Knoxville is a city that sits snugly by the Tennessee River, and for those who are based in this city, you are in luck! Knoxville is within a day’s drive of almost half of the United States continent so there are so many places you can explore outside of the city. Scenic national parks, mountain ranges, cultural trips, and even pet-friendly cabins; you have it all. Solo trip, couple trip, or even a family trip, there is going to be a choice for everyone. You just have to plan your itinerary ahead along with your chosen vacation rental and you get to go on a super fun and enjoyable day trip outside the city. If you’re looking for an adventure, check out our list of some of the best day trips from Knoxville, Tennessee.
1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg is 35.4 miles (56.9 kilometers) from Knoxville. It is a small, resort-style community set in the mountains of East Tennessee and is recognized for its magnificent landscape, fantastic shopping, and fascinating history.
The little resort town, known as the “Gateway to the Smoky Mountains”, is worth visiting if you enjoy hiking even if you do not like to visit a touristy region. Gatlinburg is a fairly touristic area that is jammed within a handful of miles.
2. Maggie Valley, North Carolina
Maggie Valley is a town in the state of North Carolina. There’s the Deep Creek Trail that traverses cascades and there are runs and paths at Cataloochee Ski Area. Vintage bikes and unique automobiles may be seen at the Wheels Through Time Museum. Along the Haywood County Quilt Trails, blocks colored with vibrant quilt designs adorn barns and structures.
For several years, it’s been a famous tourist hotspot in North Carolina’s mountains. It’s a laid-back, “old-fashioned” town with antique hotels, entertaining festivities, automobile and motorbike parades, a plethora of artisan stores to browse, and a variety of other activities. It is 95.3 miles (153.3 kilometers) from Knoxville, Tennessee.
3. Oak Ridge, Tennessee
With a distance of 24.9 miles (40.1 kilometers) from Knoxville, it would take less than an hour to reach Oak Ridge. This is the Secret City with a tremendous narrative to tell, was born in battle and is rich in environmental splendor. This city flourishes with contributions to science, breathtaking scenery, exciting outdoor adventure, and interesting history. It is most known for its part in producing the technology that ended WWII. There is always something to discover in Oak Ridge, from the tranquil waterfronts to the inventive breakthroughs.
Melton Lake Park is one of Oak Ridge’s most appealing parks, with kayak, stand up paddleboard, and paddleboat rentals available. This is a favorite fishing spot due to ease accessibility to the lake. Many famous rowing regattas are held in the park each spring.
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4. Huntsville, Alabama
Huntsville, also known as the “Rocket City”, is located 211.2 miles (339.9 kilometers) from Knoxville. It stretches at the foot of North Alabama and is home to many tourist attractions. The city is famous for its historic U.S. space missions, along with the achievements of rocket scientists.
Its contribution to the development of space technology traces back to the 1950s and it also became a site of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Aside from being a high-tech city, Huntsville has beautiful sandy beaches with clear blue waters that tourists love. It is a getaway destination for family and friends, looking for a place to unwind.
5. Tugaloo State Park
Tugaloo’s cottages and most campgrounds, which are located on a forested peninsula, provide lovely scenery of Lake Hartwell in all directions. For guests staying overnight, some cottages have individual floating docks and tent campers can pick between a constructed campsite or primitive sites. Sailing, water skiing, swimming. and boating are all popular summer activities at the lake.
The Sassafras and Muscadine hiking trails each wound their way through trees. There’s a six-lane mega dock at Tugaloo State Park that is used for huge fishing competitions and convenient lake access.
Tugaloo State Park
Address: 1763 Tugaloo State Park Rd, Lavonia, GA 30553, United States
Website: Tugaloo State Park
Opening hours: 7am - 10pm (daily)
Chattanooga, the fourth-largest city in Tennessee, is just slightly less than a two-hour drive from Knoxville. There are a few museums that highlight the history and culture of that city. For those who are into machinery, check out the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame Museum and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. Art enthusiasts can plan a weekend trip from Knoxville to the Hunter Museum of Art to understand more about art history and preservation.
Have a little one? You can also plan a visit to the Tennessee Aquarium. The kids are bound to have a good time discovering the magic of the exciting marine life. Want a little bit of an adventure while experiencing the beautiful views of the city? Go on the Incline Railway - also known as the world’s steepest railway.
7. Sweetwater, TN
Just less than an hour’s drive from Knoxville, Sweetwater is most notable for Lost Sea - the largest underwater lake in America. This is definitely a great trip for families to have lots of fun together. Take a boat ride to explore the underground lake and embark on a tour to learn more about the caverns of cave networks. There are also guided tours with guides giving you more information and explanations on the history of the cave. It is also a great place to visit in the summer because the temperature there is almost always 14 degrees celsius.
8. The Great Smoky Mountains
Less than an hour’s drive from Knoxville will bring you to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park located along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. It is an awesome location for a day trip, especially if you are a nature lover. This mountain range consists of about 187,000 acres (76,000 ha) of forest and it is one of the most diverse eco-systems in the continent of North America. For the adventurous ones, go for a climb up the Clingsman Dome - it is the highest point in the whole of Tennessee. If climbing up the dome is too much for you, go for a scenic hike on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. It is a 6-mile (9.6km) road that gives you access to the Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls.
9. Pigeon Forge, TN
Pigeon Forge is located in Sevier County, Tennessee, and it is a mountain resort found about an hour’s drive from Knoxville. It is a popular tourist destination and they serve an estimated 10 million tourists annually, so it is no wonder that the town is filled with tourist attractions and infrastructures. One popular attraction is the Hollywood Wax Museum, where you will find wax figures of top celebrities, take pictures with them and have lots of fun. If you are on a romantic date, you can go for a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel. The glass gondola is going to give you a spectacular view of Pigeon Forge - you can even see the Smoky Mountains during the day.
10. Asheville, NC
Asheville is slightly further away from the other destinations on this list but it is still worth it to give this city in North Carolina a visit. Art connoisseurs are going to fall in love with the city because of its cool artsy vibe. There are also a lot of unique local galleries and boutiques that you can visit in Downtown Asheville. Asheville is also known as “beer city” so you will find a number of craft breweries such as the Wedge Brewing Company and Burial Beer Co serving beers specially curated in small batches.
11. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is located in Daniel Boone County in Kentucky, and it is just a 1.5-hour drive from Knoxville. This nature park is famed for its tall waterfall. There are several hiking trails within the park, so you can go for a hike to enjoy a walk in nature. If you are lucky, you even get to see the lunar rainbow under the moon! Cumberland Falls is one of the few places on the Western Hemisphere where you get to see this beautiful creation by Mother Nature. Aside from all the hiking and sightseeing, you also enjoy other recreational activities within the park’s premises. Go for a swim (they have an Olympic-sized swimming pool), fishing and you can even try gem-mining.
12. Blue Ridge, Georgia
Blue Ridge is a mountain town in Fanning County, Northern Georgia. It is about a 2.5-hour drive from Knoxville. This town is all about the calm and relaxing vibes thanks to its vibrant art culture and scenic nature parks. Visit the Baugh House Historic Museum, a two-story masonry residence built in the 1890s. Enjoy the spectacular views of Blue Ridge via the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, a 26-mile (41-km) long ride that will take about 4 hours. If you just want to relax and do nothing, this is a great activity to clear your mind from your usual hectic lifestyle. Or if you prefer to spend some quality time with your loved ones, you can also opt for a picnic session at the beautiful Blue Ridge City Park.
13. Roanoke, Virginia
About a four-hour drive away from Knoxville, you’ll reach Roanoke, a city in Virginia with a bustling art-scene that is great for an escapade from the city life. Go for an art-tour in the Taubman Museum of Art. The structure of the museum is a piece of art by itself; a modern-looking building with glass panes lining the exterior. Enjoy widely acclaimed works from local and international artists.
Take a walk down Downtown Roanoke and enjoy the artsy vibes while browsing the local boutiques. You might find something special in one of the stores. Like Ashevile, Roanoke is also home to a few local craft breweries. Visit them, try their locally brewed craft beers, take things slow and enjoy your weekend getaway from Knoxville, Tennessee.
14. Atlanta, GA
Atlanta, the capital of Georgia is a three-hour drive away from Knoxville and this city is full of breathtaking sights and landmarks. The most famous one would have to be their Centennial Olympic Park, a 21-acre (8.5-ha) land that hosted the World Olympic Games in 1996. It is now home to various art activities and festivals. Over there, you will also find the Fountain of Rings that features choreographed water shows that will take place about four times a day. If you want to enjoy some panoramic views of the city along with some great food and wine, head over to Sun Dial Restaurant, a three-level dining complex in the Westin Peach Tree Plaza.
15. Helen, GA
Helen, a small, quaint little Alpine town nestled in North Georgia, is about a three-hour drive from Knoxville. The buildings and structures of this beautiful city look like they came right out of a fairytale. There’s even a cute chocolate shop inspired by Hansel and Gretel. The best thing is, that they make tasty candies and chocolates right in front of you. Not sure what to get? They give samples as well, so you can try your favorite candies before making a purchase. Helen is also known for its annual Oktoberfest that has been going on for more than 50 years. If you are interested in lots of food, dancing, beer and celebration, head over to Helen in the months of September and October.
Take a break and go on a day trip
The geographical location of Knoxville is so ideal, you can easily plan road trips and day trips to neighboring towns and cities when you are in need of a mini-break. There are so many places to explore and you can be sure to find suitable trips and activities that suit everyone. Be it a solo, couple or a family trip, you’ll definitely find a destination that you are going to love.
Frequently asked questions about day trips from Knoxville
1. Which parks are best for day trips from Knoxville?
There are many parks that are ideal for day trips from Knoxville. Melton Lake Park is an appealing park, with kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and paddleboat rentals. Tugaloo State Park has a six-lane mega dock that is used for huge fishing competitions and convenient lake access. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located along the Tennessee-North Carolina border and Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is located in Daniel Boone County in Kentucky.
2. Which are the best places to visit for day trips from Knoxville?
You’ll be glad to know that there are a lot of places to see during your day trips from Knoxville. The little resort town, known as the “Gateway to the Smoky Mountains” is well worth visiting. You can also go to the Tennessee Aquarium where are bound to have a good time discovering the magic of the exciting marine life. Lost Sea - the largest underwater lake in America is also a great place to explore in the summer. Lastly, there are a lot of unique local galleries and boutiques that you can discover in Downtown Asheville.
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