One of the best parts about visiting Chattanooga is exploring its many eclectic neighborhoods—the great shops on Northshore, the diverse restaurants of the Southside, the unique activities of downtown, and, of course, the many exciting experiences in St. Elmo. Located only a few minutes south of downtown at the foot of Lookout Mountain, St. Elmo is a jumping off point to some of the area’s most famed destinations, like the Incline Railway, Ruby Falls, and Rock City.
And while these attractions are undeniably impressive, St. Elmo has much more to offer than what first meets the eye. Discover how to include some of St. Elmo’s lesser known adventures on your next visit to Chattanooga.
Explore Lookout Mountain
It’s no secret that Lookout Mountain has some of the most spectacular outdoor recreation in the region, with its amazing flora, trickling streams, steep bluffs, and imposing rock formations. Take the area’s notable Civil War history into account and you’ll start to understand what makes this place so well-loved. Here are a few ideas for where to start your outdoor adventure.
The Guild and Hardy Trails are like the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books of Lookout Mountain. Known to many as just Guild Trail, this path starts in St. Elmo and gradually ascends to the mountaintop over the course of five miles. Once a railroad bed, the path is wide and smooth, making it perfect for a gentle stroll or casual jog. The trail has three access points from which to choose: Ochs Highway, Ruby Falls, and Cravens House, each located higher on the mountain. By beginning at Craven’s House, you can achieve summit views in just a two-mile round trip.
Another wonderful family-friendly adventure can be found at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center. Tucked between the base of Lookout Mountain and the banks of Lookout Creek, Reflection Riding offers hiking and biking trails, an interactive visitor center, boat rentals, a native animal exhibit and much more. With more than 300 beautiful acres, this hidden gem is a great spot for an unforgettable day.
Perched on the western side of Lookout Mountain, Sunset Rock is inarguably a crown jewel of the area. The overlook offers wide-open views of the valley and surrounding region. And sure, you could drive to the parking lot and make the five-minute walk to the Rock, but we all know that views are better when you work for them. Park at Cravens House and make the 1.5-mile hike up to Sunset Rock by following Cravens Trail and taking a right at the fork. The trail is uneven but not too steep, and you’ll get a sneak peak of the breathtaking view as you pass below the sheer faces of the Sunset Rock climbing area. The Cravens House parking lot closes at dark, so make sure to plan your hike accordingly.
You also can backtrack to the fork in the trail and follow it’s other branch about one mile to Point Park. This 10-acre Civil War memorial park overlooks the Lookout Mountain Battlefield and offers another iconic vista. Brush up on your Civil War history with a self-guided tour of the park’s paved paths and monuments.
For a day hike that’s further off the beaten path, start at Ochs Gateway and embark on a 2.4-mile trip to Skyuka Springs, one of Lookout Mountain’s most peaceful destinations. Getting there requires a little effort, but the spring and its cool, shallow pool are more than worth it— especially on a hot summer day.
For a robust tour of Lookout Mountain’s trail system, look no further than the 10-mile Big Daddy Loop. This unofficial route is made up of seven trails starting and ending at Cravens House and steadily transitioning through the mountainside’s natural highlights. You’ll take Rifle Pits Trail down to the broad Truck Trail before descending the short but notoriously steep Gum Springs Trail. From there, mosey along to Skyuka Springs and maybe take a quick dip before beginning your ascent on the John Smartt Trail. Next comes the Bluff Trail, a truly spectacular path that offers continuous panoramic views before passing below Sunset Rock and back to Cravens House.
Dining, Drinks, and More
For a refined dining experience, grab a seat on the patio of 1885 Grill for "Southern coastal" fare and a great view of the quaint neighborhood and Lookout Mountain. Mr. T’s Pizza is a great option for a quick bite, with homemade pizza and ice cream. The Tap House is St. Elmo’s most centrally located watering hole, and it offers 30 rotating craft beers in a modern rustic atmosphere. You can enjoy light snacks, a great view, and maybe even some live music. Do you like to end your adventures with delicious, handcrafted ice cream? Of course you do! Clumpies Ice Cream Co. has been scooping up favorites since 1999, from classics like butter pecan and chocolate chocolate chunk to specialty creations like almond orange sesame and Nutella crunch.
With its breathtaking overlooks, miles of trails, and great dining options, St. Elmo is quickly growing into one of Chattanooga’s most fun and vibrant neighborhoods. You may come to see Rock City, but it’s the one-of-a-kind restaurants and adventures that will keep you coming back.