With over 50 trailheads within 30 minutes of downtown, it wouldn’t be totally unfair to label the hiking scene in Chattanooga as one of the best in the country. From the slopes of Lookout Mountain to the steep crests of the Tennessee River Gorge, the Scenic City is blessed with a diverse and notable network of hiking trails.
Lookout Mountain alone is home to a staggering amount of excellent single and double-track trails. But don’t forget about Signal Mountain. Like Lookout, Signal is a mecca in and of itself. Making up the southern terminus of the Cumberland Plateau, this “mountain” is home to more than a handful of unforgettable Cumberland Trail sections.
For an accessible and memorable adventure with friends or family, we recommend hiking the Rainbow Lake Trail. Rainbow Lake was built in 1916 as part of the Signal Mountain Hotel (now Alexian Village) and since that time has remained one of Signal Mountain's most popular outdoor destinations. From the parking lot on Ohio Avenue, you'll walk alongside the golf course, then past an old spring house. Around the half mile mark you'll come to a junction and must choose between a left turn to descend immediately to Rainbow Lake, or going straight to circle the lake on a 2.3 mile loop that is rocky and challenging. Whichever you choose, you'll eventually find yourself at Middle Creek. Upstream is the 1916 dam, the water usually cascading over its top. Nearby, through a pretty grove of hemlocks and laurel, is a 100 foot long suspension bridge over the creek, part of the Cumberland Trail. It's the perfect spot cool off on a summer day. Bring your own float or take a dip in the creek before heading out.
If you're feeling more ambitious, options abound. You could follow the Cumberland Trail on the south (trailhead) side of Middle Creek 1.4 miles to Signal Point, a rocky trail with spectacular overlooks and a steep climb at the end, then walk the half mile of road from Signal Point back to your car. From the far side of the bridge, you could follow the Cumberland Trail the other direction towards Edwards Point, or even make a loop that includes Edwards Point. The choices are limited only by your time and energy.
Rainbow Lake Trail is perfect for hikers and families who enjoy a variety of trail, from easy gravel paths to rocky, ankle-turning paths on the optional loops. Kids always seem to love going down to Middle Creek at the suspension bridge. The Rainbow Lake Trailhead is on Ohio Avenue on the edge of the golf course near Alexian Village. The easiest way to find the trailhead is to follow the signs toward Signal Point, but continue past Alexian Village until you see the trailhead on your left.