What’s great about Chattanooga isn’t the amphitheatre of mountains surrounding the city or the pristine whitewater creeks cascading down these mountains or even the languid Tennessee River carving through downtown. (Okay, all of these things are actually pretty great!) But what’s really great about Chattanooga is that it offers up something memorable and adventurous for everyone. Sure, lots of places say that. But not a lot of places can back it up with 50 trailheads within 30 minutes of downtown, a city that buzzes with pedestrian paths, sun-soaked parks, craft breweries, art museums, and more.
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or a slow-and-steady loper, here’s why Chattanooga is a great place to be—no matter who you are.
If You’re a Vista-Chaser
The viewpoint from Stringer’s Ridge is not only beautiful but close to town. Kathryn Crouch
For folks looking for sweeping panoramas, Chattanooga is in no short supply. In-town, there’s Missionary Ridge, a spectacular—even if underrated—spot to catch a sunset over the city. Another good pick is the viewpoint from Stringers Ridge, a 92-acre urban wilderness just a stone’s throw from the shops and restaurants lining Frazier Avenue on the North Shore.
A little farther afield, Lookout Mountain and Signal Mountain duke it out for stunning mountain vistas. On Lookout, Sunset Rock and Point Park are the heavyweight champions. On Signal (and on the rippling ridges of the Cumberland Plateau that adjoin it), there’s Signal Point, Edwards Point, Falling Water Falls, and Prentice Cooper—all gorgeous title contenders.
If You’re a MTB Dirt Junkie
Chattanooga is firmly on the map as a world-class mountain biking destination. The city boasts miles of flowy singletrack and a number of different trail systems. Stringers Ridge is the most convenient option, featuring a spiraling loop with punchy uphills and speedy descents. Enterprise South Nature Park is another alternative with some of the fastest riding in the area.
Perhaps the pick of the litter—especially for more seasoned riders—is TVA’s Raccoon Mountain trail system. Featuring plenty of roots and rocks and (at times) grueling climbs, these purpose-built MTB trails—30 miles of them—are just what the singletrack doctor ordered. If you like ripping descents, be on the lookout for Live Wire 1 and 2.
If You Do Outdoor Stuff Exclusively for the Post-Adventure Brews Afterwards
There are plenty of breweries such as Oddstory Brewing Company you can hit up for a pint after a long day on the trails. OddStory Brewing Company
In recent years, the Chattanooga craft brewery scene has positively popped off. Many of these breweries not only cater to the outdoor scene, they’re directly inspired by it. Hutton and Smith, on MLK Boulevard, is owned by a couple geologist-climbers; their beers are not only incredible, but they also feature rock-themed names like Paleo Pilsner, Igneous IPA, and Tremont’s Tectonic Session IPA.
Across the street, Oddstory Brewing Company makes some of the best sours in the Southeast. Down the road a little ways, WanderLinger is a relatively new brew operation in town, serving up “the perfect marriage between beer and adventure.” In the Historic Southside neighborhood, a string of other breweries are worthy of mention: Naked River and old-school incumbent Chattanooga Brewing Company.
If You’re a Water Lover
The Tennessee River is an easily accessible spot for paddling and swimming in downtown Chattanooga. Jake Wheeler
What kind of water activity, you ask? Every kind. The Tennessee River offers unequaled access for SUP-ers and IRONMAN swimmers. For whitewater paddlers, the Ocoee River is one of the best rafting and kayaking destinations in North America, featuring the world-renowned rapids used in the 1996 Olympics.
Waterfall-chasers have no shortage of beautiful cascades in the area: Julia Falls, Rainbow Falls, Lula Lake Falls, and Glen Falls are all reachable within a 30-minute drive. And lovers of secret swimming spots have plenty of blue holes to explore along Suck Creek, North Chickamauga Creek, and more.
If You Love Art
Chattanooga is full of arts and culture from the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra to its many art galleries and museums. If you want to enjoy art in the outdoors then there is no better place than the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park. Bring a picnic and enjoy a self-guided tour of the 40-plus sculptures that call the park home. These masterpieces are from artists all around the world and you can hear what each has to say about their piece of work through Otocast, the park’s app for engaging visitors.
If You’re a Slow-and-Steady Loper
Sometimes getting outside doesn’t have to mean dirt trails and long days in the woods. Sometimes a simple stroll through interesting urban neighborhoods is all that’s needed. In Chattanooga, there are plenty of great options.
The Tennessee Riverwalk is a tried-and-true staple, featuring 13+ miles of smooth pavement stretching from St. Elmo at the base of Lookout Mountain all the way to the Chickamauga Dam. Along the way, there are beautiful abandoned manufacturing warehouses, public art displays near the Bluff View Arts District, and constant views of the Tennessee River. Another classic walk is across the Walnut Street Bridge, a pedestrian-only bridge with fantastic views of the river and of downtown. Finally, the Southside neighborhood, the MLK Boulevard strip, and the newly reimagined West Village neighborhood are all excellent places to go for a city stroll.
If You Enjoy Day Hikes and Picnics
Snoopers Rock is one of the most scenic places in Chattanooga to have a picnic and enjoy the view. Perry Smyre
And who doesn’t, really? There are few things in this world more enjoyable than thinly cut slices of salami, cheese, and apple—especially when you throw in a scenic view and a work-for-your-snacks physical endeavor beforehand. One particularly great place to do this in Chattanooga is the 3-mile round trip hike on Lookout Mountain from Cravens House to Sunset Rock. Your picnic spot for this one is the regionally renowned Sunset Rock—a popular promontory with sprawling views of the woods and pastures of Lookout Valley below.
Another option for an incredibly scenic picnic spot is Snoopers Rock in Prentice Cooper State Forest. Here, visitors can either park at the parking lot close to the vista and walk a short distance over a two-track gravel road, or—for the more adventurous types—Mullens Cove Loop is a 10-mile loop that’s one of the most beautiful hikes in Chattanooga, hands down. Seven miles in you’ll find Snoopers Rock—cliffs that overlook a beautiful bend in the Tennessee River Gorge, known as the “Grand Canyon of Tennessee.”
Regardless of whether your idea of fun outdoors includes hiking 10 miles or just sitting at a bar enjoying a cold pint, Chattanooga will keep you content with its many trails, parks, and active city streets. The list above is just a smattering of all the city has to offer so be sure to check out other outdoor adventures you can have during your next visit.