Summer has begun, and with the kids out of school and some fine Southern weather out your door, everyone is in need of something new to explore. Poke around online and you’ll surely find no shortage of great vacation ideas, but for those of us who are saving up funds and vacation days for a big trip later on, or are maybe just in the market for a quick adventure, we have some fun and unique offerings for day trips closer to home.
1. Grainger County Tomato Festival
Address: 7480 Rutledge Pike, Rutledge, TN
Time from Knoxville: 45 minutes
It only comes once a year, and this year just happens to be its 30th anniversary. The Grainger County Tomato Festival is a two-day event running from noon on Friday, July 21 into the evening of Saturday, July 22. Each day will feature local vendors (of both tomato- and non-tomato-related fare), as well as artists and events. The evenings will feature live entertainment starting at 6:30 pm; we know the Grainger County Opry is taking the stage on Friday, but Saturday’s line-up remains something of a mystery. This is an event for all ages to enjoy that promises good Southern entertainment with your friends and neighbors – and it’s free!
2. Abrams Falls
Address: Abrams Falls Trail, Townsend, TN
Time from Knoxville: 1 hour, 30 minutes
There’s no denying it – if you can handle the heat, the best way to spend a summer day in the South is in the outdoors. Just off Cades Cove, you’ll find your way to Abrams Falls Trail, a scenic 5-mile hike through the Tennessee wilderness. The namesake Falls may only be 20 feet high, but don’t let that fool you; it’s a natural beauty (and with a deceptively strong current, so don’t try to go for a swim). Best to get an early start, though, so you have a better chance of sharing the experience with just family and not a dozen new friends from the parking lot.
3. Chattanooga National Military Park
Address: 110 Point Park Road, Lookout Mountain, TN
Time from Knoxville: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Who says learning can’t be fun? The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park stands on the site of a famous 1863 Civil War battle for the city of Chattanooga, known as the “Gateway to the Deep South”. The park offers guided historical tours and presentations for those who want to learn more about our nation’s history and fallen heroes, but the park also boasts of several places where you can go hiking, rock climbing, or even canoeing for a full day’s worth of outdoors adventuring.
4. The Island in Pigeon Forge
Address: 131 The Island Drive, Pigeon Forge, TN
Time from Knoxville: 1 hour
If you’re looking for a family trip with a bit less walking and a bit more thrill, Pigeon Forge’s The Island promises a wild time for the whole family. Laser tag, escape rooms, arcade games, and numerous amusement park attractions call this classic Tennessee destination home, and they’re invite your family to come along for the ride. They’ve even got some sweet treats for the kids and grown-ups alike, at the Big Rocky Candy Kitchen and Bootleggers Winery. There’s a little something for everyone here, enough to keep a smile on everyone’s face, and with not too far a drive!
5. Brew Tours in Asheville
Time from Knoxville: 2 hours
Yes, it’s not quite Tennessee, but it’s still a true Appalachia experience, and if you’re looking for an adults-only taste of the Smokies, this might be your best destination. Downtown Asheville, North Carolina boasts of well over a dozen breweries in walking distance, as well as some quirky watering holes like their Off the Wagon Dueling Piano Bar. You can book a guided tour with services like City Brew Tours, or make your own route to get a taste of all the city has to offer. Just make sure to give yourself time to clear your head before you hit the road back to Knoxville (and maybe leave the kids at home for this one)