Kid-Friendly Activities Besides Tailgating

Having grown up in Knoxville, a Tennessee Game Day holds a special place in our hearts. (And yes, I do capitalize it. It is a HUGE event.) And it is not just the game itself that’s a blast.

It is about the traditions and the camaraderie of your fellow fans and friends that come together every season and the new people you get to meet from all over. There are plenty of things to do with kids on a Vols Game Day too, it is not all just chugging beer at tailgates.

Part of the fun for me nowadays is introducing the kids to some of my most beloved Game Day traditions from my childhood, such as the Vol Navy and the Pride of the Southland Marching Band’s “Salute To The Hill.” Hopefully my kiddos will pass on these traditions to their kids with the same amount of nostalgia that I have.

Game Day makes an excellent day out even if you aren’t tailgating or even going to the game itself. I have friends that bring their kids to watch the pageantry and festivities of everything associated with Game Day but then go home to watch the game on TV. That’s an easy way to beat traffic!

6 Things To Do With Kids On A Vols Game Day

Some of these activities are better for families with little kids and some are better for older kids so read through and decide what sounds like the most fun for your family.

  1. High- fiving the players on the Vol Walk.
  2. Watching The Pride of the Southland Marching Band play their way thru campus before the game.
  3. Visiting the Vol Village.
  4. Picking up pre-game snacks at the Market Square Farmer’s Market.
  5. Checking out the boats at the Vol Navy
  6. Getting into the game early enough to watch the players warm-up, the National Anthem, and the team run through the “T.”
Smoky the dog running through the orange and white checkerboard end zone of Neyland Stadium at a UT Vols home football game
Both Smokeys (dog and mascot) run across the checkerboard endzone of Neyland Stadium. There are so many traditions and fun events both in the game and before the game that kids and adults enjoy.

Parking And Lodging Questions For A UT Game

If the thought of trying to find parking downtown on Game Day makes you shudder, then please don’t let that deter you. Read our blog Knoxville Game Day Info- Where To Park for our favorite free and moderately priced parking spots that we use when we go down to the big game.

If you need some lodging suggestions, then we have shared the list we give to family and friends when they come in from out of town in our blog The Best Hotels And Vacation Rentals Near Neyland Stadium. It will also tell you which areas of town are our favorites — like downtown, up and coming South Knoxville, the always fun North Knoxville, and the best combination of price and proximity in West Knoxville.

statue of a blue-tick coonhound wearing an orange vest. This is Smokey, the mascot of the University of Tennessee. Neyland Stadium can be seen in the background.
You will find lots of these Smokey statues around campus that kids love to pet and climb on. This one is in Circle Park. You can see Neyland Stadium in the background. There is another Smokey statue by the Student Union building.

1. The Vol Walk

Probably better for older kids, especially those that know all the players

The Vol Walk is a crowd favorite. Literally, as in a huge crowd of people will gather to watch the players and coaches walk into the stadium.

The Vol Walk takes place about 2 hours 15 min before kickoff, but you need to be on the sidewalk along the route at least 30 min earlier than that to make sure you have a front row view of the street. (The Vol Walk has gotten exponentially more popular as UT football has gotten exponentially better. Go figure.)

Being there so early can be a problem for those with young kids. Waiting in a crowd can get old quickly unless you came prepared with a Costco size box of fruit snacks, so you may want to skip this with really young rugrats.

For the older elementary and middle school kids who really get into their favorite players, this can be all they talk about during the game. High-fiving the player who may later make the huge game-winning tackle will be their claim to fame at school for a week.

Tip: Check the UT Athletics app for the game you are attending to get an official kickoff time. You can also double check the time of the Vol Walk as well as other pregame activities. It will be under Gameday Information on the menu.

The Route For The Vol Walk

Buses bring the players to Volunteer Boulevard near the intersection with Lake Loudoun Boulevard. The players then walk down Volunteer Boulevard in front of the Torchbearer (at the entrance to Circle Park) and down Peyton Manning Pass.

Then they turn left onto Philip Fulmer Way to pass in front of the stadium until they get to Gate 21A where they enter the stadium. The map below shows the route.

Map of routes of the Vol Walk on Philip Fulmer Drive, the marching band route along VolunteerBlvd, the shuttle pick up and drop off in front of Walter Life Science Building, and the Vol Village location on Volunteer Boulevard.
Map showing the location of the Vol Walk, the Vol Village, and the route the band takes to the stadium. Map courtesy of OpenStreetMaps with my own annotations.
Vol Walk 9/24/22 Tennessee vs Florida featuring Pride of the Southland “White” Band
This video gives a great idea of what to expect on the Vol Walk and the best place to stand so you can see the band and the cheerleaders. The players don’t appear until 10:30 into the video.

2. Watching The Pride of the Southland Marching Band Parade Thru Campus

A great activity for all ages

This is probably my favorite family-friendly activity on Game Day. Watching the marching band is really fun for the kids as it is loud and colorful.

The cheerleaders, the dance team, the color guard, and Smokey (the costumed mascot, not the live dog mascot) also march with the band so there is lots to see. Plus, one or two area high school bands are sometimes included on top of all that so it really is quite a show as they all march past you.

The band starts their march 1 hour 40 min before kickoff but you want to be heading towards a spot on the route about 2 hours before kickoff. See the map above for the route – I marked it as the “UT Band Route.”

The band ends the march with “Salute to the Hill, ” a 3 song set performed right outside the stadium before the band enters. See the map above for the location of that too.

One of the best places to watch the band is on the pedestrian bridge over Philip Fulmer Way. The bridge is right by the Student Union, handy for bathrooms as well although the lines can get super long as it gets close to game time. There is also another Smokey dog statue here for those on the hunt.

From the pedestrian bridge, not only do you get to see the band up close as they march by, but you can then turn around and watch the “Salute To The Hill” below you afterwards. Just be aware the police start moving people back to clear the route for the band about 20 minutes beforehand so get your spot ahead of time.

You need to be in one of the 2 little balconies on the stadium side of the bridge if you want to be able to watch them march past and then turn around and watch the “Salute To The Hill” below. That way you are out of the main thoroughfare and the police won’t move you. If you are just standing along the railing of the bridge, they will make you move.

If you are in the Vol Village, you simply have to walk across the street to see the band come down Volunteer Boulevard.

The Route To The Stadium For The UT Marching Band

The Pride of Southland Marching Band (plus anybody else participating) starts at the Natalie Haslam College of Music building, marches down Volunteer Boulevard, then takes a right on the pedestrian connector that was Andy Holt Avenue before it became a pedestrian-only bridge linking to the hill.

The band marches across the pedestrian bridge by the new Student Union before turning right by Alumni Memorial Hall to come down to Philip Fulmer Way.

The whole ensemble finally stops just in front of Neyland Stadium near Gate 21 to perform the “Salute to the Hill,” a three song set that ends with “Rocky Top.” Note that the crowds are the largest here.

University of Tennessee Marching Band before the game
Standing on the pedestrian bridge across from the Student Union watching the band march past before a Vols home game.
University of Tennessee Marching Band pre-game
Watching the University of Tennessee march to their spot where they will perform the Salute To the Hill.

3. The Vol Village

Another fun activity for all ages

Make sure to check out the Vol Village in the Humanities Plaza on Volunteer Boulevard starting 3.5 hours before kickoff. It’s a kind of public tailgate that the University sets up for fans.

With its collection of sponsored tents and booths offering free goodies such as pins, sunglasses, or face-painting, it’s a fun place for families, especially for those with younger kids.

They have a band playing live music, a huge TV screen showing ESPN’s College GameDay and other football games throughout the day, at least until kickoff. Then it’s the UT game all the way. People without tickets will hang out in the Vol Village to continue tailgating and watch the game there.

You can buy food in the Vol Village as well. Dead End BBQ is a super popular local BBQ place that usually has a tent set up as does a taco place and other food trucks. If you don’t want to stand in line, look for the table selling cheeseburgers wrapped in foil for $10. Not fancy but tasty and fast and cheaper than anything you will find in the stadium.

There are tables and benches all around McClung Plaza where the Vol Village is located but they can be very crowded. If you walk behind the Humanities Building though, (not the tower, the shorter building next to it), you will find more tables and a little less people. It is a nice place for a breather from the crowds for a minute.

4. The Market Square Farmers Market And Scenic Walk To The Stadium

Might be too much for very young kids unless you take the shuttle

If it’s a day game, take advantage of downtown Knoxville’s free weekend parking and enjoy the added bonus of the Saturday Market Square Farmers Market on your way to the stadium.

The city of Knoxville has two garages that are free on Game Day- Market Square Garage and the State Street Garage which are marked on the map below.

For more parking information, see our blog “Game Day Info- Where To Park.” It includes lots of info about available parking options on campus and in downtown, including our favorite spots. It also includes information about the shuttle bus from Krutch Park to the game.

The kids really like exploring the Farmers Market and walking through the World’s Fair site on the way to the stadium. The 1.1 mile walk isn’t too long for most kiddos especially if you take your time and avoid the “We’re LATE!!!” speed walk. There is lots to see on the way as well.

Make sure to give yourself enough time to buy breakfast or lunch from one of the food trucks, poke through the food, crafts, and clothing stalls at the Farmers Market, and enjoy the festive atmosphere.

Tip: Find the Good Golly Tamale Food Cart. Delicious and inexpensive, plus the tamales are wrapped so they can be saved for later. We stash a couple in my bag and eat them just before going into the game.

If you see anything interesting to eat at the Farmer’s Market or would rather sit down to eat, check out this list of our favorite restaurants in downtown Knoxville to find a great place.

The Route Walking To Neyland Stadium From Downtown Knoxville

From Market Square, it is approximately a 1 mile walk to Neyland Stadium by way of the World’s Fair Park and Second Creek Greenway. Take Clinch Avenue from Market Street to the pedestrian bridge over Henley Street.

At the end of the pedestrian bridge, you will pass by the iconic Sunsphere where you can take a quick detour to experience the view from its 4th floor observation deck. Tickets cost $5 for adults, free for kids 12 and under. If you have never done it, you should at least once. Great view over Knoxville and UT campus, plus you can see all the way to the Smokies.

From the Sunsphere, continue along the Convention Center to the bridge over the man-made lake of the World’s Fair Park. Then, turn left onto Second Creek Greenway and take it to the intersection with Neyland Greenway.

From here, you can either walk along Neyland Greenway to see the Vol Navy or make your way into the stadium.

If these directions sound confusing, don’t worry- just follow the masses and you will get to the stadium.

5. The Vol Navy

Fun for all ages

Walking along Neyland Greenway gives you an excellent overlook of all the boats that comprise the Vol Navy. The kids and I have a good time voting on which boat is decked out (excuse the pun) the most.

We also like to vote on which is the worst decorated (bonus points if it is flying the other team’s colors), which is the gaudiest, and which boat probably costs more than our house. It is a fun game to play while enjoying the scenery on a riverfront greenway which also has some informational signs about Knoxville’s history and is great for people watching.

You can take a refreshment break on the deck at Calhoun’s restaurant near the end of the Neyland Greenway if you can manage to find a table (this is a very popular spot to see and be seen pregame so good luck). It is about 0.5 miles from the intersection of Second Creek Greenway and Neyland Greenway to Calhoun’s.

The Vol Navy is parked along the Neyland Greenway in downtown Knoxville, TN. Neyland Stadium and Thompson- Boling Arena are in the distance.
Walking down Neyland Greenway to the stadium before the game. The Vol Navy is on the left and one of the best traditions in college football.

6. Get Into The Game Early To Watch The Pre-kickoff Events

We always make sure to get into the game in plenty of time to find our seats so we can watch all the fun things before the kickoff. Running through the “T” is probably the big one here. I still get chills when the crowd gets roaring though and the players start running. You know you are on Rocky Top now!

Before the running through the “T”, the marching band will perform for a short bit too, which I always love to see. There is also the national anthem and very often, a flyover from the National Guard stationed at nearby McGhee Tyson airport, all before the actual kickoff.

The gates open 2 hours before kickoff and I would aim to be at your entrance gate 45 min before kickoff, depending on how crowded it is. We always err on the side of too early as the kids always need to use the restroom and the football obsessed one likes to watch the players warm up.

The University of Tennessee marching band forming a
The famous “T” for players to run through as they enter the stadium. (This picture was taken during the bad years when our attendance dropped but it shows the “T” really well.)

Practical Information Every Parent Likes To Know

Bathrooms

There are various port-a-potties found all over campus on Game Days and in various states of hygiene. The ones around the Vol Village tend to be okay as it is mostly families around there. UT keeps a list of available port-a-potties so might want to check it and see if there is one near you.

UT only keeps some buildings open for bathrooms and the lines can get long, but this is your best bet for cleanliness if you have younger kids that like to put hands everywhere and you want to be able to wash them.

Campus Buildings with Public Bathrooms on GameDay:

  • The Student Union- There are bathrooms handily located right by the entrance to the building from the pedestrian bridge but these tend to be extremely busy. They do have bathrooms on multiple floors as well if you want to try your luck elsewhere in the building.
  • Hodges Library
Food

There are a couple of ways you can go here depending on how much you value price versus convenience.

Bring your own snacks

  • YAY- cheap and you will for sure have something you like
  • NAY- you gotta lug snacks around and either have a clear bag you can bring into the game or a disposable bag to lug said snacks around
  • Best option for kids who live off of goldfish and fruit snacks
  • You can bring beer and wine with you and even partake on your walk around campus. Just put beers in a coozie or in a Dixie cup, refrain from being obnoxious, and the cops won’t say anything unless you give them a reason to. Same with wine.

Buy something at the Farmer’s Market before walking to the game or eat downtown

  • YAY- lots of yummy options including really good coffee, mostly inexpensive, many items are portable like the wrapped tamales from Good Golly Tamale
  • NAY- kids tend to get hungry again unless you bring the food with you, lugging food around again
  • This works best for breakfast before a noon game or lunch before an early afternoon game
  • Check out this list of our favorite restaurants downtown for brunch and lunch recommendations

Walking to the Strip (Cumberland Ave) from campus

  • YAY- fair amount of options from fast food, fast casual, and sit down restaurants
  • NAY- It is a farther walk than you think and places tend to be insanely busy
  • This is my least favorite option with kids

Eat at the Student Union

  • YAY- convenient location right by the stadium, number of fast food options including Starbucks and Chick-fil-A over several floors, public bathrooms nearby
  • NAY- can get very busy
  • For hot games, the AC in the Student Union can be a very welcome break after all that walking around

Buy food at the Vol Village (food trucks or tents)

  • YAY- convenient location with kid-friendly activities nearby, prices not awful
  • NAY- lines for the food tents can get long, limited choices
  • This tends to be the option we use most if we didn’t bring food from the Farmer’s Market

Buy food inside the stadium

  • YAY- convenient location, kid friendly options like hot dogs and nachos
  • NAY- ridiculously expensive, long lines
  • Sometimes despite your best intentions, you end up buying an $8 hot dog because it ends the whining. At least nowadays you can get yourself an overpriced beer while they eat their overpriced hotdog. Family bonding!
  • Kid-Tip- you can bring 1, factory sealed, water bottle per person into the game and then you can re-fill them at water fountains for free. Saves you a couple of bucks on that at least. There aren’t a ton of water fountains in the stadium but they are there. I use the ones at the big concourse between the U & T sections the most.
*Don’t Forget To Download Your Tickets To Your Digital Wallet Before You Go To The Game*

The terrible Wifi and cell service around the stadium is a constant gripe from fans. You have to show your tickets on your cell phone to get in the stadium- no more paper tickets whatsoever- so don’t try to look them up in the app when you get to the gate because that won’t turn out well.

I download my tickets to my Google Wallet and screenshot them too just in case.

UT is using the Tennessee Athletics app so make sure you have it all setup before going to the game. It is actually pretty helpful with good, up to date, gameday information like kickoff times, Vol Walk, when the band is marching, etc.

The University is working on improving the WiFi around the outside and inside the stadium and it was definitely better by the end of 2023 than it has been. But it still isn’t great. To be fair, there are 100,000 people all trying to check scores, send texts, and post selfies all at once so it’s a lot.

Tennessee Game Day Outfits

Go for comfort here. You will be on your feet all day so jeans, T- shirt, and tennis shoes win every time no matter how instagram-worthy another outfit may be. Your kids are another story so feel free to dress them up in ridiculously cute outfits that make everybody go “Awww!”

Remember only clear plastic bags 12” X 12” X 6” or smaller are allowed in the stadium. They say small clutches are allowed but I have seen arguments over this with the people working the gates. I put my small clutch in my plastic bag and that seems to be fine. It is like the Ziploc at the airport- if it’s outside the bag my shampoo is a bomb but if it’s inside the clear Ziploc, it just cleans my hair.

Wearing layers is highly recommended. It can get super hot in the stadium with all the people crammed in and the sun beating down. Conversely, night games can get cold really fast, especially if there is a breeze off the river. What was 70 and pleasant while you were tailgating can end up at 50 and chilly by the end of the game. Kids get cold fast and that tends to bring on the whining.

You can absolutely bring a small blanket into the game for cold weather. As long it stuffs into the right-sized clear plastic bag, it seems to be fair game. You can also bring hats, gloves, extra jackets. I do all of the above.

For more detailed information, maps, and more of what we like to do on game day, check out A Local’s Survival Guide To A Vols Game Day.

Other Helpful Websites

Knoxville News Sentinel’s Guide “UT Vols football fan guide: What to know about tickets, parking, Vol Walk, tailgating”

University of Tennessee Official Football Game Day Guide

Walking to the game from downtown Knoxville

Final Thoughts

I hope this helps you on your Game Day planning. Truly this is a super fun way to spend a day, even if you do not go to the game. You will find a ton of family-friendly (and inexpensive) activities, plus enjoy one of Knoxville’s most unique traditions. Meet up with friends, high-five Smokey, sing “Rocky Top” super loud, or just enjoy all the hoopla- we like to do all of the above.

Go Vols! Amanda

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