Exploring Knoxville: a city that caters to your canine

By Myscha Theriault / McClatchy-Tribune News Service

It’s not news that today’s definition of family places Fido firmly in the forefront. As someone who travels full time with a pampered pooch, I consider pet-friendly infrastructure to be a huge priority. One city that’s gone above and beyond in this regard is Knoxville, Tennessee. With miles of trails, exceptional green spaces, numerous canine parks and a variety of dogs-welcome events, those traveling with a furry family member will find lots to love.


Part of traveling with a dog means incorporating outdoor experiences, and Knoxville has a plethora of places for romping and rolling. One of the most expansive is the Urban Wilderness project. Accessible less than 5 miles from the downtown area, the space offers roughly 1,000 acres for hiking, urban kayaking, the exploration of multiple Civil War heritage sites and more.

Ijams Nature Center offers free walking-trail access as well as a number of nominal-fee activities where pets and people are welcome, including concerts in a natural outdoor amphitheater and community gatherings at the water-filled quarry, with local food trucks available for snacks. It’s a great place to stroll with your dog and enjoy nature. There are kayaks, paddle boards and other items available for rent, with rates starting at $11.

In addition to the more than 80 public parks that pets can enjoy on a leash with their humans, Knoxville is known for its free off-leash dog parks, several of which provide splash-oriented enrichment in addition to land-based recreational space. One of note is Concord Dog Park, which is located near a marina and includes a small beach where dogs can walk in to swim at their own discretion, as well as a lengthy wooden dock for jumping into the water with gusto. Local canine dock-diving competitions are a common site during summer months.


Fans of the Tennessee Smokies baseball team will enjoy Tail Waggin’ Tuesdays, a program that allows pet parents to bring their dogs to a home game one night per week during the regular season. A $6 ticket gets you access with your dog to a grassy area of the stadium with water stations and a chance to catch the game with man’s best friend. Want to beat the heat? Work in a shopping excursion to Mast General Store, where dogs are welcome to explore the wares along with their human parents. Open since 1883, it sells a variety of standard goods, including retro penny candy.

In the downtown retail and eatery area of Market Square, a number of pet-friendly activities are offered throughout the year, including Shakespeare performances, jazz concerts and outdoor movies.

For other evening entertainment, take a short drive over to the town of Maryville, which is home to the Parkway Drive-In Theater, an old-fashioned outdoor movie venue where you can view popular flicks from your car. Adult tickets are $7 and include two full feature films. The majority of the menu items are available for $5, including a decent-sized tub of popcorn.

The city’s visitor’s center provides free daily concerts from Monday through Saturday starting at noon. The acts encompass a wide range of genres and offer a way to enjoy complimentary live entertainment in air-conditioned comfort. The free concerts are typically an hour in length, perfect for extending your lunch hour with a little tourist fun. Dogs are welcome.


If you’re looking for a pet-friendly hotel within walking distance of numerous canine-appropriate itinerary items, you’ll want to consider the Holiday Inn on World’s Fair Park. With pet-friendly patio dining on site, a small on-property dog park with benches and shade trees and strolling access to the pawsitive options in Market Square, it’s a high-value venue your canine will find convenient.

Room rates start at $129, including access to an indoor pool and fitness center facilities. Executive floor upgrades are available for $20 and include a daily breakfast offering so that pet parents can tag-team meal access without leaving Fifi in the room alone and feeling stressed.


If Rover has a spotty record with restaurant behavior, dining on-property will preserve the option of an easy return to your room to reassess your options. Windows on the Park is located just off the lobby and includes a number of tasty and affordable menu options. Vegetarians may find the $8 mushroom flatbread attractive, along with the grilled Portobello tower entree, which rings in at less than 20 bucks. The lounge patio welcomes canines and has a sturdy steel railing for securing leashes.

The nearby historic Market Square has a number of street-side eateries with outdoor patios, most of which will welcome Fluffy with open arms. One fun option for vegetarians and vegans is The Tomato Head. It offers artisan breads with tahini dipping sauce and black bean hummus, customizable pizzas with an available soy cheese substitution and a selection of vegetarian burritos and quesadillas. High-value lunch selections include the $6.75 meatless melt known as the Kepner and the $5.35 slice-of-the-day pizza lunch combo, which comes with a salad.

If sitting still for patio dining is outside your dog’s skill set, consider a trip to Pizza Palace, which serves Italian food in 1950s drive-in style. A number of vegetarian pizza options are available for less than $10, including Greek, mushroom and green pepper with onions. If you’re looking for something lighter, a grilled cheese sandwich here will run you less than three bucks.

For canine-appropriate confections, take Rover to River Dog Bakery, where a wide array of pooch pastries for furry patrons of all sizes is available. I purchased for Maggie a large bone-shaped cookie frosted with yogurt and sprinkles, which she wolfed down with gusto, making the $3 splurge worth the financial throw down. Sampler packs featuring a variety of their treats are also available. Similarly, CitiFido is a downtown dog boutique with gear, goodies, toys and more available for four-legged travelers.

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