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The Winter Play Season

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Winter Outdoor Play

Don't let the cold weather keep you indoors this winter — add a few layers of clothing to keep Jack Frost from nipping at your toes and head outdoors for some winter fun! Winter isn't just about cold weather – it's a whole new season to play! Dressing for your activity level, changing the time of day that you head out, challenging yourself with fitness and up-coming event goals can help you embrace this time of year so you can enjoy the outdoors and stay fit.

Here are a few tips and suggestions for enjoying your favorite activities year-round, along with a list of local trails that can be easily accessed after-work or anytime when your schedule's tight. If they're calling for snow, grab your crampons, skis or snowshoes and head to one of our favorite spots.

Norris Watershed Trails in WinterMOUNTAIN BIKING:

The main decision on where to ride during winter months all boils down to minimizing your impact to the trails by not riding when they're muddy or thawing. Muddy conditions exist longer in the winter months causing trail surfaces to lose their ability to withstand trail traffic. Because bicycles create a linear track, this tends to promote channeling of water, which can increase trail erosion. The good news is that some of our trail systems drain better than others so there are still places to ride during wet conditions. It's all in the type of soil surface — some soils just drain better than others. Trails that are made up of sandy soil drain well, while clay soils hold moisture making them very slippery and fast to form puddles.

So where should you ride when conditions are wet? Many mountain bikers will head north to the Norris Watershed Trails or to Oak Ridge for the North Boundary and Black Oak Ridge trails. All of these trails drain exceptionally well. A little further north, Big South Fork has a limestone foundation and sandy soil with good drainage. Old service roads and gravel roadbeds are usually good choices as well. Rich Mountain and Parsons Branch roads, off the Cades Cove loop, have a dirt/gravel surface and are closed to vehicular traffic during the winter.

Another consideration for where to ride during the winter is that hunting season corresponds with this prime mountain biking season in some areas. Around Knoxville, you'll want to check the hunting dates before heading out to Forks of the River, North Boundary, Black Oak Ridge, Haw Ridge, and sections of Norris Watershed as some of these areas may have restricted use.

House Mountain in WinterHIKING/TRAIL RUNNING:

There are many benefits to winter hiking and trail running — no bugs, no sweating, no poison ivy, no crowds, and no leaves to block views. Knoxville is fortunate to be in close proximity to several large mountain ranges and rugged wilderness area that offer countless miles of trail within an hour's drive. If you're looking for a long day hike or a backpacking trip, head north to Big South Fork, the Obed, Cumberland Gap and sections of the Cumberland Trail. On our southern end, we have the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Cherokee National Forest to explore. Knoxville is also surrounded by many State Parks that offer a wide range of amenities and natural resources.

When you need a dose of wilderness but don't have much time or you just want to stay local, Knoxville has many trails that are close by — no need to wait until the weekend to get outdoors, bring a change of clothes and hit the trails after work. Bring along your pets, as dogs are allowed on all but one of these local favorites.

Beverly Park – 1.4 miles of wide mowed trails that wind around grassy meadows.
New Harvest Park – 0.5-mile loop begins on a mowed trail that ascends to the forest ridge where a singletrack trail winds through the hardwood forest before descending back to the park.
Sharp's Ridge — 1-mile singletrack trail begins just across from the first picnic area and winds through the woods.
Victor Ashe Park — 1.5 miles of cross-country trails that circle the perimeter of the Park.

Fort Dickerson Park — 1-mile nature trail descends from the upper level of the park to connect with the greenway, which extends to the quarry edge.
IC King Park — 8 miles of trail gives many options for short or long hikes. Some trails wind along the river's edge while others climb to the ridge top.
Marble Springs — 1 mile trail winds through the historic homestead of Tennessee's first Governor, John Sevier. There is no charge to walk the trails, which are open during visitor hours.
Urban Wilderness — 11.5-mile loop connects 5 parks/nature center/wildlife management areas and provides 24 additional miles of secondary trails. This diverse area showcases many unique ecological features and offers a variety of terrain from singletrack trails through the woods to open fields. Trailheads are located at Ijams Nature Center, Meads Quarry, William Hastie Natural Area, Anderson School and Forks of the River.

Holston River Park — 1-mile loop skirts the Holston River for a short section and then passes by large rock outcroppings as it winds through the woods.
House Mountain Natural Area — 5.8 miles of trail wind to the summit then travel across the ridge to the east and west overviews. The summit marks the highest point in Knox County and offers stunning views of the valleys below with a glimpse of Knoxville in the distance.

Carl Cowan to Admiral Farragut Trail — 0.4-mile one-way stretch of woodsy trail connects Carl Cowan Park with Admiral Farragut Park. Skirting along the edge of the Tennessee River, the trail often spurs to the water's edge.
Concord Park — 9.4 miles of singletrack trail is divided into two sections. 7.3 miles wind through deep woods and along the shoreline of an inlet of Ft Loudoun Lake. Across from the parking area, a 2.1-mile section of trail loops through wooded terrain.
Melton Hill Park — 3 plus miles of trail weave through the hardwood forest and meadows that surround the Park. Several spurs lead to the Clinch River.
UT Arboretum Trail — 6 miles of interpretive trails will add an ecology lesson to your hike! No pets are allowed on these trails.

Paddling in WinterPADDLING:

When winter settles in, many paddlers hang up their gear and store their kayaks til spring. However, wearing proper gear can provide you with another season for paddling. Being prepared in case you get wet is extremely important. A wet or dry-suit, pfd (life vest) and extra clothes (stored in a dry bag) are all necessary when exploring our waterways when the temperature drops. Venture out when conditions are good and don't paddle alone. Finding narrow inlets and channels for paddling can limit your exposure to chilling winds while offering a scenic setting. Several local put-ins to consider might be Holston River Park, Riverside Landing, IC King Park, Hickory Creek Park, Melton Lake Park, and Edgemoor Park. The Chota Canoe and Kayak Club offer paddling outings year-round for club members.

WinterPlayCycling-200ROAD RIDING:

The chilling wind can be one of the biggest deterrents for cycling in the winter. Knowing how to dress and then planning your ride during the middle of the day when  temps are warmer can help you be out on the road during this season. Adding a few good hills to climb contributes to keeping your body temperature warm as long as a long descent doesn't reverse the benefit.

Greenways, by their nature, require a slower paced ride. Trees usually border the greenway helping to keep the wind at bay. Knoxville has over 50 miles of greenways and several local cycling clubs and shops lead weekend and evening greenway rides.


An obvious benefit to running outside during the winter is that you don't overheat which makes running easier! Heat and humidity can often slow you down, where running in the cold can actually improve your physical endurance and increase your stamina. Knoxville Track Club and local shops offer evening runs and our event calendar lists many winter races. Training for an upcoming race is good incentive for getting out when you might be tempted to stay inside curled up on a warm sofa.

Winter Activities in the SnowSNOW ACTIVITIES:

On those somewhat rare occasions when East TN lies covered in a blanket of snow don't miss the opportunity to explore our snow-covered trails. You'll be rewarded with views of distant ranges glimmering in white caps, icicles precariously dangling from rock overhangs and often times a trail marked only by animal tracks. This is a wonderful time to get out and enjoy a hike, cross-country ski or snowshoeing adventure. Gaiters or snow pants and waterproof boots are snow-hiking essentials. Hikers will want to bring along a pair of light crampons (e.g. Yaktrax) and trekking poles to help with traction and balance on icy trails. They're easy to take on and off and will make the outing safer and more enjoyable.

When the snow starts to get a couple of feet deep, snowshoes provide a fun way to explore the back country. The common expression "If you can walk, you can snowshoe" basically states that there really aren't any special skills or training required. Snowshoes disperse your weight over a large surface area reducing your degree of sinking in soft snow (post holing). They also provide good traction for climbing, traversing and descending slopes. Popular places to snowshoe are high elevation hiking trails, such as the Appalachian Trail and seasonally closed roads like Clingmans Dome Road.

Cross-country skiing is an excellent form of winter exercise that allows you to travel longer distances at a quicker pace than snowshoeing. You usually need a little more room to XC ski; so seasonally closed roads are your best bet. Once again, Clingmans Dome Road is an excellent place to explore.

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With the days now shorter and sunlight at a minimum you might want to add a few night outings. Hiking, biking and running at night can open your eyes and ears to a whole new world of adventure while helping you stay fit and off the couch. Light technology has improved quite a bit in the last few years — today's lights are brighter, lighter in weight, and less expensive.


Before heading outside, warm up your muscles. Cold muscles are less pliable and more prone to injury.

When you stop for a break, put on a layer so you don't cool off too much. Your body will have to work harder to warm up again.

Don't forget the sunscreen - it's important year round. Your neck, face and lips need protection from harsh winds and dry temperatures.

Protect your eyes from the sun and wind using different lens tints for various weather conditions.

Fluids are equally essential in winter to stay hydrated. In freezing temperatures, an insulating bottle can help keep liquids from freezing. And don't forget to bring along some energy bars.

When backpacking, place your batteries and fuel canister in the sleeping bag next to you so they'll be warm for the next day's activities.

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