Out & Back
~ 1.7 miles

~ 177 ft

Watauga, TN

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Watauga River Bluffs Trail is a lesser known trail just outside of Johnson City in Watauga, TN. It sits on a 50-acre natural area in Carter County along the Watauga River. The land was designated as a nature preserve in 1998 to protect the Carolina Pink.

I hesitated to write a post about this trail because we didn’t love it and don’t plan on going back. After thinking it over, I decided that #1- just because we didn’t love it doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be a great trail for someone else. This trail can also be used for fishing and might be a good option for that as we didn’t see anyone else on the trail. #2- it is important to include the trails we don’t love and why so that you know we are being 100% transparent always. I want you guys to know that when we say we loved a trail, we truly loved the trail. So, here is our experience with Watauga River Bluffs and why it isn’t our favorite.

On the way to the trail, you will pass a beautiful waterfall in the distance that is actually on someone’s private property. The trail itself does not go past the waterfall. 

There is a decent size gravel parking area with a clearly marked trail head. One thing to be aware of is that this trail is below the TVA Wilbur Dam. This means that there can be rapid fluctuations in the water level and the path can become dangerous if the water is released. There is a water release schedule, (this info is on the sign as well). The number to call for that schedule per the signage when we went is: 865-632-2264, press 4, then press 42.

The trail looked very well maintained when we went. There are blazes with arrows to direct you along the path. The water is not far from the trail head, between a quarter to a half mile in. There is a small picnic table along the way that was pretty grown over. Parts of the trail go directly behind people’s homes, which isn’t unheard of, but felt a little strange to us. You will pass these properties pretty quickly and then find yourself along the river.

This is a great trail for picking up trash. There was so much trash along the river bank that we were able to collect 11 lbs in the short time we were there. The boys usually love splashing around and being near water, but this was not the best spot for that due to the large amounts of glass mixed in with the dirt along the shore. We tried to pick up as much as we could, but there was still quite a bit left by the time we had to leave.

To summarize, this trail might be a good choice if you want to go on a short nature walk that is still very close to a residential area and within cell phone range. It’s an excellent choice for picking up trash. Or, like I mentioned above, some people like to fish here. I wouldn’t recommend it if you have kids that love playing near the water, (this is the main reason we won’t go back to play), because of the large amounts of glass and other trash all along the river bank. 

Tennessee really does a great job overall with caring for trails. The trash issue is more of a problem with people not being responsible than anything to do with the design or maintenance of the trail itself. So, if you do come here, make sure to bring a bag to pack out some trash. We can leave it better, even if just a little bit, for the next person who comes along to enjoy!

More about Watauga River Bluffs HERE =>