Only 45 miles from Abingdon, Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium in Kingsport, Tennessee is one of the nicest large parks in the region. It is right off of Interstate 26, Exit 3, Meadowview Parkway. The entrance to the park is just a few miles to the south of the exit.
With 3,550 acres and an extensive network of 37 miles of trails, it offers a good place to do some trail running or mountain biking in an enclosed, very pretty natural park. The trails are a mix of old fire roads and single track. There are several good annual trail running races within the park, most notably the Bays Mountain 15 Mile Trail Race, which is in September and starts from the nature center area, and the Laurel Run Ascent, which is in April and starts in Laurel Run Park (accessed from Church Hill, Tennessee). I did the Bays Mountain 15 miler several years ago and can attest to it being one of the nicer trail races in the region.
Bays Mountain Park has nature programs and dedicated habitat areas—essentially large pens—for bobcat, wolves, river otters, turtles, and raptors. This area of Bays Mountain Park is similar to the Western Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, North Carolina. There are not as many exhibits at Bays Mountain as at WCNC; however, the wolf exhibit at Bays Mountain is larger and better.
The photo gallery below shows some areas of the park close to the nature center. Click on a photo to see a description of it.
I recently visited Bays Mountain with my son for an elementary school field trip. (This park hosts many school field trips; during our visit there were also school field trips from Scott County, Va. and from Hawkins County, Tenn.). With the school group, we visited the nature center, listened to a lecture on the wolves, and watched a program at the planetarium.
During the wolf lecture, the park official explained how wolves live in packs, their feeding habits and pack behavior, and then demonstrated how the wolves howl. She prompted the wolves to howl with her own human “howl,” which involved cupping her hands to her mouth and then initiating a howling sound and was unlike an ordinary human imitation of a wolf howl. The wolves responded slowly at first, and then all of them seemed to howl together. This lasted several minutes. It was quite loud, actually pretty fascinating to hear, and was the highlight of the trip.
We then proceeded to the planetarium. The planetarium has a modern Carl Zeiss planetarium projector that allows the audience to sit back and look up onto the domed ceiling to watch an accurate representation of the night sky. This was the first time I had seen a planetarium show since I was a child at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, so it was a treat. The Bays Mountain Park website indicates they also have quality telescopes and allow the public to use them at designated times in the evenings.
Bays Mountain Park has a 44 acre lake named the Kingsport Reservoir that was apparently originally used as the major source of water for the city of Kingsport. The lake has many inlets, lily pads, and bass and bluegill that were visible from the shore. Overall, this park is a nice asset to the region, one often overlooked as a place for outdoor recreation considering how close it is to Abingdon and Southwest Virginia. It’s definitely worth a day trip.