Take a Hike!
It’s officially that rare couple of weeks when the weather is enjoyable versus insufferable and everyone is ready to stretch their legs following their winter hibernation. Lucky for us in Northeast Tennessee, we live in the perfect place for outdoor excursions and you don’t have to be a seasoned outdoorsman to participate. Whether you’re seeking a lazy afternoon picnic amongst the flora and fauna, or a full blown calorie-torching hike to breathtaking views, the Tri-Cities has you covered.
You can’t get much more centrally located than Buffalo Mountain Park. Settled right off South Roan Street in Johnson City, this 725 acre park sits 3300 ft above sea level and offers a bird’s-eye-view of Johnson City so bring your binoculars! If you want to get a great workout you can do the “Grand Circuit,” a 4.5 mile loop that will take you along White Rock Trail, Fork Ridge Trail and Cascade Trail. If you’re a little more pressed for time or just want a direct shot to a lookout, take the 2.5 mile route straight to White Rock. Pack your Dr.Enuf (since they’re headquartered at the base of the mountain) and refresh yourself at the top, while you sun yourself on the rocky bluffs for which the area is named. Just be wary of snakes, particularly this time of year. You’re not gonna be the only cold-blooded creature feeling frisky from the warmer weather; I’ve personally seen both copperheads and rattlesnakes at this location, so just be careful where you’re stepping and keep Fido leashed and close by.
If you’re looking for something with plenty of family friendly appeal and easy access, look no further than Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium. Located in Kingsport, this nature preserve is actually the largest city-owned park in the state of Tennessee, clocking in at an impressive 3,750 acres. The 40+ miles of hiking trails that extend across the majority of the property are as easy as a leisurely stroll around their 44 acre lake, or as difficult as the rocky road up to the 100ft tall fire tower that offers views of 4 states!
What differentiates Bays Mountain from other parks is what it offers beyond hiking. In addition to its miles of trails for hiking and biking, Bays Mountain boasts a ropes and zip line adventure course, barge rides on the lake, a planetarium with an astronomy club and observatory, and my favorite attraction – animal habitats. At this park you can get up close and personal with myriad fish, reptiles, birds of prey, foxes, otters, deer, bobcats and most notably, wolves! At various times of day you can view these incredible creatures while they howl, feed and just go about their daily routine. Bays Mountain is certainly a treat for all ages and activity levels.
If you want to add an aquatic aspect to your outdoor adventures, take advantage of one of the many waterfall hikes in our region. Pack a picnic lunch and make the easy half-mile trek to the base of the Blue Hole Falls. This water is bone chilling year-round, but is spectacular for lounging on rocks and enjoying some snacks. If you’re looking for a more intense hike in the Hampton area, you can check out one of the most popular attractions in the area at Laurel Falls. This moderate to difficult trek is less than 5 miles in and out, but if you feel like extending your day, begin your journey first to Coon Den Falls and follow the Laurel Fork Trail that will lead you directly to Laurel Falls. There are multiple waterfalls along the Erwin side of the AT, my favorite being Rock Creek Falls. This hike is only 3 miles out and back, but is pretty challenging and requires getting your feet wet, so make sure to wear appropriate footwear. While you’re in Erwin you could also visit Martin’s Creek Falls, Sill Branch Falls or Spivey Flats, which can be seen from the convenience of your vehicle if you have someone who can’t make a hike but still wants some beautiful scenery.
Finally, start making your plans to attend the Rhododendron Festival at Roan Mountain State Park now even though it isn’t until June. The best thing about Roan Mountain is that, at over 6000 ft high, the weather is always 20 degrees cooler, which means it’s a little slower to bloom in the summer. Roan Mountain State Park hosts year-round activities, but the blossoming of their native rhododendrons is worth the wait. In addition to strolling the gardens, participants can enjoy traditional music, purchase handmade crafts, watch old-timey folkway demonstrations, and indulge in multiple food vendors. Hike along the balds for breathtaking unobstructed views, or pack your fishing pole and see what’s biting; the Doe River which sits inside the park is stocked regularly with 3 species of trout!
I personally think nature is our greatest asset in Northeast Tennessee. It’s easy to get sucked into the couch scrolling on our phones or catching up on streaming shows in our free time. But what a waste it would be not to take advantage of these beautiful days before the wretched humidity of summer sets in by getting out and exploring our natural beauties!