leafy forests and rolling hills of South Knoxville. The 50-mile trail system meanders through natural areas, that are ready for any skill level to explore the outdoors. A good jumping off point is Ijams Nature Center, which has ample parking, an adventure zipline course, and several miles of well-maintained trails that feed into the Urban Wilderness. You can also paddle through an historic quarry with some assistance from River Sports Outfitters.
3. Paddleboard to the French Broad.
It’ll take some effort, but Knoxville’s beauty really shines while floating along the Tennessee River. Rent a paddleboard from Billy Lush Board Shop near Neyland Greenway downtown (or bring your own) and push north toward the confluence of the French Broad and Holston rivers. Downtown’s skyline towers overhead, majestic bridges span the river, and soon views of Ijams and South Knoxville will come around the riverbend. It’s an excellent way to spend an afternoon while getting a whole new perspective on our fine city.
4. Bomb Sharp’s Ridge on two wheels.
The Appalachian Mountain Bike Club has done a bang-up job of building up Knoxville’s biking community and its trail system (case in point: the downhill runs at Sharp’s Ridge Memorial State Park). Grab your gears (and your helmet) to take the plunge from the top of the ridgeline down to the city below. This path is for experienced bikers only, and it’s not the only hair-raising one in town. If you’re looking for a slower start check out some of the offerings in Ijams, Baker Creek Preserve, and the Urban Wilderness. Sharp’s Ridge also has hiking trails.
5. Test your endurance at Frozen Head State Park.
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Home to the infamous Barkley Marathons—a 100-mile endurance run known as “the race that eats its young”—Frozen Head State Park northwest of Knoxville is packed with scenic beauty and winding mountain trails perfect for a day away from the city or a backpacking weekend. The challenging climbs into the mountains offer reprieve and a bit more solitude than the bustling Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the east, which packs in thousands of visitors each day during peak summer months.
6. Discover the city by greenway.
More than 50 miles of paved trails interconnect Knoxville neighborhoods and downtown, often taking walkers and riders into green spaces sandwiched in the heart of the city, though you may feel far removed from the hustle and bustle. This plan for a greener Knoxville is still evolving, and the city hopes to connect the downtown greenways with the extensive network in South Knoxville in coming years, opening up a pedestrian-friendly route from the center city to the Urban Wilderness and beyond. Some of the greenways are patchwork, opening up to a main thoroughfare before connecting with the next leg a short distance away, but remain an excellent way to commute and discover hidden corners of Knoxville. You can also use them to discover North Knoxville’s various breweries and new-to-you neighborhoods like West Knoxville. Check the city’s website to find your closest greenway.
7. Join up with other outdoor enthusiasts on Meetup.
The well established Meetup group “Knox Outdoors-Adventure, Hiking, Biking, Rafting, Climbing” is nearly 2,000 members strong and hosts regular get-out-and-do-something-fun meetups for a variety of skill levels. Whether you’re looking to go out on your first paddle in a kayak or find other die-hard backcountry survivalists, this is a great place to start. Also check out the newly established “Knoxville Active Outdoors” group.
8. Hike the Appalachian Trail through the Smoky Mountains.
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The grueling ascent on the Appalachian Trail from the south border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has earned a tough reputation among Appalachian thru hikers, and for good reason: It’s a real grind. But if you can manage the demands of a sharp 2,100-foot gain, you’ll be rewarded with treetop views and have access to parts of the nation’s most-visited national park that aren’t saturated with throngs of tourists sticking to the main roads. Most hikers take five days or more to transverse the 71-mile section of the trail that runs through the park, often taking detours to staples like Clingman’s Dome and Gregory’s Bald.
9. Rock climb with a ranger at Obed Wild and Scenic River.
Rangers at the Obed Wild and Scenic River Natural Area welcome the public the first Saturday of each month for Coffee and Climb With a Ranger, which is just what it sounds like. Participants drink their fill of liquid fuel before learning the ropes from these experts. Focused on families and a variety of skillsets, the regular event has a dedicated climbing time for kids before opening up the rockface to eager parents and other adults. Best of all, it’s completely free.
10. Swing above the city.
A favorite sunset destination among local college students, the bluff overlooking downtown Knoxville from the south banks is a must-stop destination to fully appreciate the city lights. While not an official attraction, it’s popular and easily accessible by car and foot. Park in the dirt lot off Cherokee Trail near High Ground Park and follow the gravel trail into the River Bluff Wildlife Area. Veer right at the first major fork and within 10 minutes you’ll arrive at this picturesque city lookout—an ideal perch for planning your next Knoxville adventure.
Written by RootsRated for BCBS of Tennessee.
Featured image provided by Clay Duda