Kingsport: Tasty Treats and Mountain Skies

Have you ever wanted to howl with wolves, or cozy up at a quaint downtown café before you chase your taste buds with locally made moonshine? We did all of that in one day, in the vibrant city of Kingsport, tucked beneath the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Bays Mountain Waterfall
The winding road up Bays Mountain gave only a glimpse of what was in store once we got to the top.

Joined by my husband, son and daughter-in-law, we found ourselves wanting to beat the winter blues of February on what we thought would be just another sleepy Saturday.

Driving towards Kingsport on the highway, I could already see the beauty of Bays Mountain and started to get excited about the day’s adventure. The city owned park includes 3,550 acres of hiking trails, a lake, recreation area, nature center and planetarium. The convenient park lays out cross-cut viewing sections of beaver dams, bee hives, cave systems and pours with the natural beauty that encompasses Northeast Tennessee. The Nature Center featured outdoor native animal displays including a bobcat, raptors, river otters, a waterfowl aviary, wolves and free-roaming white-tail deer. Wolf howling sessions were held regularly, and guests could howl with the wolves, spurring us and the wolves into howling even more. It was quite the experience to listen to the pack’s communication, as they searched their habitat for the day’s meal. There was also a herpetarium with snakes and amphibians that included descriptions of where they originated from and how the animals could be located in Northeast Tennessee. The Nature Center was busy with curious children exploring each and every corner, even on a cold winter day.

Wolves at Bays Mtn
We could have sat and watched the mysterious wolves located inside Bays Mountain Park all day.

Our family has already made plans to visit Bays Mountain Park on a spring or summer weekend, with hopes of spending hours trekking through the forest while hiking one of the many trails throughout the Park. While the Park is known for its outdoor activities and howling resident wolves, Bays Mountain Park is also home to a planetarium. The $1.3-million-dollar state-of-the-art planetarium theater features a 40-foot dome, 6.1 surround sound and a Carl Zeiss ZKP-4-star projector that is so precise viewers can use binoculars to see details in two dozen deep-sky objects! The astronomy programs are suitable for ages six and up and rotate throughout the year with shows geared towards families, school audiences and large groups. I could only imagine a child’s excitement to have a birthday party in the skies of this interactive program.

The specialty beverage menu at The Mustard Seed Cafe would warm you up even on the coldest of days.

As we entered the planetarium, we found our movie theatre style seats and settled back for the show. We sat at an angle in such a way that it was quite comfortable to just lay back and observe the overhead skies as we travelled through the solar system. The show, “The Hot and Energetic Universe,” took visitors on a cosmic journey that used astronomical observatories throughout the world and those above the Earth’s atmosphere. All types of celestial phenomena are studied, but a focus in this show was set upon those of high energy. We found it to be very thorough and fun, and are still talking about days later.  On clear nights, I love to look up at the sky and be able to scope out certain points that I learned about.

After exploring the Park, we had worked up an appetite and ventured about 10 minutes to
downtown Kingsport. There was a sweet little side street that lies just around the corner from the main thoroughfare of Broad Street. Here on Market Street, we found a savory local restaurant called The Mustard Seed Cafe. With a simple home like feel, the warm cafe and its exposed brick wall invited us to relax and study the extensive menu of sandwiches and specialty drinks. I ordered the Chicken Salad Croissant and the Kitchen Sink Salad. If you love kale and edamame, this one is for you! My sandwich tasted like the chef had pulled the croissants straight out of the oven. I finished my meal with a cafe breve, which made my taste buds dance.

Our new friend, Josh, welcomed us inside as he explained the story behind how the business of legal moonshine got started with Hook and Ladder.

Needing to walk off our lunch with a little exercise, we swung around the corner to visit some of the local antique shops and found ourselves wandering into quite the adventure. Hook and Ladder is a local moonshine distillery in Kingsport, and our new friend, Josh, welcomed us inside as he explained the story behind how the business of legal moonshine got started. With a longstanding love for perfecting the art of home brewing, the father and son duo of Kenneth and Drew Draper put their hearts and passions together to bring Hook and Ladder Distillery to Northeast Tennessee. The unique name, Hook and Ladder, was given with intent to honor firefighters across the country. We had visited distilleries before, but Hook and Ladder was different. Perhaps it was the walls adorned with memorabilia, the subtle hints of firefighting history and pride, all while blending with the urban vibe of downtown Kingsport.

Utilizing an old, thumper-style still, father and son are proudly producing a high proof moonshine with quality mash and a superior taste. Offering free samples to visitors, as well as a wide range of merchandise, Hook and Ladder Distillery hopes the smooth burn of its white lightning will be felt far and wide for years to come. We sampled several of their creations, but my own personal favorite in the taste test was the Mango Shine. As a bonus, we were given a tour to the back of the moonshine house.

Kingsport Carousel
A ride on the Carousel was a magical way to end the day in Kingsport.

As our family day trip in Kingsport was coming to an end, there was one place I had heard about that I knew we just had to visit.  The Kingsport Carousel brought back memories of my childhood just by reading about it.  I couldn’t wait to select one of the hand carved animals for a trip back in time, complete with carnival style music.  The Carousel opened in the summer of 2015 and was a true community effort with each detailed wooden animal, native to Northeast Tennessee.  From racoons to rabbits, we all took careful attention in selecting our ride.  It was so much fun, as we went around on the impressive piece of hometown art. Since it was cold on the day we visited, the sides of the building were down, but in warmer seasons the Carousel transforms into open-air as the windows are removed. A trip back to downtown Kingsport, will always warrant a ride on the Carousel.

Kingsport was the perfect place for my family to spend the day.  Who would have thought that we would have been able to explore the outdoors, cozy up at a locally owned café, chase our taste buds with firefighter moonshine or ride a carousel in one city, all in the same day?

For information on what to do, where to eat and more fun in Kingsport, go to www.visitkingsport.com.