Settled in 1791 and established in 1792, Knoxville, Tennessee, was named after President George Washington’s Revolutionary War Secretary, Henry Knox. Nestled on the Tennessee River in the eastern part of the state, there’s a lot to love for residents and visitors alike. With deep history, natural beauty, fun destinations, and relative ease of access to other large Southern cities, it makes a great vacation spot — and there are so many great day trips from Knoxville to enjoy. To help you and your family get the most from “The Scruffy Little City,” we’ve put together the best day trips in and around Knoxville for tourists of all types.
1. Cumberland State Falls Resort Park, Kentucky
One of the day trips from Knoxville, with the most natural beauty, lies over the state line in Kentucky. More than 1.5 hours north of downtown lies Cumberland State Falls Resort in Corbin, Kentucky. The area is home to its namesake, the Cumberland Falls, accessible via a moderately strenuous 1.8-mile hike known as the Eagle Falls Trail. If you’re hiking, be sure to pack water, snacks, and the proper footwear.
At the resort, guests can enjoy lodges, campgrounds, cabin rentals, and a swimming pool open seasonally. Fishing, mini golf, birding, and hiking are popular activities, as is seeing the Moonbow — a lunar rainbow. Cumberland Falls is one of the few places globally that produce a moonbow, which can be seen for one to two days at a time. There are still multiple 2023 dates in December that will give visitors a chance to see this spectacular natural phenomenon.
2. Alabama Space and Rocket Center
Around three hours south of Knoxville, intergalactic-minded tourists may enjoy a day trip to Huntsville, Alabama’s Space and Rocket Center. While perhaps best known for Space Camp, visitors don’t need a multi-week training to enjoy the center! The campus is home to one of the largest collections of space and rocket memorabilia and has many daily events.
General admission tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for children. The cost includes access to the G-Force Accelerator, which generates three times the typical force of gravity and simulates astronaut training. The Moon Shot rocket launch simulator, which shoots 140 feet in the air in only 2.5 seconds, is also included. Little astronauts will love exploring a simulated Martian surface and crawling around a pretend replica of the International Space Station.
3. Knoxville Botanical Gardens
Are you looking for an excursion closer to town? The city’s botanical gardens are 47 acres of trails, display gardens, and distinctive stone walls and are only five minutes from downtown Knoxville. The gardens were established via a land grant in the 1780s and remained in the care of the Howell family for nearly 200 years. The Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum (KGBA) now operates the garden.
For a day’s visit, KGBA recommends starting at the Visitor’s Center across the street from the parking lot, then visiting the Stone Terraces before moving on to the Row Garden. From there, head for the Marsha Ashe Garden and end your stroll with the Stone Greenhouse.
4. Alpine Villages of Helen, Georgia
Helen, Georgia, is located just three hours from Knoxville in the North Georgia Mountains and brings the delight and architecture of Bavaria to the Southern US. The area is lined with the classic brown and white cottages often found in the Alps. The city is known for its wine tastings and culture, as well. There’s a little something here for everyone with outdoor adventures, art exhibits, and more.
Stroll through the collections at the Folk Pottery Museum of North Georgia, which is dedicated to living handicrafts and open seven days a week. The Helen Arts and Heritage Center, also open seven days a week, curates art as well — but visitors might be most interested in the short documentary that details the area’s development, including the iconic European architectural style. Self-guided tours with downloadable apps are available, as are guided wine tours.
5. Treetops Adventure Park in Asheville, North Carolina
Only two hours from Knoxville, thrill seekers will love the Treetops Adventure Park located in Asheville, North Carolina. The aerial challenge course features 77 climbing, rolling, jumping, swinging, and rappelling challenges for all ages. Anchored to more than 30 trees, the aerial trails are divided into difficulty categories that work for beginners to advanced climbers and accommodate visitors as young as four.
Visitors can purchase single or annual passes, and the park is only five minutes from downtown Asheville. Because of its proximity, the zip line course also offers a great view of the city’s skyline. A bike trail is also available for tourists who prefer to stay on the ground.
6. Tennessee’s Dollywood
Less than an hour outside Knoxville is one of Tennessee’s best-known theme parks — Dollywood! With its proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Dollywood is as beautiful as it is fun. Guests will love the seasonal lights, events, roller coasters, food, shopping, and live music.
Kid-friendly rides at Dollywood include the Black Bear Trail, Busy Bees, and Flying Elephants, while adults can seek their thrills on the Barnstormer or the Dragonflier. In 2024, a new attraction will offer country music lovers and Dolly Parton fans the chance to follow her journey from Locust Ridge to stages worldwide.
7. Knoxville’s Museum of Art
Whether you’re looking for an international experience or an exhibit focusing on the heritage and culture of the Appalachian Mountains, the Knoxville Museum of Art is sure to please — especially since admission is always free! Located on the 1982 World’s Fair site, the museum opened its pink Tennessee marble facility in 1990.
Ongoing exhibits include a recap of visual arts in Tennessee over the last century, as well as modern and contemporary glassworks. Upcoming exhibits will feature student artworks. The museum is open six days a week and is closed on Mondays.
8. Lynchburg’s Jack Daniels Distillery
Three hours from Knoxville, tourists can find the home of Jack Daniel’s iconic whiskey. Established in 1866, the Lynchburg distillery is one of the oldest in the United States and offers tours, tastings, and more. Of course, visit responsibly! You must be 21 or older to fully enjoy this day trip.
Whether you’re looking for a beautiful destination for a wedding, hoping for an outdoor adventure, or want to visit an art exhibit quickly, there are plenty of day trips from Knoxville both in and outside the city. Whichever you choose, check out the year’s best travel trends ahead of time so you’re prepared — and enjoy the ride!