This loop ties together several trails that were hand-built for bicycles. Compared to many other rides in the Tri-Cities, TN area, this is about as easy as it gets, with smooth trails and easy climbing.
Some sections of this ride do have some stout climbs though including the top of Azalea Trail
and some pitches along River Mountain Rd. Those segments are worth doing, however, because they take you to the highlight of this ride and the highest elevation at the Garden Mountain Lookout Tower. This old firetower sits on the Holston River Mountain side of the Park at 2405 ft., and provides an amazing 360 degree panoramic view of Kingsport and the surrounding mountains.
Bays Mountain Park (BMP) is a nature preserve managed by the City of Kingsport, TN. Visitors within the gates go there for many reasons. Aside from the recreational opportunities and trails, there is also a nature center with animal habitats, a planetarium, and other attractions.
Admission to the park is $4 per day, per car (or $25 for a yearly pass). Mountain Bikers are required to register at the gate and riding is permitted on designated bike trails and roads. These are all clearly marked on the park map you get at the gate. Park hours fluctuate with the seasons, so it is best to find out more online at baysmountain.com
. Another solid ride to piece together with a trip to Bays is Warriors' Path
, which has a nice campground.
Start this ride at the Overflow Parking Lot above the Nature Center. Park in the paved lots below this trailhead, or drive up the gravel road past the observatories to the grassy lot next to the maintenance building.
Begin with Chestnut Trail
, a 1.5 mile-long traverse along the northwest side of Bays Mountain. Chestnut is a smooth trail that rolls straight and fast in places, but broken up nicely by a tight corridor and grade reversals. After a short climb and a quick descent that feeds into a right to left bermed turn, go straight across Azalea Trail
to Big Oak Trail
. Later in the ride, youll be climbing up Azalea at this intersection.
Big Oak Trail
is only a mile, but ramps up the speed in places as it descends mostly the whole time. The corridor is tight, and some turns arrive quickly. This trail ends at Lake Road
, but Chinquapin Trail
starts just before that.
Chinquapin starts with a right hand turn off of Big Oak. This trail twists and turns more than any at BMP, and you get that feel immediately with several climbing turns in the first quarter mile. Youll gain elevation for just over a half mile, and beyond that youll be descending mostly. The trail is mostly smooth, but there are some small rocky sections. Near the bottom, there is a nice optional line to the left that contains a few log-rides with minimal risk. The trail ends on Lake Road
where this ride takes a left.
Stay on Lake Road
for approximately 1 mile and take a left onto Azalea Trail
at the signpost. Azalea starts off mellow, as easy doubletrack, but the grade ramps up and finishes the final mile with a 300 ft. climb. Some bits of this final section is a technical climb that gets rutted, rocky, and steep. As you approach the top, youll be at the Antennas, and also at the convergence of Bays Mountain and Holston River Mountain Ridges. Stay left here, turning west, and follow River Mountain Road
to the Firetower.
It will take about 2.4 miles of up and down gravel riding to reach the River Mountain Lookout Tower. There is one good-sized steep to get up before reaching the summit at the base of the tower, also called High Point at 2405 ft. The Fire Tower, pictured in this review, is 60 ft. high, and was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Just past the tower youll be at an intersection where River Mountain Road
dives left and Indian Pipes Trail
stays straight along the ridge. Stay straight, or youll miss one of the best sections of trail. .6 mile past this will be the intersection with Bear Run Trail
. THIS is where you want to turn.
Bear Run is the newest of all the trails at Bays. It is fast and nearly all downhill. Some sections of rock exist, so be ready for that. Be on the lookout for a big L-R berm where you can also go straight. Stay right with the berm and finish the last (very cool) quarter-mile section which dumps you out at Feagins Gap. Here you'll be at a major intersection with more than one road. Turn left and follow the Lake Road
for two miles all the way back to where you started. This last stretch is an easy pedal and a nice way to wrap up the ride.
BMP is located within 3,550 acres which surrounds Bays Mountain Lake. This reservoir used to provide the City of Kingsport water until 1944. Since then, it has been developed and preserved for public use. In addition to the lake, the park includes two dominant mountains, Bays Mountain to South and East, and Holston Mountain North of that. These mountains typify the Ridge and Valley Appalachians which provide unique and fun riding.
SORBA Tri-Cities has made a huge impact on the trail system by making the existing trails more bike-optimized, and building new trails as well. The chapter holds trail workdays regularly as well as rides, including "Bike at Bays" MTB Festival in May.