Part of the Travel Local, COVID getaway, series– this post is meant for locals in Tennessee that are getting stir crazy and will travel regardless of guidance from our government. The suggestions below are to keep the spread of the virus in a place that has the resources necessary should an outbreak occur. The outdoor recommendation(s) is a place not far from the city stop. To contain the virus please fill up your gas tanks before leaving your town and bring snacks and other essentials. Outdoor recommendations are typically in areas with limited resources.
Home Sweet Tennessee
It won’t be of much surprise to those following along on my life journey that I skipped ahead to Tennessee. This is my new home. I moved here in June 2020 during the pandemic. Before moving I had only visited a handful of time. I had been to Nashville a few times, Gatlinburg/Pidgeon Forge a couple of times and Memphis just once.
While all of those places were fun to visit I decided to move to Knoxville. Of all the aforementioned cities of Tennessee, I definitely am happy with my choice. Since moving here, I’ve driven to Chattanooga, too- a city worth mentioning but one I don’t know enough about. I only went as far as an animal rescue. Chattanooga is Pickles first home.
The day I moved to Knoxville was the first time I had been in the city. Still, after 4 months, I haven’t explored a ton. In fact, most of my days are spent working from home or at the dog park. Beyond that I get out to volunteer around the city with Keep Knoxville Beautiful. However, I have explored the city thoroughly enough (even if I am walking the streets of Google Maps), learned some interesting history points, and even hosted my mom and her fiancé, Jeff. I had created an itinerary for their visit and I will include some of those points below. So without creating any suspense, the basecamp of this Tennessee guide is my new home: Knoxville, TN.
City Stop: Knoxville
Knoxville is an easy drive from Asheville, Nashville, southern Kentucky, and even the bottom west corner of Virginia. There is a rich history of Knoxville Tennessee. It includes Buffalo Bill and a shooting in one of the best kept Southern Saloons from the 19th century, prostitution, the Million Dollar Fire, civil rights, the Underground Railroad, and Clinton High School- the school better known for its Supreme Court case: Brown vs. Board of Education.
As history has it, ‘thriving’ cities from the south all included a market house. Knoxville had one too, it burned down and is now what we refer to as Market Square. Start your day exploring the city here. It is now an acre of land bordered by stores and restaurants. Pre-COVID the outdoor space was used to host community events and the weekly Farmer’s market.
We have strict mask and social distancing requirements in our downtown establishments- be sure to follow suit for the best experience. If you came in time for breakfast, I HIGHLY recommend Ruby Sunshine– a New Orleans café. They have seasonal beignets, benedicts, and cinnamon swirl pancakes. This café is dog friendly with a wrapped corner porch on the ‘Spittin’ side of the market square’. Most of Knoxville is dog friendly, even some stores allow them inside; Mast General Store.
Self- Guided Walking Tour
If you choose to stick around downtown for the day head over to Earth to Old City and in the back right of the store (almost to the corner) you can pick up a $5 ‘Lost Tales of Scruffy City’ book. They are small (hand) sized books to create your own walking tour. I chose the one title ‘The Low Road’ for my mom’s visit and it was full of interesting facts! I’d recommend buying it before breakfast so you can browse it and get an idea of where the day will take you. And just in case you parked at the 2 hour meter for the day- don’t worry, the citation for more than 2 hours is $11 and you can pay it online.
Before wandering too far, be sure to tuck into the alley- Strong Alley to see some vibrant street art! This is right between Market Square and Gay Street- If you are on Wall Street you will see Dolly’s face. There is another alley with a rainbow row sort of appeal as well- it’s not far from Market Square, if you follow the porch of Ruby Sunshine around the corner a few feet up and to the left is another alley. This one is wider than Strong Alley and not as captivating but it is on my way from where I typically park to Market Square and I find myself pulled to it. From the other end it is tucked between Oliver and Casual Pint.
Getting around Knoxville
It is easy to get around the city by foot. Starting at Market Square you can explore many of the districts. I haven’t read all of the ‘Lost Tales’ series but ‘The Low Road’ is just that… it keeps you walking either on flat land or declined. I skipped the Summit hill walk to the church as you can see it from the bottom of the hill. Once you make it to the lower/underground parts of Knoxville, also known as the Bowery, you can hop on a Trolley to take you back to the Historic district or even to The World’s Fair Park.
Trolley’s are free and still operating in the city during COVID. You must wear a mask and sit on the designated benches, there is a maximum limit per trolley- so some will not stop if at capacity. There are 3 lines to get you around the city. Some routes are temporarily closed but all 3 lines are running. You may pull the chord to stop closest to where you need to be if the route is affected by closures. The Green Line will get you mostly anywhere downtown and the Orange Line will take you to The World’s Fair Park or the University of Tenn campus. Finally the Blue line will take you to the Waterfront. All 3 lines intersect downtown. Click here to see more Trolley details and the actual routes.
Tennessee’s Iconic Sunsphere
Most people recognize Knoxville for the Sunsphere. The World Fair of 1982 was hosted here. The Sunsphere is our Space Needle of the South. Other famous World’s Fair monuments around the Globe include: The Eiffel Tower, The Unisphere, The Magic Fountain of Montjuic, The China Pavilion, and The Biosphere. The Sunsphere is currently closed due to COVID. In fact, the entire World’s Fair Park is closed- all fountains are off and it’s the opposite of thriving. Hopefully next year it will be full of life again! It’s still worth visiting for a photo opportunity- to stand on the lawn with the Sunsphere in the distance.
Knoxville for Foodies
On my List
- Chivo Taqueria
- Tupelo Honey
- Hey Bear Cafe
- Steamboat Sandwiches
- Wild Love Bake House
- The Plaid Apron
- Souther Grit
- Ruby Sunshine
- The Tomato Head (they have EXCELLENT humus to buy for home, too!)
- Henry’s Deli
- CJ’s Taco’s- they also have a Food truck!
*Speaking of Foodtrucks, we have a lot- you can go to Central Filling Station to choose from many. I love the Hibachi truck!
- The Curious Dog
- Emma’s Southern Kitchen
Outdoors: East Tennessee
Seen all the way from Knoxville, to the southeast, stands the Smoky Mountains. They are an hour drive from the city. Although, it is not necessary to leave the city of Knoxville for a day spent climbing and getting dirty. My favorite hike near home is House Mountain (20 min NE). This is a steep climb and can be either out and back or looped at the top. I choose the loop route every time. Dogs are welcome here. This mountain resembles a volcano from the distance. It stands alone among otherwise flat farmland. For this reason, it is often struck by lightning- be sure to check the forecast and if a storm rolls in GET OFF THE MOUNTAIN.
To find the parking lot, type: ‘House Mountain State Natural Area’ it should be on Hogskin Rd. This will take you straight to the trailhead. I recommend climbing up the mountain on the short but steeper route, traversing the full ridge, and then returning down the longer less rocky route to the parking lot. Camping is not permitted. This mountain is composed of private property as well, stay on the trail! The mountain itself has full foliage for coverage. In fact, I have been at the top during a down pour and as I hurried down to the bottom before it became a storm, I noticed I stayed dry the entire time. The trail is reminiscent of the forests I hiked through on the South Eastern part of Java, Indonesia.
Other Outdoor Areas of East Tennessee:
- Fort Dickerson Park, the quarry.
- Ijams Nature Center; and the Ijams Crag
- The FREE Botanical Gardens; rumors have it- the Secret Garden is based on the one found inside.
- Further North- Lake Norris (30 mins N)
- Or my favorite Park/Lake to take Pickles to: Big Ridge State Park
*This park has lakeside cabins for rent as well as campsites. (30 mins N).
- Another great Park is Cove Lake or Cumberland Trail State Park (located together). This is a kayaking and/or bird preserve so the lake access is restrictive, there are tons of trails to explore and a waterfall, too. This is also an excellent place to camp!
*Distances are based from Knoxville, TN.
As a heads up to all my fellow dog families- the Smoky Mountains National Park only allow dogs on 2 of their trails while all Tennessee STATE Parks are dog friendly. I have called a few and none are restricting dogs entirely from trails- they just have to be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Overall, the city boasts
Keep Nature Wild
Please leave the places you visit better than you found them. Pack out whatever you bring in- this includes compostable (and non- DUH!) dog waste bags. It also includes fruit/vegetable or other food scraps- if it’s not growing wildly there, it doesn’t belong; an INVASIVE SPECIES. Leaving seemingly harmless and compostable waste is SEVERELY HARMFUL TO THE ENVIRONMENT AND ECOSYSTEM. This includes bringing firewood from out of town to local campsites. Wood carries insects and disease- a rule of thumb is to buy firewood within 10 miles of where it’ll be burned. And of course- check the daily fire danger rating to prevent a wildfire.