A guest post by blogger and avid hiker Amy Alton. Read about her experience as well hiking the Copolia Trail in Mahe, Seychelles.
Hiking in Chattanooga is a must for those visiting Tennessee. Avid hikers from all over the country fly in to visit during peak season and there are an estimated 150 miles of hiking trails on public lands within a 15-minute drive of downtown.
The metro area, which includes parts of Georgia, has a population of half a million people, making it a decent mid-sized city in the United States. It’s on the Tennessee River and is closely surrounded by plateaus. This provides easy access to hikes of varying difficulty and stunning views.
If you plan to visit Chattanooga, do not miss spending at least a day hiking. If you aren’t an experienced hiker, there are several easy options and access to viewpoints with parking lots so you can enjoy the views without a long walk.
For avid hikers, Chattanooga is an easy place to spend several hours a day hiking, seeing the best views in the city, and never walking the same trail twice.
While the views are stunning any time of year, hiking in Chattanooga in fall, around peak foliage season, is a truly awe-inspiring experience. The fall colors are some of the best in the United States and add a little extra pleasure to the viewpoints.
Summer gets warm, with highs in the upper 80s (or around 26 degrees Celsius). Winter is fairly mild and wet, but if it freezes, it can severely restrict access to the plateaus.
Don’t miss out on a hike because of a cloudy day! The elevation of some of these hikes means you might be in or above the clouds, adding to the dramatic view.
If you want to go hiking in Chattanooga, start with a simple walk along the riverfront at the Tennessee Riverpark. This 16-mile paved path runs along the south shore of the Tennessee River. It extends out from either side of downtown, so walking along the path gives you easy access to downtown attractions such as the Tennessee Aquarium and the Hunter Museum of American Art.
Bike Chattanooga, a bicycle rental system, has nine stations along the Tennessee Riverwalk, and you can rent bikes for $8/day to tackle the whole trail.
There is a steep, 100-foot elevation climb in downtown, but a majority of the Riverpark is flat. The Walnut Street Bridge by the Hunter Museum is pedestrian only and spans the Tennessee River to the north shore, where you can explore Coolidge Park.
This is the Tennessee Riverpark map.
Point Park and Sunset Rock, both on Lookout Mountain, are the two most popular viewpoints in Chattanooga, and for good reason. You can drive up Lookout Mountain and visit both spots — there is a free, small parking lot at Sunset Rock and a pay-to-enter National Park at Point Park — but of course it’s worth the hike up to either viewpoint, and you can easily visit them both in a 4.5-mile hike.
Start by parking at Craven’s House, a historic home, viewpoint, and war memorial. The home also serves as a parking lot and trailhead for a variety of Lookout Mountain Trails and is only 15 minutes from downtown. The trail will take you to the west side of the mountain, where you can then choose which lookout you want to go to first. From the fork, it’s 0.8 miles to Sunset Rock or 0.6 miles to Point Park.
Sunset Rock looks west out over the winding Tennessee River. There’s a bit of industry out there, but mostly it’s a forested view. You may
From Sunset Rock, you can detour on the Upper Gum Springs Trail and in 1.5 miles, you’ll cross the Tennessee/Georgia border, which is marked.
Park Point is on the Northern tip of Lookout Mountain. If you come up from the trail, you have access to Umbrella Rock. This is where you’ll get the best viewpoint and a highlight of hiking in Chattanooga. The river bends through the city and on a very clear day, you’ll be shocked how far you can see.
The Rock City attraction, in Georgia at the highest point of Lookout Mountain, claims that on a very clear day, with the right equipment, you can see seven states: Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, and at a whooping 120 miles away, Kentucky and Virginia. Regardless of how many states you can see, the viewpoint is worth it, and so is the hike.
During your walk, look for deer, woodpeckers, and even an occasional turtle!
This is the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Trail Map.
For an iconic view of the Tennessee River away from the city, take the 40-minute drive out to Snooper’s Rock in Prentice Cooper State Forest. You’ll be blown away by the view, especially in the fall in peak foliage.
There is a parking lot right by Snooper’s Rock, but Prentice Cooper is flush with trails. For a three-mile hike (six-mile round trip) to Snooper’s Rock, park at the Cumberland Trail parking lot. You’ll also be able to visit Indian Rockhouse, a large overhanging boulder.
This is the Cumberland Trail Tennessee River Gorge segment map.
Edward’s Point and Rainbow Lake Dam on the north shore is a mere 15-minute drive from downtown. Park at the Signal Point Park where you can catch the Cumberland Trail heading west. The trail runs along Middle Creek to the Rainbow Lake Dam. You cross the creek using the Middle Creek Bridge and hike back out towards the Tennessee River to Edward’s Point.
The view looks back towards Chattanooga, but unless the visibility is really clear, you won’t be able to see much of the city. Walking back to your car will round the hike out at 5.5 miles.
This is the Signal Point and Edward’s Point Trail Map.
A 50-minute drive from downtown takes you out to the South Cumberland State Park and Fiery Gizzard Recreational Area. The Fiery Gizzard trail itself is a little over eleven miles one-way, and is for experienced hikers only. However, there’s the Gundy Day Loop Trail, which is less than two miles.
You can also start out on Fiery Gizzard and turn around whenever you’d like. The unique part of this trail is that it runs along Big Fiery Gizzard Creek, so instead of lookouts and viewpoints, you have a lower-elevation trail in a valley. You can hike directly along the creek for three miles and descend less than 100 feet, then turn around and head back.
There are several waterfalls to explore, and the old Civilian Conservation Corps campsite, which in the 1930s, housed nearly 200 young men to provide labor for public development projects.
This is the Trail map for Fiery Gizzard.
For a great hike in nearby Georgia, drive 35-minutes south to Cloudland Canyon State Park. Backpacker Magazine rated the West Rim Loop Trail one of top 10 hikes in the United States, and is an excellent hike for stunning views.
Parking is $5 per car and you can park near the Interpretive Center to pick up the trail. The trail is 1.2 miles to the actual loop, which is 2.3 miles, giving you a total hike of five miles.
There are side trails to Cherokee and Hemlock Falls, which add another mile onto the hike, but also are extreme elevation changes. Most of it is metal staircases and can be very popular. If you want to include the waterfalls, hike down into the gorge first before continuing onto the West Rim Loop.
This is the Cloudland Canyon trail map.
This trail is probably the least-known secret of hiking in Chattanooga. It’s only 20 minutes north of downtown, and is one of the best forest views. The creek absolutely rushes here, and it’s also a place to kayak.
Park at the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge Trailhead and follow the trail out two miles to the large rock at the Boston Branch Overlook. You might see a bald eagle, but you will definitely get a stellar view of the gorge.
This is one of the more technically challenging trails. You will often pass under or alongside cliff walls, and after a rain the trail will be very wet and muddy. It’s also one of the trails that is most protected from the sun, making it a good hike for the summer. Hikers in winter should be aware that the nearby mountains block the sun early and the temperature drops quickly.
This is the North Chickamauga Creek trail map.
If you are looking for one more easy walk to do, visit the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center. This park is at the base of Lookout Mountain and is a non-profit organization that maintains educational programs and a plant nursery. There are several flower gardens, bamboo gardens, and wetland boardwalks to enjoy.
There is a $15 per car fee to visit the center.
This is the Reflection Riding trail map.
There are other things you can do in Tennessee aside from hiking in Chattanooga. The Tennessee Aquarium, for example, is regularly touted as one of the best aquariums in the US. On Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls is a popular cave system with guided tours.
Some of the most famous attractions in Chattanooga revolve around trains: the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a historic hotel with converted sleeper cars, the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway which takes passengers up the 73% inclined track, and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
Which Chattanooga hike sounds best to you? Would you try to get all eight in?