There are many places to take in the beautiful fall foliage in Chattanooga from the scenic mountains to the winding Tennessee River, but many locals recommend a more hidden treasure.

Tucked away just 20 minutes east of downtown is a 130-acre nature sanctuary with a history as vivid as the leaves on deciduous trees. Audubon Acres, a property of the Chattanooga Audubon Society, has five walking trails to lead you through the unspoiled forest with paths that wind back in time.

Many visitors come to Audubon Acres for the foliage but get pulled in by the history. Although the nature sanctuary was set up as a land trust back in 1944, the known history of the land dates back much earlier. 

  • A Napochi tribe village was located on the property in the 1560s.
  • In the 1700s, Cherokee inhabited the property. It is a Trail of Tears historic site, although not located on the actual trail.
  • A rugged cabin dates back to the 1770s.TheSpring Frog Cabin has been restored, but it remains true to its NativeAmerican construction. In the 1800s, it was the home of the founder’s family, and he is buried beside it.
  • Railroad tracks that cross between the main building and the trails were originally laid as part of the Great American Train Race in the 1860s.

The leaves in Chattanooga begin to turn in mid-October and typically peak around mid-November making Audubon Acres a dream in the Fall.

  • The leaves in Chattanooga begin to turn in mid-October and typically peak around mid-November.
  • Maclellan Island is free to visit, and primitive camping is available for $25 per night with a reservation.
  • Special events are priced separately.
  • Audubon Acres is open year-round and closed on some holidays.

According to Audubon Executive Director Darlene Carlson, fall visitors will see a wide variety of colorful native trees as well as some surprises.“Our founder Robert Sparks Walker brought in trees from other regions in the 1800s,” Darlene noted. “They include a California Redwood tree and our giant Ginko tree, which is a highlight in the fall.” “The Ginko leaves turn a bright yellow that really stands out,” Darlene said. “The leaves tend to fall all at once, creating a yellow-gold carpet on the ground.”

A swinging bridge on the property crosses South Chickamauga Creek, where paddlers can survey fall leaves from the waterways well. If you love the water, Darlene recommends a visit to Audubon Society location.“I highly recommend Maclellan Island, which is located in the Tennessee River right along the Chattanooga riverfront,” she said.“ The island is a unique 18-acre nature sanctuary and a great stop if you are kayaking or paddle boarding downtown.

"Some people find us first just for the train tracks,” Darlene noted. “Over the years people from more places are finding us. We now have visitors from as far away as California and Michigan as well as some international guests.”

The original version of this article first appeared in a previous edition of our Magazine.