Visiting Bays Mountain Park

A Day Away by Mike Steely

I’ll bet you have never visited Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport. My wife and I took a cold Sunday afternoon drive there since it’s probably been 40 or more years since our last venture there.

Bays Mountain is a Kingsport City facility high on the mountain overlooking the city. Like many visitors, we got lost briefly by not following the few signs there. The easiest way to get there from Knoxville, believe it or not, is to take Rutledge Pike (Highway 11W) to Kingsport, turn south on Interstate 26 to the first exit, and follow Reservoir Road west to the park sign, then right up the two-lane mountain road to the park entrance.

The first place you come to is the Eastman Recreation Area which has a small cascade called “Dolan Falls.” You double back to the Bays Mountain Road, take a right uphill and climb up to the park. There is a $7 per car admission and no charge for military veterans.

We visited during the park’s winter hours and found some facilities closed or combined into other buildings. It’s wise to call ahead given changeable weather conditions, but normally Bays Mountain is open every day of the week with Sunday hours running from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The planetarium has light shows and special programming, and the park also has programs about wildlife like “Wonder for Wolves,” lakeside and cliffside guided hikes, and barge rides, primitive group camping and fishing in the warmer months.

The feeding of the wolves is open to view and, while we were there, the attendant in the raptor exhibits was cleaning cages and feeding the birds. She told us each bird cage has a heater and the animals are taken into the park office for warmth.

There is a small charge for the planetarium but, again, it’s free to veterans and their families.

We wandered through the wild animal exhibits including the Herpetarium where we saw the largest black snake we’ve ever seen. Some of the animals in the outside habitats were either too cold or too timid to venture out. Others, like the bobcats, came out of their shelters and watched us with as much curiosity as we watched them.

Founded in 1971 the park has picnic tables, a walkway across the dam, a trail around the lake, and a fire tower. The park was named for Russell and Scott Bays who settled nearby southwest Virginia about 1780.

At the top, you’ll find 25 miles of hiking trails, the planetarium, pioneer museum, and fishing spots along the mountain-top lake.

You’ll find the park online at or you may call them at (423) 229-9447.