So, you want to go cycling and road running somewhere other than the Tennessee Riverwalk? Maybe someplace with a little less foot (and tire) traffic and a little more solitude and serenity? Luckily, Chattanooga is filled with all sorts of off-the-beaten-path destinations, some even in the heart of downtown. From lightly trafficked country roads to quiet neighborhood streets, here’s where to hit the pavement in peace in the Scenic City.
Twenty-two miles south of Chattanooga, McLemore Cove is a bucolic oasis of rolling countryside nestled in a pocket between Lookout Mountain and Pigeon Mountain. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the pastoral pastureland is home to antebellum structures from the 1890s and shade-covered country lanes perfect for cycling.
In terms of getting there, you’ve got options: You can opt for a long ride from downtown through St. Elmo and Chickamauga, or for something shorter, you can strap your bikes to the car and pull them off once you reach the Cove. Either way, you’re in for a real “South of France” sort of cycling experience.
Wildwood to Lookout Mountain
On the western side of Lookout Mountain, the Lookout Valley gently ebbs away from the base of the mountain in a scenic sprawl of hardwoods and farmlands. This valley is the start (and end) of one of the most beautiful road bike rides in the Chattanooga area—a 30-mile loop that coasts along country roads, climbs one of the steepest roads in the area, and then bombs down the mountain.
Begin at the Tiftonia Wal-Mart and bike down the lightly trafficked Wauhatchie Pike into the meandering roads of Wildwood, GA until you reach Burkhalter Gap Road (you’ll know you’ve arrived when your quads start wailing at you like Wildwood goats). Grunt your way up Burkhalter, then enjoy a rolling cruise along Lookout Mountain Scenic Highway until you reach Covenant College. From here, it’s mostly residential riding until you finally get to zoom down the front of Lookout at breakneck speeds.
Nickajack Road is the mack-daddy of cycling ascents in the Chattanooga area. Traveling up the eastern side of Lookout Mountain in a series of lung-crushing switchbacks, this is the route that Scenic City cyclists love to hate. Without fail, just when you think you’re about to crest the last of the climb, you round one final switchback and—wham! It’s like some highway from the Himalayas has been dropped upon Lookout Mountain; it’s that vertical. But the reward of endorphins, major bragging rights, and the unrivaled rollercoaster of Lula Lake Road at the top (to get across and back down the mountain) makes it well worth the physical slog.
Raccoon Mountain Loop
Atop Raccoon Mountain, there’s a loop that seems to get better with every lap. The 6.5-mile one-directional Drivepark around the Pump Station Reservoir offers smooth asphalt and scenic riding. The views along the way are top-notch from all directions, whether you're looking toward the river gorge or to downtown Chattanooga. Catch this loop at sunset, when the cotton candy skies are perfectly replicated on the glassy surface of the reservoir, and you’ll be sure to catch a second—maybe even a third and fourth—wind.
Chattanooga Chase Course
In the hills of North Chattanooga, the 8K racecourse of the Chattanooga Chase—the oldest active competitive road race in the area—is a challenging, but incredibly fun place to go for a jog. Beginning and ending at Riverview Park, the route takes runners up the deceptively steep Riverview Road, then the not so deceptively steep Minnekahda Road to create a first 2.5-miles that positively scorches the calves and quads. The second half of the course is all downhill though, a speedy descent through the verdant Riverview neighborhood with beautiful views of the Tennessee River and Chattanooga Golf and Country Club along the way.
The Quadruple M
While most people think downtown road running is all about the Riverwalk and the bridges, there are plenty of equally praiseworthy urban routes in the city that go unnoticed. One such route is what can be called the “Quadruple M” Loop, which travels from Miller Plaza down MLK Boulevard and then back via Main and Market Streets.
Highlights along the way include history and culture along MLK, one of the most underrated views of the city from the overpass on Central Avenue (the link between MLK and Main), and then a lively atmosphere along Main and Market—with Station Street and the historic Choo Choo notable sites. Bonus: This route is mostly flat!
The 2-mile stretch of road on the Moccasin Bend peninsula between Hamm Road and the entrance of the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute might just take the cake for the “Straightest, Flattest, and Most Scenic Road” in Chattanooga. Runners and cyclists alike have long flocked to this shade-covered gem, so “off-the-beaten-path” might not be entirely accurate. But there’s still more than enough room to find some solitude. And the solitude here—with the Moccasin Bend Golf Course and the pine forests and the inevitable deer sightings and the 12,000 years of human history hanging palpably—is as good as it gets.
People know all about Lookout and Signal mountains as great places to get above the city. But for some reason, Missionary Ridge to the south often gets overlooked. And it absolutely shouldn’t! Along this scenic ridgeline is a neighborhood brimming with Civil War history, quaint roads, interesting architecture (there’s even a Frank Lloyd Wright house!), and hands down one of the best sunset vistas of Chattanooga you can find anywhere in the area.