With Memorial Day in the rearview, this is traditionally the time Americans start diving into summer vacations. But 2020 isn’t your traditional year.
Coronavirus cases are still on the rise in many states – including Tennessee – and not all vacation destinations are ready to welcome visitors. Even the ones that are have social-distancing guidelines, capacity limits and mask requirements.
And there are plenty of people who aren’t convinced this is the right time to romp on the beach or shake hands with Mickey and Minnie. Keeping their families safe and healthy is their top priority.
With that in mind, the financial website WalletHub.com posted a story identifying the best and worst U.S. cities in which to staycation. Knoxville came in at No. 21 of the 182 cities ranked, which included the nation’s 150 most populous. Not only are we listed ahead of Chattanooga (48), Nashville (61) and Memphis (70), but we also received a better score than Dallas (36), Atlanta (40), Chicago (51), Las Vegas (63), Miami (75), New York City (98) and Los Angeles (133).
WalletHub weighed recreation plus rest and relaxation amenities to determine its scores. Things like parks, greenways and trails were given heavy consideration as well as food and drink costs, weather and the city’s emphasis on stay-at-home orders.
It doesn’t take a data scientist to see what makes Knoxville such an ideal location for close-to-home cavorting. Especially if you zero in on South Knoxville.
SoKno is home to Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, an outdoor adventure area designed for walking, hiking, running, mountain biking, paddling and primal playing. It has become a magnet for residents and visitors alike and offers fun for all ages.
With more than 50 miles of natural-surface trails and 11 trailheads, along with access to the Tennessee River, Mead’s Quarry and Civil War fortifications, the UW is ideal for social distancing, enjoying beautiful scenery and views, relaxing in nature and learning about local history.
Of course, Ijams Nature Center was Knoxville’s original urban wilderness, and it’s still one of its crown jewels. Ijams has reopened most of its amenities, with appropriate restrictions for health guidelines. Swimming, paddling rentals and concessions are available again at Mead’s Quarry, and the Ijams visitor center is open, with sanitizing breaks throughout the day.
Navitat, a tree-canopy adventure offering a network of zip lines and mid-air trails on the Ijams grounds, is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays-Saturdays. Sunday hours are noon-5 p.m. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Navitat is open by appointment only.
City and county recreation, community and senior centers and the Augusta Quarry swim area are still closed, but SoKno greenways are open for walking, jogging, strolling, biking, etc. Check the Outdoor Knoxville website for the latest news on reopenings.
On Saturday, May 30, Marble Springs State Historic Site is hosting an open house to celebrate the 224th anniversary of Tennessee’s admission into the union. Statehood Day will be held 12-5 p.m. at Marble Springs, home to the state’s first governor, John Sevier.
While the site at 1220 W. Gov. John Sevier Highway otherwise hasn’t returned to its normal schedule, the cabins, houses, grounds and trails will be open for self-guided tours on Saturday. Staff members will be on hand to answer questions.
Face masks will be required in the cabins and will be available for purchase. Social distancing is recommended on the grounds. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
As for food adventures, SoKno eateries are coming back to life along Chapman Highway and other business corridors. Several offer outdoor seating, weather permitting.
We don’t have everything in SoKno – no splash pads, for instance. And if you want to visit Knox County’s highest peak (House Mountain) or only zoo (Zoo Knoxville), you’ll have to head east. But if you live on the south side of town, you really don’t have to cross a bridge to create the perfect staycation.
Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.