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Oak Ridge: Entertaining Inside & Out

No matter the weather, there’s always fun to be had.

By Livability.com on July 22, 2019

Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge / Clint James/United Way of Anderson County

Get Out and About

The city that was secretly built to help end World War II has since become an outdoor hub for activities of all levels, from leisurely greenway strolls to swimming in one of the nation’s most unique pools to zooming along thickly wooded paths on two wheels.

Melton Hill Lake Rowing Course & Watersports

The 30 miles of sheltered, calm water at Melton Hill Lake are so ideal for boat races that the Oak Ridge Rowing Association not only trains and holds its regattas on the seven-lane, 2,000-meter course, but has hosted several prestigious competitions, such as the NCAA National Rowing Championships. Situated on the eastern edge of Oak Ridge, the lake is a great site for other water adventures too, from kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding. Adventures Outdoors rents cruiser bikes, SUPs and pontoon paddleboats and launches sit on-top kayaks near the rowing finish tower.

Out and About in Oak Ridge

City of Oak Ridge Parks Department Facilities and Classes

City-sponsored activities keep Oak Ridgers busy year-round at more than 30 properties, from lighted athletic fields and tennis courts to playgrounds, community centers and 19 parks, including one for skating and one for dogs that need to run off some pent-up energy. Residents can join teams to play softball, full court basketball or co-ed volleyball – there are even pickleball programs for different age groups – or enroll their children in stimulating summer camps. Too rainy or cold? No problem. Art classes, scrapbooking and computer instruction are available too.

Oak Ridge TN
Camera Club of Oak Ridge

Trails and Greenways

More than 85 miles of trails for walking, running or biking wind through Oak Ridge. Forty-eight forested greenbelt districts – more than 1,500 acres altogether – serve as buffers between neighborhoods and offer shade, relaxation and exercise. And 13 distinct greenways from the 0.8-mile Wildflower Trail to the 14-mile North Boundary, feature century-old hardwoods, indigenous wildlife and scenic shorelines. The University of Tennessee Arboretum, a unique 250-acre field research laboratory, boasts a network of self-guided paths and more than 2,500 native and exotic plants, including an official holly test garden with varieties from around the world.

Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge / Sean Leader

Mountain Biking

Serious mountain bikers (and hikers) can challenge themselves on 30 miles of thrilling single-track and dirt trails at Haw Ridge Park, located on the scenic peninsula along the Clinch River between Knoxville and Oak Ridge. The steep downhill stretch of the famous (or infamous!) Washing Machine transports cyclists to a lower section with rock gardens, a log ride and other obstacles. What was once a mining mountain outside Oliver Springs is now the 72,000-acre Windrock Park, with nine difficult downhill and cross-country bike trails and 2,150 feet of vertical drops.

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Two major courses – one public, one private – offer quality golfing for both beginners and experts. Operated by the City of Oak Ridge, Centennial Golf Course caters to players of all skill sets on its Bermuda fairways and bent grass greens. The meandering, 120-acre site takes golfers on a scenic journey through woodlands and over rolling hills, while the year-round indoor Golf Academy provides instruction in improving less-than-perfect swings. The beautiful Oak Ridge Country Club, built after the Atomic Energy Commission set aside 600 acres for golf in the 1940s, features the home course of two time PGA tour winner Scott Stallings.

Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge / Courtesy of Explore Oak Ridge

Oak Ridge Outdoor Swimming Pool

Fed by spring waters and considered one of the largest natural pools in the U.S., the Oak Ridge Outdoor Swimming Pool slopes from zero to 13.5 feet, with 25- and 100-meter courses. Once a watering hole for travelers and converted to a public pool at the end of World War II–when the Secret City was still secre –the recreational site symbolized better days ahead for the people of Oak Ridge. Each summer, area residents still flock to the popular family hangout, its offshore island and grassy beach. Its sister indoor pool is open all year.

Come Inside

For those who prefer to stay busy indoors, at least on days when Mother Nature doesn’t want to cooperate, the Secret City offers plenty of entertaining ways to pass the time. From ballet to bowling, movies to shopping, there’s plenty to do when the sun doesn’t shine – or even when it does. Accessible but impressive classical performances, endless diversions for the kids (the kind that don’t involve a device, for once!) and ways to learn something new are at the top of the list.

Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge / Nathan Lambrecht

Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge

Enchanting enough for grown-ups, the museum’s “please touch†exhibits include the Rainforest, with a cool waterfall, sound effects and observation deck. World of Trains delights locomotive fans with a diesel engine mock-up and a large HO-scale layout. One of the most popular attractions is the two-story, life sized Dollhouse, where kids can play, “cook†and put dolls to bed. Described as part exercise studio, part farmers market, Healthy Living is designed to keep kids moving and healthy.

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Leagues, individuals and families can lace up their shoes for hours of fun at the multilane Oak Ridge Bowling Center, where kids bowl for free. During breaks, they can head for the arcade and compete in billiards, air hockey, Skee-Ball and other games that never go out of style; kick back in the lounge with three LCD TVs and two dartboards; or chow down on burgers and other satisfying munchies in That Other One café. Birthday parties are welcome.


Oak Ridge is experiencing a retail renaissance. Main Street Oak Ridge, a new outdoor 600,000-square foot shopping development, continues to open new stores and a hotel. The original town center known as Jackson Square is going strong with antique and gift shops, boutiques and local award-winning restaurants, all flanked by gardens where browsers can stop and, quite literally, smell the roses.

Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge / Courtesy of Explore Oak Ridge

Performing Arts

Oak Ridge supports some of the oldest cultural associations in Tennessee. The Oak Ridge Civic Ballet Association, which holds the state’s longest continuous dance charter, provides opportunities for dancers of all abilities, with public auditions and summer camps for budding Baryshnikovs. Started by a Manhattan Project biochemist and cellist, the 75-year-old Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra performs five concerts each season, including one freebie. Fittingly located on Broadway – the Oak Ridge version – the 13-row Oak Ridge Playhouse is one of the region’s oldest.

Movie Theater

Over and over, online reviewers from Oak Ridge and elsewhere declare that Cinemark Tinseltown is worth the drive from Knoxville. The first-run movie theater has been around a while, but the new comfortable, heated reclining seats and other renovations are prompting folks to return to the cinema where they grew up. Plus, everyone knows this is where to find the lowest ticket prices around, with $5 Tuesdays, print coupons and online discounts.

Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge / Clint James/United Way of Anderson County

International Festival of the Children’s Museum of Oak RidgeFebruary

The museum’s International Festival introduces kids of all ages to a variety of world cultures through cuisine, crafts and performances ranging from dance to martial arts. 

Nine Lakes Wine FestivalLate May – Early June

Tennessee winemakers bring their award-winning potables – gold medal or higher – to this tented, musical evening at Melton Hill Lake Park. Gourmet small plates, commemorative tasting glass and wine tote are included. 

Flatwater Tales Storytelling Festival, Late May – Early June

Internationally recognized storyteller performances share the magic of this art form.

Secret City FestivalEarly June

During this not-so-secret celebration of arts, history, science, food and music, A.K. Bissell Park hosts evening concerts, science activities for kids and a Battle of the Bands. 

Lavender FestivalMid-June

Historic Jackson Square comes alive with 150 artisans, Americana music, food, demonstrations, a wine tasting and more as vendors showcase products related to health, herbs and the environment during this celebration.

Summer Sessions Concert SeriesMid-June thru Mid-September

Lawn chairs sprawl and roots music fills the air when ORNL Federal Credit Union hosts its free annual concerts, complete with craft beer and local food trucks, at the A.K. Bissell Park pavilion.

Fourth of July CelebrationJuly 4th

On America’s birthday, spectacular fireworks sponsored by the city of Oak Ridge light up the night sky at A.K. Bissell Park. The concert is free, but donations help cover fire department expenses.

United Way’s Taste of Anderson CountyOctober

This annual toast to local cuisine and musical talent returns with $1 samples from favorite area restaurants and tastings of craft beer, wine and moonshine in Jackson Square.

Oak Ridge Christmas Parade, Mid-December

An annual holiday parade featuring floats and walking groups that move along Oak Ridge Turnpike.

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