Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium is a 3650-acre nature preserve in Kingsport. It’s the largest city-owned park in Tennessee and features a 44-acre lake, 40 miles of hiking trails, a nature preserve with animal habitats, and lots more. They have lots of events so there’s always something to do. It sounded interesting, so we decided it needed to be one of the first places we visited when preparing to launch Travel East Tennessee. In this article, we’ll describe our visit and help you decide if it’s worth the trip.
- Nature center
- Hiking trails
- Animal habitats
- Barge ride
Date visited – 8/2/21
The entrance fee for Bays Mountain is $5 per vehicle and $15 per bus. The planetarium and barge rides are $5 each per person. Nature programs are $3 per person for the regular program and $6 per person for the extended 2-hour program. Ziplines are $10 per person. The ziplines were not running the day of our visit.
You can also get a yearly membership for $30. This gives you unlimited access during park hours with no parking fee. With the membership, there are no fees for the planetarium, barge, special shows in the Nature Center, or the amphitheater. Members can also get free tickets for guests. The regular membership provides tickets for one guest. There are other membership options that get you more guest tickets.
Parking and Bays Mountain Park Area
There are lots of parking spots in multiple areas around the entrance. It has several picnic tables around the parking area. We brought our lunch and ate here. The entrance with gift shop, planetarium, farmstead museum, zoo, etc., spreads out from the parking area.
Gift Shop and Nature Center
The gift shop includes a 2-story nature center. It has lots of displays for kids. Many of them have posters with information. It covers space, animals, rocks, etc. There are a lot of interactive elements that kids will enjoy. This is also where you can purchase the tickets for all the extras. The planetarium is also in the nature center.
I’m a fan of planetariums. I purposely waited until their planetarium was open before going. It had been closed for renovations. I enjoyed the presentation. It looked at nice as any I’ve been to (including Knoxville, Nashville, and a few others).
The presentation itself was worth seeing, but it wasn’t one of my favorites. They did mention they’re updating it. I enjoyed hearing the presenter, but most of the information was from the video. I hope the update will have more from the presenter so it can be more interactive.
Riding the barge is one of my favorite things to do at Bay’s Mountain. The ride is smooth and relaxing. The guide tells stories of the area and talks about the plants and animals. He (or she) points out unique things as you go. The trip took 50 minutes. It costs extra, but I recommend it.
There are 40 miles of trails for hiking and biking. We hiked around the lake. There were lots of places to sit and rest. This trail is marked as moderate difficulty. This seemed to be accurate. It took us an hour and 50 minutes to hike the 2.45-mile trail around the lake. We enjoyed it.
Multiple trails branch from this one and there are lots more in the surrounding area. Signs indicated where the trails are. Maps are available at both ends of the trail. You can use the map and the signs to know where you are on the trail. You can see the lake, floating bridges, waterfalls, and a fire tower. The trails also have geocaching.
Animals and Habitats
There are lots of animal habitats at Bays Mountain. They include wolves, birds, owls, a fox, bobcat, dear, turtles, frogs, snakes, salamander, etc. They’re separated into several sections with paths that lead you in multiple directions. Signs point to each of the types of animals.
We spent a lot of time walking about the habitats. We saw every animal except the bobcat. I’ve heard that one hides really well. We wanted to see the bobcat presentation, but it was canceled due to staffing.
There are signs with information for each of the animals. We read them as we went. The habitat for the wolves includes a sitting area. Reptiles are inside a specialized building with environmental control. It also has a sitting area.
The Farmstead Museum was closed the day we were there. It looks interesting. We’ll have to go back when it’s open.
Randy’s Thoughts on Bays Mountain
There is a lot to do at Bays mountain. I enjoyed everything there. I especially enjoyed the barge ride, hiking trails, and animal habitats. I also enjoyed the planetarium, but I hope they update the video. I loved the trails and I’m glad they provide maps. I’d like to get a mountain bike and ride the bike trails. Bays Mountain is worth every penny.
They don’t have food there, so you’ll need to bring your own. Also, you’ll need to check the website’s calendar to see what’s going on for each day to plan your visit.
Would you go back? Yes. We bought the yearly membership and I plan to go back to see the bobcat, farmstead museum, hike to the fire tower, and ride the ziplines. I’d also ride the barge again.
Lucinda’s Thoughts on Bays Mountain
I enjoyed our trip to Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium very much. For younger children, or anyone with strength or mobility issues you could easily stay near the nature center where the trails are easy, there are lots of benches, and still have a lot to do and an enjoyable day. For the more active there are a lot of different trails for hiking or biking, so many it would be impossible to see them all in a day.
Would you go back? Yes. I want to see the farm museum, hike up to the fire tower, see one of the animal shows, and hopefully see the bobcat. My daughter would like to go with us sometime to take a barge ride and attend a wolf howling.
Who Should Visit Bays Mountain
Anyone that likes nature trails will enjoy Bays Mountain. The nature center and animals are especially good for families with children.
Address: 853 Bays Mountain Park Road, Kingsport, TN 37660
You can learn more about Bays Mountain and see their daily events by visiting their website.
Have you visited Bay’s Moutain? Let us know in the comments.