Outdoor Adventures in Chattanooga, TN
Increasingly, Chattanooga is staking its claim as one of the country’s premier outdoor meccas. In the late 1960’s, Walter Cronkite declared Chattanooga the country’s most polluted city, and by the early 80’s the city was dying. Thanks to visionary public and private partnerships in the mid and late 80’s, however, Chattanooga has experienced a remarkable renaissance that continues to garner national acclaim. At the center of this revitalization is a focus on the city’s natural heritage and abundant outdoor pursuits. Located on a bend in the Tennessee River, at the southern terminus of the Appalachian chain, and only a few miles from the Cumberland Plateau, the city is geographically blessed. Surrounded by ridges and plateaus to the north, east, and west, and the iconic Lookout Mountain to the south, Chattanoogans enjoy world class hiking, trail running, backpacking, climbing, paddling, and biking—all of which they can access within 15 minutes of a now bustling and vibrant downtown scene.
The trail running, hiking, mountain biking, and backpacking in Chattanooga are spectacular, offering hundreds of panoramic views from above 1,500 feet, dense deciduous forests with some of the highest biodiversity on the planet, and unending opportunities for adventuring and exploring just minutes from downtown. In addition, the Chattanooga Riverwalk provides joggers, cyclists, and walkers with 10 miles of urban trail along the Tennessee River and the downtown corridor.
Chattanooga is a river city, founded originally at Ross’s Landing along the Tennessee River. Northwest of the city, the river cuts a dramatic canyon into the Cumberland Plateau, which locals refer to as the “Grand Canyon of the Tennessee.” Downtown, the Chattanooga riverfront is world class, and stand up paddleboarders, flatwater kayakers, and canoeists frequently put-in and paddle right in the heart of downtown. Their background? Dramatic bluffs below the Hunter Museum, the stone trusses of the remarkable 100-year old Walnut Street Bridge, nesting blue herons and Osprey, and bustling community parks along both river banks. The surrounding ridges and plateaus are also riddled with gulches and drainages that create renowned whitewater paddling opportunities for boaters looking to push the limits.
The mountains, ridges, and plateaus that surround the city are wrapped by dramatic sandstone cliff bands, creating hundreds of routes for trad and sport climbers alike. The woods, too, are dotted with immense boulder fields, and Rocktown and Little Rock City are iconic, world-famous bouldering sites. The Crash Pad, a local hostel, and its accompanying bar, the Flying Squirrel, were founded by climbers to cater to the thousands of climbers visiting and moving to Chattanooga each year.
From the blue-tinted haze of the Smokies, to the waterfall-filled wonderland of the Cumberland Plateau, to the bucolic plains of West Tennessee, here are some images that will surely inspire you to get out and about in The Volunteer State.
Don’t ditch your hiking gear just because of the cooler temperatures. Winter is actually one of the best times to hike in Tennessee.
We’ve put together a seven-day itinerary to some of most scenic attractions you’ll find in Tennessee, starting and ending in Nashville, hitting up Blues City, the Cumberland Plateau, Chattanooga, the Great Smoky Mountains, and Knoxville along the way.
The Cumberland Trail itself is part of the even more ambitious Great Eastern Trail, an alternative to the Appalachian Trail that will stretch over 1,600 miles from Alabama to New York when it's all said and done.
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