National Walking Day is celebrated April 7, and with the springtime temperatures and colors, there’s no better time to go outside and take a walk! The American Heart Association founded this holiday to encourage everyone to get moving for at least 30 minutes a day, which has been shown to decrease risk of heart disease and other health issues. Thankfully, the surrounding area offers plenty of beautiful trails, all free to the public. These are some of the best places to take a walk, from hiking trails virtually in our backyard to Knoxville parks in the concrete jungle.
The first walk that deserves some talk is the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway. A popular concreted city walk, the 15-mile Greenway that touches Pearson Springs Park near Montvale Road, runs through downtown Maryville, and branches into two areas of Alcoa. From Maryville College campus, the nearest access to the walk is the Jack Greene Park located next to the Blount County Courthouse. You can choose how far you walk along the greenway, with connections to both downtown Maryville, shopping centers in Alcoa and several parks along the way. Featured on the east Alcoa branch of the greenway is the Alcoa Duck Pond, so make sure to bring along some grapes if you want to feed them!
Townsend River Walk and Arboretum
Travelling closer to the Smokies, Townsend is a short drive from the college and it also provides several miles of paved walking trails. The Townsend Historical Trail leads to the shorter Townsend River Walk, which runs along the Little River, giving views of the water as you make your way. To get there from Maryville, follow US Highway 321 into Townsend, turn right and park Tuckaleechee Camp Ground United Methodist Church, and then walk the Townsend Historical Trail until you reach an underpass that connects to the River Walk.
Once on the trail, you will encounter both a pollinator garden and a roadside specimen garden that attract native pollinators. The arboretum includes signs to educate visitors about what species of trees are seen around the trail. If you want to see what’s blooming before you take your walk, visit either townsendriverwalk.com or the Townsend River Walk & Arboretum Facebook page.
Meigs Creek Trail
Another spot closer to the national park is Meigs Creek Trail, which begins at The Sinks waterfall and provides a few options either a shorter 3.5-mile looping trail or a longer 7.0-mile out and back trail. This trail is better for those looking for a more difficult walk, as it has both more natural, rugged terrain, small creeks to hop over, and some incline for both the short and long versions. This trail makes visitors feel immersed in nature, seeing only natural forest around once out of the parking lot.
What makes this trail great for 2021’s National Walking Day is its seclusion and low traffic: perfect for social distancing and staying safe during this spring. There is a parking lot at the beginning of the trail, but the earlier the better for making sure you get a spot.
University of Tennessee Gardens
Heading to the city, Knoxville also has many beautifully maintained locations to suit those looking for either longer or shorter walks. For a shorter walk, visit the UT Gardens. Taking a stroll around these gardens during spring will surely excite visitors with all kinds of species of flowers, plants, and trees.
There are several gardens, designed displays, and areas for walking within the larger area, all of which contribute to a picturesque place to celebrate National Walking Day. While here visitors can learn about the best ways to layout, plant, and maintain their own garden. The gardens are open every day from sunrise to sunset, and there are a few parking spaces reserved for Garden goers to help ensure you will get a space.
Ijams Nature Center
Also found in Knoxville, Ijams Nature Center is an urban wilderness of over 300 acres that supplies more than 12 miles of walking paths. There are both concreted and more naturally maintained trails of easy, moderate, and difficult skill levels. Many signs placed along key points in the trails provide information about the wildlife one might see around the site.
Ijams sits along the Tennessee River, so a walk there can include their River Boardwalk that literally hangs over the river. Places to walk to include the Ijams Homesite, which hosts terraced gardens and ponds along its paths, and Mead’s Quarry, a premier spot for paddling, swimming, and kayaking in the summer. According to the Center’s website, it is open with free parking from 8 a.m. to dark every day.
Maryville College Woods
Bringing the list back home, the Maryville College Woods are an exciting place to get lost on a walk. The 140-acre forest area connected to the campus has both flat and more rugged terrain so walkers can choose their intensity and still have plenty of area to cover. Along the way, you can see many different kinds of native wildflowers, trees, pollinators, and other wildlife that live in the woods.
Parking is free to all at the front of the woods, behind Cooper Athletic Center and the MC football field. If you decide to take a walk here, you can find Brown Creek, an abandoned well house and greenhouse, and some outdoor classrooms and seating areas.
Don’t be afraid to explore new places on April 7 or any other day! As you go on your walk, make sure to stay hydrated and to practice leave-no-trace to protect the environment around you. Let the outdoors, whether close to home or out in the city, keep your legs moving and your soul going!