Tennessee is probably best known for music and also for its barbecue and whiskey, among other things. But the Volunteer State’s varied geographic features and sports profile also mean Tennessee offers exceptional opportunities for sports and recreation, as well.
It dips and swirls sinuously through the gorgeous forested and rocky Southern Appalachian region of southeastern Tennessee. Its rapids have names like Broken Nose, Tablesaw, and Hell Hole. It’ll widen your eyes and your nostrils and maybe your mouth with a yelp of sheer exuberance brought involuntarily up from your belly and out when you go through its torrential stretches. It’s the Ocoee River and there are a number of outfitters that offer guided rafting adventures down miles of its thrilling whitewater gush.
One of the best is the Nantahala Outdoor Center, which has an Ocoee River Outpost. NOC offers a half-day and full-day Ocoee raft trip. The half-day has plenty of Class III-IV rapids but the full-day float adds a lunch stop, which you’ll need to rest up and carb up for what’s to come – more Class IV rapids at the whitewater slalom course section created for the 1996 Olympic kayak and canoe competitions. Word to the wise; you’ll need to make reservations well ahead of time, NOC provides all necessary equipment, and don’t depend upon GPS to get to the NOC outpost. Note the directions on the NOC website (noc.com/directions).
Nantahala Outdoor Center, 150 Hawkins Drive, Ocoee, Tenn., 828-785-4850, 828-785-4852, noc.com/plan-your-trip/ocoee-river
Ijams Nature Center
First off, get the name right. It’s pronounced “eye ams,” with each syllable run together smoothly. Ijams is a remarkable 300-acre greenspace and outdoor recreation haven just three-and-a-half miles from downtown Knoxville. Its beautifully rugged terrain is wooded, watered and rocked, with over 12 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, a re-purposed limestone quarry lake for paddling and swimming, the River Boardwalk and Ijams Crag, Knoxville’s only outdoor rock climbing area. Ijams is a nature and outdoor recreation lover’s dream come true.
While at the Visitor Center, check out the Navitat Knoxville welcome desk. Each of Navitat’s six tree-based adventure trails on its canopy adventure course consists of 10 to 12 challenge elements connecting you from tree to tree to tree by zipline, rope bridge or other method.
Don’t worry about needing to bring your kayak, bike or paddleboard. You can if you want to but visitors can rent all of the above at Ijams thanks to partner River Sports Outfitters.
Ijams Nature Center, 2915 Island Home Ave., Knoxville, Tenn., 865-577-4717, ijams.org, @IjamsNatureCtr
Nashville may be Music City but it has become the most prominent professional sports city in the Volunteer State. Memphis scored the NBA Grizzlies franchise and the Memphis Redbirds but Nashville offers year-round pro sports entertainment with the NFL’s Titans, the NHL’s Predators and, maybe the most pure fun team of all, the talented Nashville Sounds, Music City’s AAA baseball affiliate of the MLB’s Oakland Athletics. What makes a Sounds game so much fun? Consider:
• Fireworks every Friday
• Bark in the Park games allow fans to bring their canine buddies in and sit in a special section of the ballpark
• The Band Box outdoor bar at First Tennessee Park has ping-pong tables, shuffleboard and a nine-hole mini golf course
The Nashville Sounds play at First Tennessee Park, conveniently located downtown, off of Jackson Street, halfway between 3rd Avenue N. and 5th Avenue N.
First Tennessee Park, 19 Junior Gilliam Way, Nashville, Tenn., 615-690-4487, www.nashvillesounds.com, @nashvillesounds
Its location on the banks of the Mississippi River are what made Memphis great and visitors to “The Bluff City” should certainly take the opportunity to get out on the iconic waterway. Take a Memphis Riverboats 90-minute sightseeing tour, offered daily March through October, a dinner cruise, available Thursday through Saturday nights, or a private charter. All cruises depart from Beale Street Landing.
Memphis Riverboats’ “Riverlorians” regale cruisers with engaging commentary about the Mighty Mississippi and its crucial role in Memphis history during the sightseeing tours aboard the Island Queen. Snacks and beverages are available. The evening dinner cruises on the climate-controlled Memphis Queen III offer live jazz and blues and good eats are offered buffet-style. The nighttime view of Memphis, all lit up with electricity and revelry, is a pleasure.
Beale St. Landing, downtown, 251 Riverside Drive, Memphis, Tenn., 901-527-2628, memphisriverboats.net, @901Riverboats
Paris Landing State Park
Paris Landing State Park in northwest Tennessee has everything to please both parents and kids. Sitting at the widest part of Kentucky Lake, less than five miles from the Kentucky state line, the 840-acre park offers sports and recreation enthusiasts great golf, beach volleyball, lake and swimming pool watersports, excellent hiking and good fishing. Kentucky Lake is well populated with various kinds of bass, catfish, bream and many other species. A marina is also accessible.
The Riverboat Restaurant overlooks the lake and serves up a buffet of traditional southern dishes. Picnics are always a good option, whether on the beach, on the grounds, or under one of the park’s pavilions.
Paris Landing State Park’s golf course is an 18-hole par-72 tree-lined beauty with well-maintained gently rolling lakeside terrain. Lodging at Paris Landing is available in inn rooms, its 10 three-bedroom lakeside cabins and RV campsites.
16055 US 79, Buchanan, Tenn., 731-641-4465, @TennStateParks
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