Trip to Knoxville, Tennessee


We decided to take a short trip to Knoxville with kids. Knoxville is only three and a half hours from Louisville, so it seemed like an easy trip to take for a long weekend. 

There’s so much to do in Knoxville. 

A trip to Knoxville with kids is packed with fun! I had no idea there was a World’s Fair in Knoxville in 1982. It’s where touch screens, cherry coke, and pay at the pump were introduced. Knoxville is the Birthplace of Mountain Dew and Quinton Tarantino, is referred to as the “underwear capitol,” and was the city that launched the careers of Elvis, Dolly Parton, and the Everly Brothers. And of course there’s always the University of Tennessee.
On the first day we arrived, we were excited to check out Sir Gooney’s Family Fun Center after our drive.

trip to Knoxville with kids
It has minigolf, several Inflatable water slides, paintball, and go karts. My husband and son really enjoyed the go karts – it has a good course with lots of turns. You get to race for $15 per single rider. Sir Gooney’s is a great place for younger kids with the inflatable slides, a great place for older kids with paintball and go karts, and has minigolf and food for all ages.

Our main goal for the Knoxville trip was to check out the new ARC campus at Zoo Knoxville.
The Clayton Family Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) Campus has a venomous gallery, greenhouse habitat, wetlands, marshland boardwalk, and my favorite, the sloth. (the sloth greets you at the entrance to the ARC, and you can check in for feeding times to see the sloth awake).

Zoo Knoxville is perfect for a trip to Knoxville with kids. It is set up with an East Zoo and a West Zoo on either side of the entrance. The routes are paved but there are some hills. It’s $5 to park, which is not included in the ticket price. At the time we visited, you could buy your tickets online, and use them on any day over the next year. It’s so nice to not have to hope you have good weather for the day and specified entry time you buy your tickets!

Zoo Knoxville also has a carousel, train, camel rides, and animal experiences like Louisville Zoo, as well as lots of places to buy food and snacks, so be prepared to spend a little extra cash while you’re there. I highly recommend looking into purchasing an animal experience – our tortoise feeding experience was awesome!
trip to Knoxville with kids
There are a lot of similarities with the Louisville Zoo, but the animals are not all the same. Zoo Knoxville has red pandas, bat-eared foxes, African Painted Dogs, and many more animals we don’t get to see in Louisville. Zoo Knoxville also has a Kids Cove area with petting zoo, a splash pad, and multiple nursing stations, so it’s perfect for young families.

Nearby, south of the zoo, we went to Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum after we had visited the zoo because it closes a little later than the zoo. Another place for your trip to Knoxville with kids list!

The Knoxville Botanical Garden is free to enter. It is 47 acres of gardens, trees, and paths. While my son wasn’t super impressed with the plant types, he did like the trails and open space to walk around. I appreciated the free, outdoor time without screens.

My son’s favorite Knoxville day was at Ijams Nature Center.

Ijams provides opportunities to hike, paddle, swim, climb, and bike, as well as a gift shop with some amphibians, reptiles, and fish to check out inside. Such a unique place to visit for your trip to Knoxville with kids.

Ijams is a 315-acre urban greenspace featuring 12+ miles of natural-surface trails that are all hikable. When you visit, pick up a trail map at the Visitor Center (only $1).
trip to Knoxville with kids
Inside Ijams is Mead’s Quarry where you can rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards for $15 per hour, or go swimming. There are no lifeguards- it’s swim at your own risk. Paddleboards rent out quickly, so you may want to head here first if your heart is set on paddleboarding.
trip to Knoxville with kids
Ijams Crag offers outdoor climbing opportunities for both beginner and experienced climbers. It features more than 30 routes with bolted routes and anchors from 30 to 60 feet and from 5.6 to 5.13 in difficulty. Climbers should use their own gear to top-rope routes.
Of the 12+ miles of trails at Ijams, almost 10 miles are great for biking of all sorts. You can rent a bike for $15 for 2-hours. Rent your bike by visitors center.
trip to Knoxville with kids
The pinnacle of my son’s trip to Knoxville was Navitat.
Navitat is a treetop adventure in Ijams. What a special memory for a trip to Knoxville with kids. It has six adventure trails from easy to extreme. The trails include zip lines, bridges, swings, nets, climbs, and more (for 7 year olds and up). WOW! 

Book a set time and fill out a waiver in advance. There are free lockers for your stuff while you’re on Navitat. They provide your harness, gloves, and helmet.
trip to Knoxville with kids
You buy a 2 hour and 30 minute time slot, and do whatever trails in whatever order you want, however many times you want (however you do have to go on an intermediate course before you’re allowed to do an advance course). The six trails are made up of two easy, two intermediate, and two hard trails. My son said he would have preferred more time, and warned you can get slowed down when you catch up to slower participants on the same trail.

We did take a walk around Downtown Knoxville which boasts more than 80 restaurants, over 40 boutique shops in beautifully restored buildings, parks, museums, and outdoor activities all in less than one square mile. It did not feel big or overwhelming at all. Downtown Knoxville is divided up into areas including The Old City, Market Square, and World’s Fair Park.
You can also check out the Knoxville Downtown Mural Walking Tour and statues for touring during your trip to Knoxville with kids.

There was quite a lot of traffic downtown, so we planned our days around rush hour when we drove near the downtown area.
trip to Knoxville with kids
For restaurants, we were excited to check out Sir Gooney’s Family Fun Center while we were there for lunch with a snack bar that had burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, etc.

We also made a plan to go to Token Game Tavern for dinner.
This restaurant has arcade games, pinball, board games, video game consoles, D&D, comic books, and more. While my son enjoyed seeing the pinball machines and old school arcade games it was a bit more of a bar atmosphere. All ages are allowed until 11pm, but we decided to have dinner back at the hotel instead of at the Tavern.
trip to Knoxville with kids
The Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain is a real pharmacy that also serves fresh, small-batch ice cream as well as many other house-made specialty desserts and soda fountain favorites. This is a fun stop for dessert.

For next time:
The Sunsphere is a 26 story tall structure built for the 1982 World’s Fair. Each pane of glass is made with 24-karat gold, giving the sphere its reflective gold color. The observation deck has a 360-degree view of Knoxville.

Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

Cruze Farm is a family dairy farm located in Knox County Tennessee

The Three Rivers Rambler (3RR) is a tourist train operation located in the heart of Knoxville, TN. 

Status Dough is a donut shop where they pride themselves high-quality ingredients to make superior donuts.

Places to Stay:
I recommend checking out the location, amenities, and parking fees if you stay at a hotel. When I compared a Hilton downtown versus a Hilton in North Knoxville, I was amazed at the difference. The Hilton downtown was about $50 more per night, parking cost extra, and they did not include breakfast.

We stayed at Tru by Hilton Knoxville North. It had a pool table in the lobby, an indoor pool, a nice work out room, free parking, free hot breakfast that was delicious, and everything looked very clean. This hotel was also Pet friendly, but we didn’t have any barking dogs keeping us awake.

We definitely enjoyed our trip, and look forward to doing another long weekend trip to Knoxville in the future.

trip to Knoxville with kids

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This post was originally written in 2021. Some prices and information about places mentioned here may have changed. 

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