KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – For many, Bays Mountain Park is a staple in the region, as it has been for the past 50 years. However, many people only know the park for what the East side has to offer, and very few explore the west side of the mountain. So, to celebrate 50 years as a park, this edition of Trail Team 11 highlights a hike that takes visitors to two waterfalls in the park.
One thing to be aware of for this hike out to the waterfalls is that there are two options. One takes hikers from the park entrance to the falls and is about 7 miles. However, there is a shorter version, which is what your Trail Team 11 took, and is only about 2 miles round trip. It’s important to note though, if you take the shorter version like we do, you’ll be starting your hike in Laurel Run Park.
“Parking at Laurel Run Park is a great opportunity to come in, see a waterfall, go back to your vehicle and go back about your day,” said Megan Krager, the senior naturalist at Bays Mountain Park. “Or if you really want a challenge, you can start at the main park on Bays Mountain, the main entrance, and then hike the 7 miles over to Laurel Run.”
Being so far from the action, many forget what the western side of the park has to offer.
“The western part of the park is a rugged part of Bays Mountain, and this part of the park is completely different than the eastern part of the park,” Krager said.
One of the first signs of that ruggedness you’ll see when you come to your first creek crossing. As you go to cross the new bridge, you’ll notice an old bridge that is destroyed to the side.
“A couple of years ago we had…a really bad storm and the amount of rain that came off of the mountain destroyed the bridge that was here,” Krager said. “Laurel Run Park reached out to a local boy scout troupe and they were able to have enough funding to construct the new bridge.”
Also, be aware of the fact that this hike is considered an expert level, so if you’re new to hiking this will be a challenge. However, if you can make the climb, you’ll eventually stumble across a former movie set!
“What happened was that there was a film called ‘The River’ with Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek, and that film crew came in, purchased the property that we’re standing on today and what they did was recreate a couple of buildings in order to help their filming, essentially,” said Krager. “So, what happened was when they were done with filming, they didn’t need the property anymore so they went over to Hawkins County and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to donate property if you can turn it into a county park.’ And that was how Laurel Run, essentially, came about.”
There are also trails that are still in place after being used by the movie staff to get from spot to spot. To hear more about the Overlook Trail, watch the video below.
One really neat part about the trail is that you’ll be hiking right next to a beautiful creek, but there is something you need to pay attention to and that’s the blazes! While hiking, trail-goers will notice that there are two different colors — a blue and a red. This is important: pay no notice to the blue blaze; that’s an old blaze! What you want to pay attention to is the red diamond; that’s the blaze for Bays Mountain park. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for Stinging Nettle.
There is a lot of this trail, and it will make you very uncomfortable if you walk through it. Watch the video below so you know what to keep an eye out for.
Meagan says, this “part of the park on the Western side has a lot of great wild life and also flowers, wildflowers, trees that you don’t typically see in other areas of the park itself.”
Be prepared for a creek crossing along the way as well. “When you have to cross the creek and you have swift water that you have to cross, you put yourself in danger because there are a lot of obstacles that you have to maneuver around,” Krager explains. You can watch the video below for more details on how to safely cross the creek.
On this trail there are two waterfalls, but the first is miniature, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for it! The second is not far from the first and is much easier to notice.
“This is a really awesome waterfall, especially if we have a lot of water and rain a few days before hand… we’re pretty excited to have this on our park, and it’s a great, great opportunity for people to come up and check out the natural beauty at this nature preserve,” said Krager.
Although the water under the waterfall looks like it would be perfect for swimming, it’s not!
“Just because of how many obstacles are in the water and how many foot entrapments that could possibly be there that you may not see, and that’s why we don’t allow swimming in our reservoir and also in the waterfall itself,” she said.
While you’re taking in the view, the sounds, the smell in the air and the quiet of the park, it’s easy to see why people have been enjoying bays mountain park for 50 years.
“This is a special park, not only to the individuals that work here at the park but to the community,” said Krager. “If it wasn’t for the community this park would not be here.”