At first glance, you might think Oak Ridge is famous for its outdoor activities. After all, it’s located just an hour from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it boasts more than 85 miles of biking and running trails, rugged mountain biking trails, the 72,000-acre Windrock ATV Park, the 250-acre University of Tennessee Arboretum and Melton Lake, which is known as one of the best 2,000-meter rowing courses in the country. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover that the real draw of Oak Ridge is a bit of a “secret.”
Developed by the U.S. government during World War II, Oak Ridge was part of the race to build the world’s first nuclear weapons—a top-secret mission known as the Manhattan Project. Thousands of workers migrated to the area’s clandestine science and engineering facilities, and it was in this “Secret City” that the first atomic bomb was created, helping to end World War II. Since then, Oak Ridge has been at the epicenter of innovation, developing everything from touchscreens to life-saving vaccine technology to the country’s fastest supercomputer.
Manhattan Project National Historical Park
Experience the birth of this innovation when you delve into the history of the atomic age at Manhattan Project National Historical Park, a new national park that opened November 2015, offering public access to formerly restricted sites in New Mexico, Washington and Tennessee. Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the Tennessee facilities on the U.S. Department of Energy’s guided bus tour*. On the tour, you’ll stop at the New Hope Center on the Y-12 National Security Complex, which showcases exhibits about the Manhattan Project, Cold War and other vital missions. Marvel at the X-10 graphite reactor—the world’s oldest nuclear reactor—at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The bus tour also passes by the K-25 site, where groundbreaking technology was developed for the use of the uranium bomb.
More Oak Ridge Attractions
Continue exploring Oak Ridge’s remarkable history at a number of other Oak Ridge attractions, including the American Museum of Science & Energy, a family-friendly museum that illustrates how science, technology, engineering and math concepts can be applied for real-world breakthroughs.
For even more hands-on, kid-friendly experiences, be sure to take little ones to the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge, where more than 20 interactive exhibits and 20,000 artifacts await exploration. While you’re here, be sure to check out the recently updated Mars Rocket Room.
Getting to Oak Ridge
Oak Ridge is conveniently located near I-75 and I-40, about 25 miles west of McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tennessee. View directions to Oak Ridge to see how easy it is to come visit, whether you’re on your way to Dollywood or Great Smoky Mountains National Park.