The Grand Canyon. Mount Everest. Chattanooga. What do they all have in common? They’re hands down some of the best places in the entire world to catch a sunrise or sunset. Is that hyperbolic to say? We don’t think so. Chattanooga, with its amphitheater of mountains and river and myriad vistas and vantage points, is a sunrise or sunset chaser’s dream. Here are some of the best spots in the city to start or end the day, in the most picturesque way.
The aptly named Sunset Rock is a popular promontory to catch breathtaking views. Perry Smyre
First up is the eponymous Sunset Rock. Catch this popular promontory at golden hour, and you’re in for a real treat. The rock itself is spacious enough to allow for plenty of panoramic social distancing (even if the parking lot doesn’t), and the views—goodness gracious, the views.
First off, Sunset Rock faces west. So the sun sets in plain sight right across the valley. But before it does, it bathes the entire Lookout Valley in streaks of goldenrod glow. To viewer’s right, the Tennessee River snakes through downtown, then around Moccasin Bend. To the left, as far as the eye can see, the bucolic pastures and woodlands of Wildwood, Georgia, soak up the day’s final rays. In a word, breathtaking.
The Hang Gliding Spot
In case you didn’t know, Chattanooga is home to the #1 hang gliding school in the world. Located 10 miles west of Sunset Rock, along the western brow of Lookout Mountain, the Lookout Mountain Flight Park has served as a literal launchpad for thousands of amateur hang glider pilots over the last 40 years. For non-pilots, it’s perched upon a precipitous cliff with one of the most dizzyingly spectacular vistas in the Chattanooga area.
The dropoff from the runway ramp is enough to make anyone—except for maybe Alex Honnold—shaky in the knees. But, in what should probably become the Flight Park’s next slogan, “If you can overcome the vertigo, you’re in for quite a show.” To really kick your sunset-viewing up a notch, a tandem flight with the birds is life-changing.
Raccoon Mountain Reservoir
Just across the valley from Sunset Rock, Racoon Mountain triples as a thrilling trail running destination, mountain biking mecca, and top spot for a sunset. Beyond the East Overlook (which is actually an excellent place for a sunrise), the Pump Station Reservoir is where you’ll want to go. In truth, there aren’t many noteworthy spots to pull off and park, but if you catch it on the right night (ie. just after a thunderstorm when there are heavy cumulus clouds soaking up all the color), the sunsets here are about as good as they come. The reservoir—typically glassy and calm by evening—reflects the colors with a buy-one-sunset, get-one-free type of show. And the lack of a tree canopy ensures the sky is so big it would make Montana jealous.
Bonus: Finley Stadium
One to grow on here: If you’re ever able to catch a sunset from Finley Stadium—during a Chattanooga FC soccer game, let’s say—it’s tough to put into words just how life-affirming and beautiful it is. The drums, the chants, the stadium lights, the palpable energy, not to mention, the people awash in glowing golden light as the sky above swirls in pinks and purples and reds. All as “the beautiful game” plays on the turf below—perfection embodied.
Catching a Chattanooga sunrise, like this one from Snoopers Rock, is one of the best ways to kickstart your morning. Perry Smyre
The Walnut Street Bridge
In the heart of downtown, the famous Walnut Street Bridge—or “The Walking Bridge” as it’s fondly known—serves up one of the best sunrises in the South. Positioning yourself smack in the middle of the bridge, halfway between the downtown bluff and the North Shore, is the best way to get the full picture. Here, as you look eastward toward Veterans Bridge, the sun will rise just behind McClellan Island, illuminating the river in sheets of glistening orange.
Catch it on a hazy summer morning, and you’re likely to see the sun do that post-apocalyptic thing it does sometimes where, without even squinting, you can see it in all its spherical glory, a round shimmering fireball rising above the river. The sunrise from Walnut Street Bridge is, without a doubt, one of the best ways to start the day in Chattanooga.
The best thing about sunrise at Stringers Ridge is typically the activity you’ll likely have engaged in before seeing it. There’s nothing better than an early morning hike, run, or ride at Stringers Ridge’s urban forest, followed by a steaming cup of camp stove coffee from the main downtown overlook. Endorphins pumping, the city awakening, the colors soaking the river and buildings down below. Finish it off with breakfast along the North Shore for a perfect morning.
A sunrise from Snoopers has a 100% track record of not disappointing. First off, you’ll likely have it all to yourself—or at least close to—as it’s a bit of a trek to get to, especially in the early morning dawn. Second, the view no matter what time of day is arguably the best in all of Chattanooga. Finally, throw in some early morning pinks and reds and an impossible silence.
Whether you’re looking to catch a glimpse of the sun’s beautiful rays first thing in the morning or just before darkness sets, you’re in for a treat in Chattanooga. In-town viewing or working for something further afield is up to you, but be sure to have your coffee or nightcap at the ready for once-in-a-lifetime views.