Steele Creek Park: Bristol’s Nature Getaway

This nature preserve covers a whopping 2,200+ acres complete with a scenic collection of mountain streams and 24 miles of hiking trails. But, that’s not even the best part!

This city owned park has a 52-acre lake where folks can rent paddleboats, go kayaking, paddleboarding, and even fish. But, perhaps among the most popular activities at Steele Creek Park is without a doubt – train rides. The Steele Creek Express ($1 per person) has been a mainstay attraction that generations of kids (and their parents and grandparents) have ridden, as the train chugs along the shores of Steele Creek Lake. Speaking of the lake, it is a popular fishing, kayaking and paddleboarding oasis. You can even rent paddleboats ($1 per person for 30 minute increments) within the park.

Giving the train a bit of competition among children, the Splash Pad has  become a summer picnic staple for all ages. Steele Creek Park also offers an 18-hole disc golf course, with discs ($5 for three hours) rented from the Golf Pro Shop, along with a great selection of discs for sale. The nearby golf course covers 65 acres with nine holes (variety of rate options).

Picnickers have an array of shelters to choose from throughout the park, and more open sites to enjoy a meal before or after a day on the water or taking on the trails.

Nature Center

The Nature Center is devoted to the flora and fauna of the Southern Appalachians. Complete with interactive exhibits, live native reptiles and insects, and a wildflower garden, you can book a guided hike along some of the park’s trails from the Nature Center.

Trails

The park’s two most popular paths are the Fitness Trail and the Lakeside Trail. The Fitness Trail makes a 1-mile paved loop through heart of the park over rolling hills. The Lakeside Trail is a good choice for first time park visitors. The gravel path travels along Steele Creek Lake, making the walking a breeze so you can soak in the surroundings. Enjoy aquatic beauty as you walk a nearly level track along the park’s namesake, Steele Creek, then beside the lake. This trail even comes with a bonus waterfall by the dam, and is popular among dog walkers and bicyclists.

The “backcountry” trails are natural surface paths running through the Beaver Creek Knobs, offering solitude as well as additional physical challenge. Devoted hikers will head for the hills and lesser-traveled ridges above Steele Creek where they can take in views of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. Download a trail map and trek your heart away. You’ll find steep sided hollows rising from clear creeks, hardwood cloaked ridges, and a hidden moment with nature that seems far removed from the civilized world.

History of Steele Creek Park

The land was originally acquired by the federal government as a works project during the Great Depression. It was to become Watauga State Park. However, plans changed and the park ended up under a 99-year lease managed by the City of Bristol, TN. The park officially opened in 1964 and has been growing ever since. Steele Creek Park is the third largest municipality owned park in Tennessee.

Park Admission

Admission into Steele Creek Park is $2 for cars and $10 for buses. Shelters are available for rent by reservation.

Leave No Trace

Remember to leave our trails with no trace, so adventures can last a lifetime. Find out how you can make a difference with our leaders for litter-free Tennessee efforts.

More Bristol Trip Ideas

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About the Author

Johnny Molloy is the author of many outdoor guides including Best Tent Camping: Tennessee, Paddling Tennessee, and Five Star Trails Tri-Cities: East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.