Fall is a magical time in Chattanooga. The mountains and valleys bloom into a canvas of reds and yellows, and you can almost hear a collective sigh of relief as the heat and humidity recede, replaced by crisp, cool air. Meanwhile, autumn festivals and seasonal events spring up like wildflowers, celebrating all that the town (and this time of year) has to offer. Whether you’re looking to soak-up some eye-popping foliage, stoke your adrenaline with climbing or hiking, or just chill with the family, Chattanooga checks all the boxes for your autumn adventures. Here are a few reasons why your fall getaway should bring you here.
Music Festivals, Wine Tasting, and a World-Class Regatta
Moon River Music Festival (Sept. 7-8): Moon River will take over Northshore’s Coolidge Park for a weekend of Americana and indie pop music. The festival was founded in Memphis by Tennessee native Drew Holcombe in 2014, and this year’s lineup features Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, Moon Taxi, and more.
Three Sisters Bluegrass Festival (Oct. 4-5): This free, downtown music festival is held each year at Ross’s Landing on the Tennessee River, and it features a mix of contemporary and traditional bluegrass music from local and national artists. Pack your lawn chairs and blankets and get ready to soak up the tunes.
Wine Over Water (Oct. 5): Enjoy a scenic stroll along the historic Walnut Street Bridge while sampling wines from all over the world at this premier wine-tasting festival on the Tennessee River. Tickets include wine, samples from local restaurants, and charcuterie pairings.
Fall Plant Sales: Each year around September, two excellent Chattanooga nonprofits host weekend plant sales that offer green-thumbed guests an ideal way to spruce up their fall gardens with healthy organic plants. Crabtree Farms offers vegetables (to plant at home) from their greenhouses, while Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center offers more than 300 varieties of native plants.
Hound Ears Bouldering Competition (Oct. 5): As the first leg of the Triple Crown Bouldering Series, Hound Ears is held each year at the Stone Fort climbing area on Mowbray Mountain. The competition, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019, is one of the biggest and most prestigious events of the year for the Southeastern climbing community.
Chattanooga Oktoberfest (Oct. 13-14): Held each year at the First Tennessee Pavilion on the Southside, Oktoberfest draws hundreds of locals and visitors each year to experience the traditional German holiday. With Bavarian-inspired food, music, and, of course, plenty of beer, there’s a lot to love at this seasonal shindig (lederhosen not required, but highly encouraged).
Water Lantern Festival (Oct. 19): This memorable nationwide event is coming to Chattanooga for the first time this year at Chester Frost Park in Hixson. Come together with friends, family, and other festival-goers to light a torch and send it floating out onto the lake in an eco-friendly paper lantern. And be sure to snap some pictures of the magical scene.
Head of the Hooch (Nov. 2-3): With more than 2,000 boat races over two days, this classic Chattanooga event on the Tennessee River is one of the largest rowing regattas in the world. Whether or not you’re a rower, it’s a spectacle not to be missed in downtown Chattanooga.
See the Changing Leaves by Train, Boat, or Hang Gliding
Tennessee Valley Railroad Train Ride: Are you all about the leaf-peeping, but not nearly as excited about doing it from a car? Let someone else do the driving and hop aboard the Tennessee Valley Railroad for an all-day Autumn Leaf Special ride on a vintage train. The trip leaves from Chattanooga’s Grand Junction Station and turns around in Summerville, Georgia, where passengers can disembark and explore the town.
The Southern Belle Fall Color Cruise: For another unique way to experience the fall colors, check out this seasonal cruise through the Tennessee River Gorge. As the historic riverboat sails deep into the gorge, guests can admire the views of the woods and water while enjoying live music, narration, games, and a delicious lunch.
Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding: If you’re craving a truly adventurous way to see the changing leaves, book a lesson at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park during your visit to Chattanooga. You and an instructor will be towed into the sky via a small plane, and once it releases the glider, you’ll spend a few thrilling, unforgettable minutes soaring high above the valley.
Blowing Springs Farm (Closed for 2020 season): Fall family fun awaits every weekend in October at Blowing Springs Farm’s amazing fall fest. Navigate a corn maze, visit the petting zoo, snack on fair food, and enjoy many more autumn activities with the kiddos.
Hiking, Biking, and Bouldering
Visit Cloudland Canyon: One of the most stunning panoramic views in the region can be found at the terminus of Cloudland Canyon’s short Main Overlook Trail, where visitors can take in a sprawling view of the valley and foliage along the cliff line. You can also choose from many other longer hiking options, like the West Rim Loop and the staircase descend to Cherokee and Hemlock Falls.
Hike to Mullens Cove Overlook: For an expansive view of an untouched mountain landscape, embark on this 3-mile round-trip hike in Prentice Cooper State Forest. Mullens Cove Overlook is a tiny outcropping that offers an expansive look at the colorful, densely forested ridges of the Cumberland Mountains.
Stone Fort Bouldering: When the temps begin to drop, it’s time to grab your crash pad and hit the boulder field. Stone Fort, also known as Little Rock City, is one of the Southeast’s premier bouldering destinations—and it’s just a half-hour from downtown Chattanooga. Pick up a guidebook at Rock/Creek Outfitters and treat yourself to some of the region’s best rock climbing.
Hike to Signal Point: This Civil War site on Signal Mountain is another short hike with a big reward, especially during peak fall colors. While there’s a fantastic overlook of the river gorge just a hundred yards from the parking lot, the true Signal Point is reached by descending a set of wooden stairs and ramps on the side of the ridge.
Bike the Riverwalk: Bask in the cool autumn breeze and take in fall foliage along the water by cruising along the Tennessee Riverwalk on two wheels. The 13-mile path extends up and downriver from the Tennessee Aquarium, so choose your direction and get pedaling through downtown Chattanooga on yet another fun autumn adventure.