Looking for something fun to do in Knoxville?
In this guide, I reveal the best outdoor things to do in Knoxville, Tennessee. These activities are all an hour or less from downtown Knoxville, making these the perfect things to do if you live in or near Knoxville, or if you’re visiting this charming city in southeast Tennessee!
The greatest thing about this article is that I unveil the best outdoor things to do in Knoxville, Tennessee by month! Yes, that’s right: these are the best things to do in Knoxville each month of the year.
Looking for something fun to do outdoors in/near Knoxville in January? What about March? How about August or November? I’ve got you covered!
Best Outdoor Things to Do In Knoxville (By Month)
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Welcome to Knoxville, a big city with a small-town feel. Many people live and/or visit here for the city’s surrounding nature and adventure opportunities. This East Tennessee city has no shortage of exciting events and outdoor activities to keep you busy for the entire year.
Since daytime temperatures rarely dip below freezing in Knoxville – even in the middle of winter – you will be able to enjoy the Great Outdoors year-round!
Here are the top outdoor things to do near Knoxville each month of the year!
January: Go Snow Tubing at Ober Gatlinburg
The premier way to play in the snow is in above-freezing temperatures! Yep, you heard me right.
Thanks to a fake snow machine that hurls millions of flakes through the air and an epic snow tubing hill high above the touristy town of Gatlinburg, you can play in the snow without the burden of numb extremities, chattering teeth, and rosy cheeks.
It was a whopping 70 degrees when we tubed this in the winter! And yes, the snow looks and feels as real as the powder that falls from the sky 😉.
While I love this recreation area in the winter, Ober Mountain in Gatlinburg is the hub for outdoor recreation year-round. Inside its boundaries, you can find an amusement park complete with an epic roller coaster carved into the mountain, a ski area, an ice rink, an aerial tramway, a mountaintop park, hiking trails, seasonal festivals, live music, and of course, the famous snow tubing hill.
February: Explore Nearby Parks
Hiking in local Tennessee parks is one of my favorite ways to pass the month of February! But hiking isn’t the only activity to do inside these beautiful urban and rural parks – you can camp, fish, kayak, climb, tube, ski, bike, and much more! (Most of which can probably be done in February!)
Since temperatures are mild in the winter compared to some chillier states up north, outdoor recreation like hiking, camping, and picnicking are possible year-round, even in the month of February!
Exploring local Tennessee trails is great in the winter for many reasons. One, crowds aren’t clogging the trails yet, so you get to enjoy the peace and quiet of the bare forests. Two, it’s still usually warm enough to do most of the things you can do in the spring, summer, and fall. And three, since the intense summer heat hasn’t yet rolled in, hiking and biking are much more tolerable.
Here are some of my favorite parks and recreation areas in Knoxville (or less than an hour away from downtown):
- Ozone Falls
- Fort Dickerson Quarry
- Lakeshore Park
- Frozen Head State Park
- Cumberland Mountain State Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park (mentioned next!)
March: Hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is excellent year-round, but spring might be my favorite.
During the springtime in the Smoky Mountains, waterfalls are roaring, hordes of people haven’t yet arrived for the summer tourist season, and temperatures are perfect for hiking (not too hot, not too chilly). It’s so great that I wrote an entire guide about spring in the Smokies.
Some of my favorite trails in the Great Smoky Mountains:
⚠️ Don’t forget to purchase and display your parking tag in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Keep in Mind: High-elevated portions of the Smokies such as Mt. LeConte and Clingman’s Dome might have lingering snow in the spring. Read more about Great Smoky Mountains’ springtime conditions here.
April: Drive the Foothills Parkway
I usually describe the Foothills Parkway as a “mini Blue Ridge Parkway.” It’s got similar windy roads, trails, and overlooks, but on a much smaller scale. While I certainly recommend driving the Blue Ridge Parkway (especially in the fall), it’s a bit far from Knoxville, so a weekend or weeklong trip on the BRP is the way to go.
If you’d like to experience the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains but don’t have the time to drive the entire Blue Ridge Parkway, take a drive down the Foothills Parkway!
The Foothills Parkway is a broken road with two separate sections: Western and Eastern. The Western segment runs from Chilhowee to Wears Valley while the Eastern segment runs from Cosby to i40.
As you chew up the miles, you’ll stumble across a plethora of hiking trails and roadside stops that can easily fill up an afternoon.
Take your time cruising down the road, stopping at all of the overlooks, and hiking the trails. You can even enjoy a picnic with a beautiful view at one of the many roadside stops.
May: Paddle the Tennessee River
Paddling options are abundant in Knoxville! With ample rivers and lakes intersecting through and surrounding the city, you won’t run out of places to drop in a boat, kayak, SUP, canoe, etc.
If rivers are your scene, spend the day out on the Tennessee, French Broad, or Holston River. Or if you prefer lakes, venture a bit further to Norris, Douglas, or Tellico.
No matter which body of water you choose to spend your time in, you’ll be treated to some picturesque mountain views and/or peaceful wooded nature.
June: Visit Ijams Nature Center
Ijams Nature Center is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Tucked in southeast Knoxville, this urban nature park features a quarry, mountain biking and hiking trails, an outdoor rock climbing area, a natural play area for children, and a challenging outdoor exercise space.
You can hike, bike, paddle, swim, climb, and exercise – all in one epic location in southeast Knoxville! With 318 acres of forests, meadows, wetlands, and creeks, Ijams is perfect for nature lovers of all ages and abilities.
And it’s completely free to enter! The nature center relies solely on volunteers, donors, and members to maintain its trail system and natural areas.
❗️Note that on February 19th, 2024, a $5 fee will be required to park at iJams. This is to fund a new restoration project. Memberships are available.
On-site boat rentals at iJams make it easy and convenient if you don’t bring your own kayak or paddleboard.
July: Bike Cades Cove (on a Wednesday)
Biking Cades Cove is one of the best things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
While you can certainly bike on any given day, or even drive through the 11-mile loop, biking through Cades Cove on a vehicle-free Wednesday (in the summer!) allows you to experience the isolated valley without the distraction of traffic.
Cades Cove is open to vehicles from around sunrise to sunset, but bikers (and hikers) can cycle/walk the loop at any hour of any day. If you want to experience the road vehicle-free, visit on a Wednesday in the summer (May 1 – September 25 for 2024) or before the gate opens or after the gate closes to vehicles any day of the year.
→READ NEXT: Things to Know Before Biking Cades Cove 🚲
August: Tube the Little River
Tubing is the picture-perfect way to cool off on a hot summer day in East Tennessee! There are many rivers that connect in and around Knoxville and ones that stretch to the mountains.
My favorite river to tube is the Little River because of the gentle rapids that add a new exciting element to the experience.
The easiest way to tube the Little River is to utilize the park-and-ride system at River Rat in Townsend. You can rent a tube for the day for just $20. Included in your ticket is unlimited use of the shuttle and as many tubing rides down the river as you can squeeze into a day. (Book online at least a day in advance to get the $20 rate).
→ READ NEXT: 3 Best Rivers to Go Tubing in the Smoky Mountains
September: Attend the Tennessee Valley Fair
Events are plentiful in East Tennessee, so there is always something to do. One of the biggest festivals in Knoxville is the Tennessee Valley Fair!
The Tennessee Valley Fair takes place from early to mid-September every year. Stop by for live music, fair rides, junk food, animal shows, and carnival games!
The 2024 Tennessee Valley Fair is September 6-15.
October: Attend a UT Football Game
College sports are a big deal in Knoxville, especially football. The University of Tennessee football games can get pretty rowdy and exciting, particularly when the Vols play their ultimate rival, Alabama.
Pick a game and head to Neyland Stadium in downtown Knox for a wild night of college football, unlimited junk food, and rambunctious fans.
Click here for the Vols’ current game schedule. Book your tickets in advance; games sell out quickly!
November: Watch a Movie at Cherokee Caverns
If you are bored with going to the theater and watching movies on a big screen in an overly air-conditioned room, consider watching a movie in a cave!
Cherokee Caverns is a cave system that is protected by volunteers. They host events and play movies year-round in the cave to raise money for the annual insurance that allows the caves to be open to the public.
With each event ticket, you gain access to the entire cave, which you can explore at your leisure!
Since the cave always stays at a mild, consistent temperature of 58 degrees, you can visit any time of year. You can cool off in the summer or warm up in the winter!
My favorite time of year to go into the caves is in November because they usually play a Christmas movie like Christmas Vacation. The volunteers decorate the cave system with twinkling red, white, and green lights, and add festive touches throughout the lighted pathways and into the “movie room.”
December: Attend New Year’s Eve at the Sunsphere
Another must-attend festival in Knox is New Year’s Eve at the Sunsphere!
Ring in the New Year with friends, family, visitors, and neighbors at World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville.
At this event, you can listen to live music, dance at the silent disco, eat yummy food from local food trucks, snag free merch from local vendors, and watch fireworks light up the sky as you ring in the new year in front of the infamous Sunshpere.
Bring a blanket and/or chairs and enjoy the festival!
Parking is free after 6 PM in all city-owned garages, and there is no entrance fee to get into this event, so this event is completely free unless you purchase food or souvenirs!
Some Other Fun Things to Do In/Near Knoxville
I hope you’ve found some fun things on this list to do in Knoxville this year. The outdoor recreation around this Tennessee Valley city is mind-blowing and limitless! Come see for yourself!
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to comment here or reach out to me on IG @alexysabroad 😊
More Fun Things to Do in Tennessee
- Paddle to Burgess Falls
- Hike to the base of Cummins Falls
- See the synchronous fireflies in the Smokies
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