By Stephen Haynes
When tasked with conjuring names of cities in Tennessee, one might be inclined to list Memphis and Nashville ahead of Knoxville. If this were a magazine about music, you could have an argument, but as far as mountain biking is concerned, Knoxville may just surprise you.
A lot of manufacturing cities are looking at ways to retool their image and incentivize would-be tourists to visit, and Knoxville is no different. For the traveling mountain biker, there is a lot to like about riding within the metro area.
First and foremost, Baker Creek Preserve is a 7.5-mile purpose-built graduated trail system that has everything from very easy, beginner-friendly singletrack to full-on bike park lines, complete with sizeable tabletop jumps and berms. There are even two dedicated pump tracks, a smaller one for children and a larger one for adults and more-experienced kids.
While Baker Creek Preserve’s 7.5 miles may sound underwhelming, the trails contained within provide enough of a challenge for everyone to have a good time. Also, they connect to more than 40 miles of other multi-use trails on the South Loop Trail System, which is part of the Knoxville Urban Wilderness.
The trails of the South Loop Trail System aren’t exactly noteworthy, falling into the typical county-park category. Yet with more than 40 miles to play on, what it lacks in extremes, it makes up for in size.
Any other city would be stoked to boast a trail system this robust, but Knoxville has even more. While we didn’t have a chance to sample it ourselves, the fine folks at Tennessee Valley Bicycles suggested the Sharp’s Ridge Veterans Memorial Park downhill trail, a half-mile line with jumps and berms similar to those found in Baker Creek Preserve.
The Market Square area of downtown Knoxville showcases everything you’ve come to expect from a vibrant city: coffee shops, microbreweries, art galleries, bookstores and more. There is a free trolley that makes a circuit of downtown, can take you close to the waterfront and also connects to the University of Tennessee campus.
A plethora of overnight opportunities exist in Knoxville, as you may expect. The Hyatt Place right in the heart of downtown Knoxville is a great option if being within walking distance of food and nightlife is a must.
In my opinion, only the Bistro at the Bijou needs to be mentioned in the food section of this column. A tastefully dim interior plays well with the charming blues-cum-speakeasy vibe of the place and is made more lovely still by the thoughtful menu, which gives vegetarian-friendly options more than second-class status. But I was sold on this place by the Monday-night fried-chicken special: a plate full of crispy and succulent chicken rubbing elbows with two sides of your choice. Heaven. Also, every meal at the Bistro is accompanied by a basket of biscuits and cornbread. I have dreams about this place.
If fried chicken and mellow blues vibes aren’t your things, check out SoKno Cantina, one of the new breed of shabby-chic Mexican restaurants whose food menu is outdone only by its craft-beer menu. This place is also within walking distance of the Baker Creek Preserve parking lot. Did someone say tacos for lunch?
If you have more than 24 hours to hang in Knoxville and want to test your mettle on some seriously brutal trails, head north and spend the day doing sphincter exercises at Windrock Bike Park. Bring a full-face helmet, kneepads, and humility.
For more ideas on what Knoxville has to offer, check out visitknoxville.com.