Knoxville's Unique Boardwalk
You don’t have to travel to the beach to get a great boardwalk experience. Tucked away along the Tennessee River in South Knoxville, is the River Boardwalk at Ijams Nature Center. Now, there aren’t any ice cream shops, places to buy t-shirts or any amusement rides on this boardwalk, but it definitely provides a unique experience.
The journey to the boardwalk is a relatively short one, about two-tenths of a mile down the slope of a ridge then a hundred yards or so to the start of the boardwalk. Although the walk through the forest is refreshing, the real fun begins when you reach the river.
The River Trail and Boardwalk is close to where the Holston and French Broad Rivers come together to form the Tennessee. The relatively tranquil waters are a deep shade of green, reflecting the abundance of trees lining both sides of the river. Just a short distance downstream is Island Home, where Knoxville’s Downtown Airport can be found, so you might see small planes landing or taking off. The river is also a popular spot for jet skis and boats. Before heading to the boardwalk you can take one of several short paths to the banks of the river to get a closer look.
When you reach the river boardwalk, you actually start moving out over the water. According to a sign at the beginning, the builder Don Niday had to rappel down a cliff to attach the first braces for the boardwalk. When you see the thick sandstone walls stretching up from the river it’s easy to see what a difficult job that would have been.
At the beginning of the boardwalk you can’t see where it ends, but the walk isn’t very far. As the rock walls jut out into the river, so does the boardwalk, perched about 20-feet above the water. Along the way small platforms and benches allow you to sit and marvel in your surroundings, a great way to spend a little time on a sunny afternoon.
On an hot day, there is one spot along the boardwalk where you might be able to cool off, either because of the geology or a chilling tale that goes with it. An opening in the rocky bluff reveals a cave where a cold stream works its way out to the river. According to a sign at the entrance this is Maude Moore’s Cave, once called Cave Spring. Back in 1919 Maude Moore hid in the cave after shooting a man who attacked her. Eventually, she surrendered to authorities and was found not-guilty. Today, the cave has bars on it to keep people out and protect the bats that live inside.
Once the boardwalk ends, you can continue on the River Trail and eventually make your way back to Ijams Nature Center, getting close to other areas like Mead’s Quarry and the trail to the “Keyhole.” It is shorter to take the Boardwalk back and hike back up the ridge to the place where you started. All the while, it’s often difficult to remember you’re in the middle of a large city the whole time. Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness is filled with many surprises including this boardwalk along the river.