Dubbed a 'scruffy little city' by the Wall Street Journal before the 1982 World's Fair, Knoxville is strutting its stuff these days as an increasingly prominent and polished destination for outdoor, gastronomy and craft-beer enthusiasts. Knoxville is also home to the University of Tennessee and its rabid college-football fan base. On game days the whole town is painted orange as fans pack Neyland Stadium to watch the beloved Volunteers.
But there's more to Knoxville than football. No longer content to play second fiddle to nearby Chattanooga and Asheville, the city – a former textile-production center – now touts itself as a base for visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sugarlands Visitor Center is just 29 miles away, and Knoxville is a far more enticing spot to eat and drink than other cities near the park. For hikers and mountain bikers, the city's ever-expanding Urban Wilderness is becoming its own reason to visit.