Snugly sitting by the Tennessee River, not far from the state lines of Kentucky and North Carolina, the city of Knoxville is a hallmark of Southern hospitality.
With this, comes a unique and irresistible blend of flavors, sights, and sounds.
From street cookouts and revolutionary history to blues music, Knoxville is a perfect example of what a Southern riverside city can offer a curious traveler.
It also happens to be located within stone’s throw of some of the most gorgeous natural attractions – both within and outside of its state boundaries.
Between Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky, there are endless national parks, gorgeous lakes and impressive mountain ranges to explore, not to mention other fantastic towns and cities, each with their own allure.
Let’s take a look at some of the best day trips you can embark on from Knoxville.
1. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
A quick hop over the state line into Kentucky and you’ll find one of the most exciting natural escapes around, where you can enjoy the great outdoors to your heart’s content.
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park offers some incredible hiking trails, not to mention horseback riding, swimming, and fishing – but its real attraction is a lot more unique.
Affectionately known as the “Niagara of the South”, Cumberland Falls itself is a 125-foot-wide cascade of water, roaring off a 60-foot drop that is a spectacle to behold, whatever the weather.
It also boasts the title of hosting the only “moonbow” in the western hemisphere – a phenomenon wherein a rainbow is formed by the light of the moon instead of the sun!
2. Blue Ridge, Georgia
Head south for two hours on a beautifully scenic drive through the enormous Nantahala National Forest to find the picturesque and adventure-filled town of Blue Ridge.
Ideal for anyone from thrill-seekers to fishing enthusiasts, the surrounding area consists of mountains, crystal clear waterways like the Toccoa, and carpets of green, gold and red forest as far as the eye can see.
A prime destination is the Ocoee Whitewater Center, where visitors can get their adrenaline pumping with world-class whitewater rafting and kayaking, not to mention some breathtaking hiking trails.
3. Roanoke, Virginia
Boasting a proud railroad heritage and bursting at the seams with national history, Roanoke is one of the Blue Ridge Mountain’s most popular and fascinating cities.
Here you can visit the Booker T. Washington Monument or the National D-Day Memorial, as well as countless galleries and museums.
If you’re after something a little more active, take a stroll through the breathtakingly beautiful Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, just north of the city.
You’ll also find that Roanoke is a hub for festivals and cultural events, with many visitors from nearby towns and counties congregating here to celebrate.
4. Huntsville, Alabama
Proud home to the largest space attraction on the planet, Huntsville, Alabama is where the U.S. Space and Rocket Center can be found; it draws in thousands of visitors a year.
Here, you’ll be able to experience the surreal sensation of standing under a “full stack”, otherwise known as two real rocket boosters with an entire space shuttle sitting above them! Aside from space-related fun, visitors can also enjoy the gorgeous Huntsville Botanical Gardens and the Huntsville Museum of Art.
5. Atlanta, Georgia
Positively exploding with dynamic culture, the huge city of Atlanta is a glittering destination for anyone looking to experience some urban excitement in the southeast.
Between the Olympic Park, countless movie filming destinations, and the thriving art scene, it’s impossible not to find something to do in Atlanta.
However, the main attractions are undoubtedly the food and music scenes.
With new restaurants popping up every week – serving everything from hearty southern cuisine to boundary-pushing fusion food – the eats in Atlanta are unmissable.
The same goes for the music scene that is dominated by globally recognized hip-hop and rock; you can be sure to find countless events throughout town on any day of the week.
Less than two hours from Knoxville, the city of Chattanooga sits in the foothills of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains and overlooks the Tennessee River.
The city is the perfect blend of natural and urban attractions, with everything on offer from lakes and underground waterfalls to railroad museums.
Outdoor lovers should head to Lookout Mountain, just six miles from downtown Chattanooga.
Here you’ll find Rock City, an epic natural playground of rock formations, awe-inspiring waterfalls and hanging gardens with multi-state panoramic views.
If you’re looking to explore the town, then be sure to pass by the Hunter Museum of Art and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
7. Alpine Helen, Georgia
Boasting the accolade of being the state’s third most-visited destination, the settlement of Alpine Helen is an homage to alpine villages found in the Bavarian Alps.
Positively bursting with charm, the town is filled with pointed-roofed, Bavarian-style chateaus lining cobblestone streets and painted in bright colors.
Aside from wandering the fascinating streets, visitors can go to vineyards, take rides in hot air balloons, and, if they’re lucky enough to come in the Fall, enjoy one of the best Oktoberfest celebrations in the country.
8. Maggie Valley
In less than two hours you can hop over the state line to North Carolina and find the quaint but picturesque settlement of Maggie Valley, situated in the Great Smoky Mountains and bursting with small-town charm.
With plenty of Southern bars and restaurants in town, you’ll instantly warm up to the sense of hospitality, while further afield there are countless adventure excursions to embark on.
The Southern Appalachians offer hiking, fishing, swimming, golfing and more, though possibly the most exciting prospect is the opportunity to ski during the winter.
9. Asheville Treetops Adventures
Also situated in North Carolina, this day trip is one for the thrill-seekers and not for the vertigo-inclined. Made up of 50 unique activities high up amongst the treetops, Asheville Treetops Adventure Park gives visitors the choice to choose their own routes and begin climbing, rappelling, zip lining and swinging their way through the forest.
Moving at your own pace, you’ll not only have the chance to get your adrenaline pumping, but also to appreciate the natural beauty of North Carolina’s marvelous signature woodland.
10. Pigeon Forge
The mountain town of Pigeon Forge in eastern Tennessee is remarkably close to Knoxville and has a noticeable abundance of entertainment loved by both visitors and locals.
From mini golf courses to go-kart tracks, it seems like the town was built around attractions.
It’s also a fantastic starting point to make your way up into the Great Smoky Mountains, though with all the restaurants, shops and activities available in town, it’s best to save the hiking for another day.
11. Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park boasts the title of America’s most visited national park and it’s easy to see why.
Ridge upon ridge of ancient mountains are filled with an incredible array of animal and plant life, opportunities for adventure, and Appalachia mountain culture.
With visitor centers like Sugarlands and Oconaluftee, you can learn everything there is to know about the mountain ranges, or set out to see the sights, like Rainbow Falls or Cades Cove.
The irresistible charms of the mountain town of Gatlinburg are likely to make you want to stay for longer than a day.
The town is nestled into the Great Smoky Mountains themselves, and aside from the scenic charms of its location, has a lot to offer in the way of entertainment.
From distilleries and wineries – not to mention an abundance of restaurants – to all manner of live street and theatre shows, this captivating town has it all.
Of course, if you’re looking to do some outdoor activities, Gatlinburg is the perfect spot to book adventure tours that’ll have you skiing, mountain climbing and whitewater rafting in no time.
Boasting both a theme park and water park, Dollywood is an amusement park complex that caters to all ages that can be found only a short drive from Knoxville, in the mountain town of Pigeon Forge.
With rides, world-class cuisine and luxury lodgings, the parks are enjoyed just as much by locals as they are by visitors.
With panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains visible as you plunge and wheel around on rollercoasters, this unique park is the perfect day trip for the whole family.
14. Black Mountain
Part of the wider Blue Ridge Mountain range, Black Mountain is one of the most attractive small towns in North Carolina, widely and affectionately known for its thriving arts and crafts scene, not to mention beautifully maintained buildings.
The quiet settlement is the perfect escape for anyone looking to spend a peaceful day strolling around the nearby Lake Tomahawk or admiring the gorgeous landscaping of the town itself.
Complete with endless artisan stores, galleries and live music – usually audible wherever you are – Black Mountain is a wonderful place to unwind for the day.
15. Tugaloo State Park
Tucked away on a wooded peninsula in Georgia, Tugaloo State Park is a favorite amongst watersport enthusiasts thanks to its location next to the massive Lake Hartwell.
With over 55,000-acres of lake at their disposal, visitors love heading down in the summer to attend fishing tournaments.
You’ll also find water skiing, swimming, sailing and much more.