Bristol, one city, two states. The state line of Tennessee and Virginia run through Bristol on iconic State Street. Bristol makes a great weekend destination for your big family. The historic sign says Bristol is a good place to live and we think you’ll agree that it’s a good place to visit too.
Bristol Motor Speedway
If you have anyone in your big family who loves fast cars, then this is a bucket list destination. It’s Bristol, Baby! This popular NASCAR race oval measures just 0.533 miles with 24 to 28-degree steep banking. Constructed in 1960, Bristol Motor Speedway is the third-largest sports venue in the US. The Last Great Colosseum holds 162,000 fans for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races.
Not visiting during a race? Schedule a tour through the gift shop. Monday through Saturday, tours begin on the half-hour starting at 9:30 AM with the final tour of the day starting at 3:30 PM. Sunday tours start at 1:30 PM with the final tour beginning at 3:30 PM.
What you should know
- The Food City 500 is a very popular NASCAR event, buy your tickets early.
- The races get loud! So loud, the track is also known as Thunder Valley. Bring noise-canceling headphones for everyone.
- Concession stands are expensive but Bristol allows you to bring in coolers.
Steele Creek Park
Bristol has the third-largest municipal park in the state of Tennessee. Steele Creek Park offers 2200 acres of recreation for your family. A small $2 admission fee per car gives you access to hiking trails, 52-acre lake, playground, splash pad, 9 hole disc golf course, picnic tables and more. We greatly enjoyed the serenity of relaxing by the babbling brook.
Helpful to know:
- Paddleboat rentals are available for 30 minutes increments for $1 per passenger.
- The Steele Creek Park Nature Center offers guided hikes and educational public programs.
- Ride the Steel Creek Express 24 gauge steam engine replica for $1 per passenger.
The park looks very small from the parking lot but gives you access to many hiking choices. Rooster Park backs up into Steele Creek Park and shares many short trails to enjoy. You can hike from Rooster Park to Steele Creek. The Lakeside Trail at 2.1 miles is gravel and level. About one-third of a mile from the parking lot, you’re treated to a small waterfall. We found the trails not clearly marked so make sure you bring along a picture of the map.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum
Yes, Bristol….Virginia is considered the Birthplace of Country Music. Was your first thought Nashville? The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, celebrates the 1927 recording sessions which included Ernest V. Stoneman and the Carter family. Ralph Peer, an executive record producer from the Victor Talking Machine Company, came to Bristol to record local talent and the “hillbilly” sound. Using the first electric microphone, he recorded 76 songs by 19 different acts.
The museum includes an introductory video, “Bound to Bristol”, narrated by John Carter Cash. The displays explore the influence of the local Appalachian culture on the formation of country music. Hands-on displays include the ability to listen to the early recordings through headphones. Families with older kids will enjoy this museum.
Tip- Blackbird Bakery is a fantastic multi-level bakery and cafe located just 2 blocks away from the museum. With so many options to choose from, it’s almost impossible to decide what to get!
South Holston Lake
Located just 12 miles east of Bristol, South Holston Lake boasts 1600 acres of water. Situated in both Virginia and Tennessee, the lake is considered one of the best in the Southeast for smallmouth bass fishing and a great place to fly fish. Rent a pontoon, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard to further enjoy the beauty of the lake.
Helpful to know:
- Take Emmett Road off of US Highway 421 to visit the weir dams.
- A footbridge from the parking lot below the dam leads to Osceola Island and a one-mile loop wildlife trail.
- The grassy area at Jacobs Creek doubles as a picnic area and a designated swim beach. Please note that there is no lifeguard at the beach.
Also located east of Bristol, Bristol Caverns are a must-visit. The tour lasts about an hour and guides you down 180 feet to the bottom of the cavern. The path is not stroller friendly as it includes 5 sets of stairs including one set that ascended straight up like a ladder. At the bottom, you’ll see a river stream flowing through the caverns. Highlights include “Bridal Veil” and “Mayor Preston’s Chamber”. We recommend a visit.
Historic Downtown Walking Tour
The downtown walking tour is a great way to learn about the history of Bristol. Self-led, you can explore issues regarding prohibition, the Civil War, and Appalachian culture. The tour is a great way to add an educational aspect to your trip. Tour Stops include several murals, the Bristol sign, Paramount Center for the Arts, Bristol Train Station, the State Line and more.
Bonus: East Hill Cemetery
If your kids are older, cemeteries can help teach respect and history. This historic cemetery is located just over the state line in Virginia. Its inhabitants date to the American Civil War and was established in 1857. Over 4000 people are buried here including several notables to the town of Bristol. The oldest figure being Evan Shelby, a General from the Revolutionary War.