1. Best Medicine Trail, Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness
When the wonderful folks at Legacy Parks asked me to consider leading a hike on my favorite trail in the Urban Wilderness, I told them to have people meet me in the parking lot across from my house. I stumbled over to greet folks who were scratching their heads.
Relieved, I could tell, were the curious hikers as we crossed the labyrinth at Baker Creek and disappeared up a trail called Best Medicine. Just five minutes from the heart of downtown, this pathway climbs along the flank of Outdoor Knoxville’s crown jewel, the renowned Devil’s Racetrack downhill course. Beginning to the right of the pump tracks, Best Medicine switchbacks and ascends through a hardwood forest full of oak and beech. In 1.3 miles you start to feel the burn as you top out at the precipice, or beginning of this double black diamond downhill bike trail.
The vista here is interesting, especially now, as downtown, the University of Tennessee, and all the prominent skyline features come into focus. As one of our guests remarked, “I didn’t know there was a view here!”
Address: 3700 Lancaster Dr, Knoxville, TN 37920 | GPS: 35.94307, -83.89074
2. Fort Dickerson
The same is true of Fort Dickerson which holds several nice day hikes in her pocket.
There are four miles of trail in this 85 acre holding and Pit Viper lives up to its name. You can cheat and go downhill from the top of the quarry overlook, but ascending from the water is the only “true” urban alpine form. Starting at the quarry, you will gain 147 feet in .6 miles. That may not sound like much but it is a rocky little scramble that will let you know you’ve done something. And it sets you up nicely for a loop.
By continuing past the overlook you can pick up Trial and Error. At .8 of a mile, this cut meanders down the power lines back to your start point at the quarry parking lot. It intersects the Breastworks trail and switches back approximately ten times before running parallel to the entrance road and putting you right back at your vehicle. Trial and Error is 1.19 miles, all downhill this way making for an almost 1.8 mile loop hike, perfect for a lunch getaway for Knoxville visitors or downtown workers.
Address: 550 Augusta Quarry, Knoxville TN | GPS: 35.94999, -83.91801
3. Low Gap Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
And finally, for those who really need to shed some turkey and ham weight, consider the Low Gap Trail. In keeping with the steep ascent theme, Cosby offers a path that gets you into the holiday mood by rising to the snow line. Many interior Smokies trails are closed with the threat of weather, but not this one.
Start at the Cosby entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and begin your hike by crossing Cosby Creek at the hiker/campground parking area. There are bridges, so no worries about wet boots. Soon you are weaving through partridgeberry and galax as the trail winds uphill to an elevation of over 4,100 feet. Micro spikes are a good idea for this winter ascent as you top out in three miles on the Appalachian Trail.
You have several options here, the simplest being to descend via your original route. But why not go out to the Mt. Cammerer fire tower since you are in the neighborhood? This will add another 2.5 undulating miles but the payoff is undeniable. Staring out across the state line into the Cherokee National Forest and north into the Snowbird and Pisgah range, all views from this tower instill a realization of how fortunate we are to live in this area with so many outdoor hiking opportunities just miles from the heart of Knoxville.
Address: 127 Cosby Entrance Rd, Cosby, TN 37722 | GPS: 35.75377, -83.20929