Cincinnati Family Magazine

Your # 1 Hometown Family Resource

July 16, 2024

Wet and Wild in Knoxville

See some wild animals at the zoo, then let your own wild ones run free through community playgrounds and waterfalls.

What a weekend!  We piled into the minivan for a three-hour drive to Knoxville, stayed the night, spent a full day exploring the new Kid’s Cove zoo exhibit and area parks and made it back home by bedtime on Sunday.  A whirlwind of a trip, but guaranteed fun!

Getting Situated

We arrived at the downtown Riverfront Park Volunteer Landing and stretched our legs.  Park visitors can meander paved paths, relax in a swing or climb an overlook tower to watch the University of Tennessee crew teams.  Riverfront Park has a fountain that  sprays from the ground, and the short “waterfalls” that get kids thoroughly drenched are fun.  (Be sure to pack dry clothes!)

Hit the Zoo

We arrived early to beat the crowds to the brand new Kid’s Cove exhibit.  Staffer William Becker says lines for the zoo are best before noon on Sundays.

Nevermind the zoo’s renovated bear and gorilla habitats or live animal encounters throughout the park.  The only place our boys – ages 5 and 7 – wanted to be was the Cove.  In this just-opened exhibit, kids can slide through a waterfall, climb into a giant bird nest, learn to milk like a cow and more.  The included beaver exhibit offers above and below-water views.  See the den where they sleep and eat as well as real trees they’ve gnawed off to make dams.  Meet baby Brigham the beaver during animal chat in the Cove’s chicken coop.

Kid’s Cove also has an enclosed aviary offering heat reprieval, and in it, birds flit above; push buttons to learn their names and hear their calls.  It’s handicap- and stroller-friendly throughout.

Look for the carousel ($1 – $2 per ride), climbing wall, an Appalachian-themed cabin playhouse with multi-level climbing and slides and the splashy stream with hop-on lily pads and giant water-squirting frogs.

When Hunger Strikes

With a little ingenuity, we learned about two kid-friendly eateries.  Puleo’s offers seafood, steaks and Italian dishes – so there’s healthy, hearty and deliciously prepared food for all at not-too-bad prices.  Bread at the table prevented hungry grumping.  Generous kid meals ($3.99) include a drink and choice of “baby bellini” or an ice cream sundae.  Sawyer’s kept the kiddies happy with meals of chicken tenders, fries and a drink for $2.  Chicken of all kinds comes fast in this laid-back hotspot.  There’s also buffalo sauce but it’s super spicy – beware!  Sides include coleslaw, Texas toast and free drink refills.

Run off some of that food energy at nearby Fort Kid before driving home.  It’s a great big wooden community playground at historic World’s Fair Park located across the street from the Visitor Center and chocolate shop.

Like smooches from thankful dessert-loving children?  I do!  McLain’s sells ice cream and concessions from inside the playground.  Open during park hours, a percent of the proceeds goes toward Fort Kid’s upkeep.  Bathrooms are conveniently located with a diaper-changing station and kid-sized toilets.  Picnic tables and seating are plentiful, too.

After all the fun, a peaceful drive home is in order.  Trust me when I say that the little ones will be asleep in no time.

Getting There

Knoxville Zoo
3500 Knoxville Zoo Drive
(take I-40 to exit 392 and follow the signs) | 865-637-5331

Hours (EST) Through May 29:
Mon – Fri, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.,
Sat – Sun 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
May 30 – Sept. 8:
9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily
Open 364 days; closed Christmas


$12.95 for adults, $8.95 for ages 3 – 12
Free for children younger than 3.
Parking is $3; stroller rental is $6 for a single and $8 for a double

Jen Smith is a local mother and contributing writer.

About the Author