The saying, ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, certainly seems to pertain to summer. Before you know it, it will be August. Days will become more rushed, while schedules will quickly fill up. The wonderful thing about summer break is that we have more freedom to choose what to do. So while we have this precious free time, let’s fill it up with memories, friends, and exploration.
There’s actually a lot of fun to be had in and around Knoxville. Swim teams and camps are already in full swing at this point. Vacations have been planned. Lessons have been scheduled. Teams have been formed. And while all these structured opportunities are wonderful, often preferred by some, there are also a lot of amazing, free opportunities for fun and exploration right in our back yard.
We should seize this season and schedule quality time with our children. Knoxville actually offers a lot in terms of family outings but most of us have had our share of the Zoo or Jump Jam. So, here is a list of inexpensive, free, or just simple things to do with your kids before life gets crazy again. Skip the chaos and keep things simple with:
· Mead’s Quarry at Ijams Nature Center: You can rent paddleboards, canoes, take your own, or just go for a dip.
· Ijams Nature Center: There’s some learning to do inside, special educational opportunities on their calendar, and lots of simple hikes, as well as movie nights. But, the sunflowers along the Forks of the River are out of this world!
· Navitat at Ijams: This adventure ropes course does cost money but it’s a pretty setting to face your fear of heights. $
· Frozen Head State park (Morgan county): Home of the Barkley Marathon, this is a great trail for hiking with dogs and kids while also getting a little wet by the series of small waterfalls.
· Bald River Falls (Tellico): Take a day trip to Tellico Plains to eat in the adorable bakery and snap some amazing photos by the large falls. You can hike as little as you like because you basically drive right up and park at the falls (if you can get a parking spot!).
· Big South Fork (Oneida): If you don’t mind a little drive (plan on 1.5 hours), there are wonderful camping and hiking options in this less crowded park. Check out the natural arches on the Twin Arches trail or a great view on Angel Falls overlook.
· House Mountain: This is such great option if you don’t want to drive far and want a nice vista without investing a lot of time. The parking area gets full on the weekends, though.
· Big Ridge State Park (Maynardville): This quiet park not too far away offers swimming and fishing in Norris Lake. There are 15 miles of peaceful hiking trails.
· The downtown Farmer’s Market (Saturdays): It’s grown in popularity but it’s an easy Saturday morning to stroll with a fresh cup of coffee or homemade pastry.
· WDVX Blue Plate Special: Monday-Fridays at 12, there are free concerts at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center on Gay Street. It’s a fun way to surprised by some free music!
· Trolley ride: It’s free and fun just to ride the trolley around our growing downtown. When the kids are little, any moving vehicle is fun so jump on board!
· Baker Creek Preserve: Grab your mountain bikes and helmets and check out this mountain biking course close by. Although some trails are not for beginners, there is a small loop for kids. And, you can always grab a bite at SoKno Taco afterwards!
· Rainforest Adventure (Pigeon Forge) : If you are willing to brave the roads and want a day filled with animals but have used out your zoo pass, kids love this place. $
· Sunsphere: It is free to tour the Sunsphere and kids think it’s pretty cool! While you’re there, make sure they have their bathing suits because the fountains on the lawn are a blast too.
· Maple Lane Hall and the Phoenix Pharmacy: If you are willing to spend some money, an afternoon bowling downtown and authentic (delicious and expensive) ice cream treats are appreciated by all! $
· Central Filling Station: This food park off Central Ave. is pretty hip. With a variety of food trucks and even adult beverages, it’s a pretty fun place to grab some grub if it’s not too hot. You can even bring your dogs! $
· School of Rock concerts: School of Rock is a music studio in West Knoxville for kid rockers. Throughout the year, and especially during the summer, they offer lots of concerts that showcase their stars. It’s cute, cool, and impressive all at the same time!
· Painting with a Twist: Sure, this is nothing new but did you know that you can make your own class? If you have a small group of family or friends, they will make a class for you. You choose the theme and people, and they’ll provide the paint. It’s a creative way to bond. I like the one downtown. $
· Humane Society of Tennessee Valley (Bearden Hill): Until recently, I had no idea that you could get your fix of cuddling puppies even if you’re not adopting….just be prepared that you might fall in love.
· River Rats (Townsend): When it gets just sweltering hot, floating down the creek on a tube is not the worst idea. With a group of friends, you can make a day of it! $
This summer, think outside the box! Grab a friend. And, try something new with your family. Vacations are great but ‘staycations’ can be too! Experiencing something new together makes for great memories, inside and outside of East Tennessee. And, we all get in a rut sometimes so I’m sharing some of my family’s favorites. Hope you venture out and experience something new this summer too.