Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium, in Kingsport, Tennessee, is the largest city owned park in the state. Guests should plan on spending a full day enjoying the premises, including the many attractions and exhibits located there. Created in 1965 and open year-round, the park and planetarium has been delighting visitors for years.
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The history of the area goes back to the 1800s, when the original settlers ended up at Bays Mountain. The dam was built in 1915 by one of the founders of the town of Kingsport, J. Fred Johnson. The nature center was built over 50 years later, in 1971, and was created to help educate people about the importance of the area.
Permanent Attractions and Exhibits
There are two ways to visit the park and planetarium, self-guided or guided. The majority of people visiting the grounds choose to go at their own pace, but guided tours are also great for people wanting a little more thorough visit.
Habitats: The park grounds are home to a variety of habitat exhibits of creatures’ native to that area of Tennessee.
- Raptor Center
- River Otters
- Watershed Room
- Whitetail deer
- Farmstead Museum: The Farmstead Museum, also known as the Steadman Heritage farm, is a living history exhibit featuring tools, instruments, and crafts used by many of the early families that settled in the mid-1800s through the 1950s. Learn how they worked and lived as they made Bays Mountain home.
- Camping and Fishing: Camping is allowed overnight in designated areas for scouting groups as well as recognized organizations for a fee. Fishing is also allowed, off the dam, for people over the age of 55 and under the age of 16. State regulations apply, and fishing licenses must be current. The lake is stocked with bluegill, bass, and channel catfish. No live minnows are allowed as bait. Fishing is allowed Mondays through Saturdays (no fishing is allowed on Sundays) from 8:30am to noon only.
- Hiking and Biking: The park is also home to more than 25 miles of hiking trails covering the majority of the 3500 acres that encompass the grounds. Trail maps are available, and the trails are available in a variety of skill levels. GPS rentals are also available for a small fee. There are also 25 miles of bike trails for mountain bikers of any skill level who wants to enjoy a day outside. Bikes should be checked at the gift shop prior to heading out.
- Nature programs: For a small fee per person, the park staff will lead guests through nature programs in a variety of specific topics. Guests can learn about beaver ponds, watch the wolves eat, hear about the trees, and find out whether or not groundhogs can predict the weather.
- Barge rides: Learn from a park naturalist while seeing the park reservoir aboard a pontoon boat. There is a small fee and boat rides last about 45 minutes.
Planetarium: The “getaway to the stars”, visitors to the state of the art million-dollar planetarium will enjoy a day full of excitement under the 40-foot dome complete with surround sound and a star projector. There is a small admission fee for visitors over the age of five. The planetarium shows change on a rotating basis and are always exciting!
Programs are available to school groups of all grade levels, from kindergarten to high school. Field trips are offered Tuesdays through Fridays from September to May. Teachers should call during the work week to speak with a staff member and schedule a visit. There is no charge for school groups from Kingsport, Bristol, and Rogersville Tennessee, as well as those from schools in both Sullivan and Hawkins County, Tennessee. All other school groups can attend for a small fee per student, and no charge per teacher. Adult chaperones will also be required to pay a small admission fee. Students are required to abide by the rules of the premises and be respectful. Field trip groups may bring a sack lunch and enjoy eating outside at the picnic area or amphitheater. They are responsible for picking up all trash and making sure it is disposed of appropriately. The planetarium is also available for school programs and cater to different age and grade levels.
The Nature Center is home to a gift shop that carries a variety of merchandise for guests of all ages. For the younger crowd, there are toys (many of them educational in nature) and apparel. For adults, there are books, telescopes, apparel, and star finders. It also carries many products from National Geographic, some of which can be checked out instead of purchased.
Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium, 853 Bays Mountain Park Road, Kingsport, TN, 37660, Phone: 423-229-9447