Elizabethton Area

Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area
Linear Trail


These two sites are a short distance apart on the banks of the Watauga River near downtown Elizabethton and are easily combined in a birding trip.  Sycamore Shoals is a small, but historically prominent site with gravel paths through a narrow wooded strip beside the river. The Linear Trail is a paved walkway through a wooded and shrubby riparian area. Birding at both of these sites is good year-round and best during the spring and fall.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Sycamore ShoalsThe Yellow-crowned Night Heron is a summer resident at Sycamore Shoals. Photos by Harold Howell (left) and Charles P. Nicholson (right).


Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area is located on the western side of Elizabethton between Hwy 67/321 (W. Elk Avenue) and the Watauga River. just west of the Sycamore Shoals Hospital.  If coming from Johnson City on Hwy 67/321, the park is on the left, 1.4 miles east of the intersection with Hwy 91 (coordinates 36.3455 N, -82.2515 W).

For a Google map and directions to Sycamore Shoals, enter either your full starting address including town and state OR your zip code:

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To reach the Linear Trail, exit Sycamore Shoals, turn left onto Hwy 67 / 321 (W. Elk Avenue), go 1.1 mile and turn left onto W. Mill Street. Go 0.2 miles and turn left onto Ash Street. Then turn left at the next intersection onto W. Riverside Drive; the parking lot is on the right after 1 block (coordinates 36.3550 N, -82.2319 W). 


At Sycamore Shoals, look for birds on the lawn and in the thickets around the parking lot and visitor center, around the bird feeders at the visitor center, and along the trails to and along the riverbank, and on the river. Along the Linear Trail, watch for birds in the thickets and riverbank trees and on the river. The Linear Trail runs about a mile downstream from the parking area past the block building with a mural and may eventually connect with Sycamore Shoals.

At both sites, spring and fall migration can produce a variety of flycatchers, vireos, warblers, thrushes, sparrows, and other species.  Yellow-crowned Night-Herons often nest at the park and may be seen anywhere along the river at both sites; also watch for them around the swimming pool adjacent to Sycamore Shoals (just east of the visitor center) on early summer mornings as they search for earthworms in the fenced-in grassy lawn. 

Wood Ducks and swallows can be seen along the river at either site from spring through fall. Spotted Sandpipers and Ospreys are also present during spring and fall. Baltimore and Orchard Orioles usually nest in sycamore trees at both sites.  Nesting Warbling Vireos are often present along the upper portion of the Linear Trail.  A few Buffleheads spend the winter on the river at the park. At both locations, Canada Geese, Mallards, and Great Blue Herons are present year-round.

Buffleheads Left: Buffleheads are a common winter resident on the Watauga River. Right: The Elizabethton Linear Trail in early spring. The Watauga River is on the right side of the trail. Photos by Harold Howell (left) and Charles P. Nicholson (right).
Elizabethton Linear Trail


Sycamore Shoals has a rich prehistoric and historic record and is a National Historic Landmark. This history is interpreted in exhibits and programs at the park. The local Lee R. Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society sponsors spring and fall birdwalks at the park. Check the Sycamore Shoals special events calendar for more infomation.

Tennessee State Parks Sycamore Shoals website.

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife website.

DeLorme Tennessee Atlas & Gazetteer page 63, grids B-6, B-7.

Sycamore Shoals:
RestroomsHikingVisitor CenterAccessibleDrinking WaterPicnicing

Linear Trail:

Prepared by Rick Knight and Charles P. Nicholson, April 2010.

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