Top 5 Things to Do at Hands On! Discovery Center and Gray Fossil Site

Located off I-26 just minutes from Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol, Hands On! Discovery Center is a distinctive attraction that blends science, art, and natural history in a way that makes it unique.  Be sure to add this all-ages science center to your itinerary because there you can engineer a rocket, create a masterpiece, or learn about giant mastodon.  Below are just a few examples of what you’ll find during your visit.  If you are traveling to or even just passing through the Northeast Tennessee region, it is worth a stop!

1. Guinness World Record Holding Musical Tesla Coil

This record-holding exhibit pays tribute to noted inventor Nikola Tesla by turning 220 volts into 200,000 volts of electricity! Using different electromagnetic frequencies, the Tesla Coil uses its electrical discharge to play a wide variety of songs from classics to recent hits.

2. Paleo Tower

Children and adults alike can climb to the top of this two-story climbing tower. As you move from platform to platform be sure to check out the fossils along the way.  Each of these is a 3D printed, full-size replica of a fossil found on-site.  Stop by the lab and look for the jaw and femur bones from the 10-ton mastodon that are represented on the tower!  The exterior of this one-of-a-kind exhibit even mirrors the layers of soil found here.  This exhibit was custom built for Hands On! Discovery Center and is one-of-a-kind!

3. Gray Fossil Site Tours

Visitors can get up close to an active fossil dig site believed to have been formed by an underground limestone cave that collapsed and created a sinkhole. This left a vast fossil deposit that dates back 5 million years.  Hundreds of plant and animal fossils have been unearthed so far including saber tooth cat, alligator, tapir, rhinoceros, short-faced bear, red panda, and a 10-ton mastodon!  During dig season, May-October, visitors can often find scientists and volunteers in the dig pits and year-round in the prep-lab.

4. General Shale Learning Center / Scheu Family Exhibit Hall

Guests can build just about anything in this space that includes blocks of all different types and sizes – Keva Planks, Imagination Playground, and Rig-A-Ma-Jig – thousands of small wooden planks to giant blue foam blocks to simple machines, building components in all shapes and sizes inspire three-dimensional thinking and creativity. Whether you are building a tower, vehicle, or fort, the only thing required is your imagination!

5. Draw Alive

This dynamic and interactive exhibit experience that is part of the Art Studio brings art and technology together making 2D drawings come to life. Visitors select a template and color it any way they want. Once it is scanned, it appears in the wall-size environment moving around and interacting with the environment and other scanned templates. Several themes, including transportation, marine life, and dinosaurs, are changed out daily so each visit can be a new experience!


Adults & Children (4+): $11.00
Children (3 & under): FREE
FREE Admission for Members
Gray Fossil Tours: $2
Tesla: $2
Advance tickets are encouraged.


Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 1pm – 5pm
Monday – 10am-5pm during March, June, & July only
Please allow 1 1/2 to 2 hours to fully enjoy and explore all exhibits and activities.

For additional information and special events, go to visithandson.org