This summer, we took an epic mountain bike road trip, stringing together three different Eastern Tennessee trail networks in three days. Between Knoxville, Windrock Bike Park, and Johnson City, there were a wide variety of options for every type of rider. Here’s Part One, showing where to ride in Knoxville, TN…
A few years back, Knoxville won the Bell Built Grant, which not only delivered a helluva good downhill trail complete with wood ramps and that massive wall ride shown in the top photo. It also put the area on the national map, showing off the sprawling singletrack network that had until then been mostly a local thing. Since then, they’ve put hundreds of volunteer hours into that trail and the surrounding area, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, to develop 50+ miles of flow trail, jump lines, armored sections, ramps, berms and rough cut natural singletrack. It is absolutely, 100% worth the trip, made even more amazing by the fact that it’s located right in downtown.
Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness Trails
Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness trails are spread throughout six clusters: Baker Creek Preserve, Marie Myers Park, Hastie Natural Area, Ijams Nature Center, Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area, and a private land easement. In total, there are 11 designated trailheads. And singletrack connects all of them, with a bridge built by the local mountain bike club specifically to keep it all connected. That feat, which spans a public road, shows just how connected and hard working the AMBC is. And when you ride the trails, you’ll understand why they work so hard…
Many riders start at Baker Creek Preserve, which has ample parking and new kid-friendly flow trails right off the start. And Devil’s Racetrack, which starts from the top with a rock jump leading into that wall ride, then a split with your choice of a big jump line or rock-garden descent.
There are no lifts or roads for shuttling, you’ve got to earn your turns in Knoxville. But they’re worth it, and the climbs are so well made, we just kinda flowed uphill, too.
Throughout the trails we found structures that kept things fun and challenging. Most everything is rollable on every trail, so if you do get in over your head, just slow down and you’ll likely make it just fine.
Or go fast and take advantage of the well-built jumps and table tops.
One of the most impressive new trails is Year Round Get Down, inside Marie Myers Park. I’ve never seem more rock moved into place than on this trail…check the video during Wes’ chat to see, it just keeps going and going and going!
The idea was to build something rideable year-round. Knoxville averages 50″ of rain per year, and just 6″ of snow. But it won’t matter on this trail. It’s also wicked fun when it’s dry.
The AMBC works very closely with local officials, which means solid funding for trail building and related efforts. Like good signage, and water fountains and bottle/pack refill stations. Seriously, how awesome is this?!?
It also means more technical trail features and man made bits like this roller coaster wooden ramp segment that used something like seven different segments weaving down the length of a ravine.
And this wall ride hidden in the middle of the woods in Hastie Natural Area.
Another great part about the trails is that the locals are fully on board. A trail system this big relies on a lot of different property owners and managers to agree on access, and many of them have given irrevocable private property easements to allow trails to be built. The city and county provide insurance, and riders get more trail.
Above, one land owner built a massive dirt jump section just off AC/DC, which is itself a several-mile stretch of singletrack built entirely on a private land easement.
Overall, it’s not just the volume of trails here that make Knoxville worth a multi-day visit. It’s the quality. If you’re just swinging through town and wanna shred for a couple hours, hit Bakers Creek’s groomed flow trails. Up for exploring all day? Grab a map from a local bike shop and bring a big hydration pack…there’s plenty more here that we didn’t get to ride. Next time…
When your riding day is done, head to Mead’s Quarry for a swim. This used to be the main trailhead, too, and still hosts the start of some group rides. We saw TONS of junior riders meeting in the parking lot, which shows what having good, safe infrastructure and proximity to downtown can do for keeping a populace active and fit. There’s also a shack selling ice cream and drinks there, plus large bathrooms for changing clothes.
What’s the right mountain bike for Knoxville’s trails?
We took the new Ibis Ripmo AF along for our road trip, and it proved to be the perfect partner. Pedalable, climbable, but with enough travel to crush the rough stuff (like all those rock gardens and jumps) with ease. The geometry kept it stable on the fast, flowing descents, but was easy to climb with, too. And that’s an important consideration in Knoxville, because there’s plenty of climbing to get to the good stuff. Check our Ripmo AF review here. Not shown in the pic above, we also use Industry Nine Enduro 305 wheels with Hydra hubs, Onza tires and HT Components pedals (reviews coming soon for all those).
What are the best family-friendly outdoor activities in Knoxville?
Yep, and the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center is a great place to start. While Watts & I hit the trails, Kristi and the kids went canoeing and stand-up paddle boarding on the Tennessee River. They have a full calendar of events, lessons and even full moon paddles. Around sunset (or sunrise), walk over to the Sunsphere and get a sweet view over the whole city.
There’s also the Navitat Canopy Adventures high ropes course in the Ijams (pronounced Iams, like the pet food) Nature Center. Your town might have a ropes course. Ours does. This one’s better. It’s massive, three levels tall, and it has multiple zip lines and an auto-belayed ledge jump. We left soaked in sweat and exhausted having done almost every route offered.
Which is also a good time to head next door to Mead’s Quarry for a swim, then on to…
Where to eat & drink in Knoxville
One reason Baker Creek Preserve is a popular trailhead is its proximity to SoKno Taco Cantina, a newer joint serving great Mexican food with tons of indoor and outdoor seating. After filling our bellies, we hit Printshop Beer Co. (bottom photo) and Alliance Brewing Co. (above) to taste the local craft beer scene. Hi-Wire may be known for their Asheville location, but they have an outpost here, too. And on Tuesdays, swing by Last Days of Autumn brewing for craft tacos (or their piled-high BBQ pork sandy).
If there’s no shortage of craft breweries (tons more than we’ve listed), there’s even more food. By population, Knoxville’s really not that big, but it’s concentrated, and had a vibrant food scene. Some of our stops were recommended by the crew at VisitKnoxville (which, full disclosure, covered our hotels and meals for two days), and some we just happened upon. All were excellent, and it’s all very walkable downtown on the north side of the river. We’d highly recommend just strolling, and looking up at the buildings and architecture, which shows what a city can do when it allows developers freedom to renovate old buildings into something modern while keeping their soul intact. And you’ve definitely gotta walk through Old Town, hitting OliBea for breakfast…this is non-negotiable.
As for late night, Chivo Taqueria gets creative with their margaritas. For late late night, word on the street is Maple Hall bowling lanes is the place to be…even if you don’t feel like bowling.
From here, we headed to Windrock Bike Park, and then on to Johnson City. Between them, we passed right back through town and filled up at Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria…and then had leftovers. Their pizzas are delicious, and extremely filling. Knoxville’s proximity to Windrock and the fact that there are actually quite a few more miles of singletrack outside of the Urban Wilderness system, means you could spend a long weekend here and still not ride everything. Or eat everything. Like those massive ice cream sundaes from Phoenix Pharmacy. Which is why we ride, amiright?
Links & Resources:
- Trailforks map of all area trails
- AMBCknox.org for trail conditions, group rides & more local knowledge
- VisitKnoxville.com for trip planning & area events
Check out Part 2 (Windrock Bike Park) and Part 3 (Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park) for more great places to ride in Eastern Tennessee!