Two-thousand feet above the grassy pastures of Flintstone, Georgia, on the eastern edge of Lookout Mountain, there is a creek. This creek—Rock Creek, as it’s called—flows through the mountain laurel-lined banks and dense hardwood forests atop Lookout until it eventually pours over into the gouged out punchbowl of Lula Lake.
Lula Lake is easily one of the Chattanooga area’s most stunning natural destinations. Within its punchbowl formation are waters so brilliantly turquoise that, were it not for the amphitheater of sandstone ringing the bowl, one might think he or she’d been transplanted to a faraway island in the Caribbean.
But then, just when it seems like the surroundings couldn’t get any more beautiful, the silky ribbon of whitewater descending from Lula Lake cascades a few hundred feet further downstream until it dramatically spills over the side of a precipitous cliff, creating the majestic Lula Falls.
Lula Lake and Lula Falls combine to form the very obvious centerpiece of the Lula Lake Land Trust , an 8,000 acre tract of private property that’s been at the heart of quite an impressive local preservation movement. The Land Trust officially formed in 1994 when Robert M. Davenport—a dedicated steward of the Rock Creek watershed throughout the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s—endowed the Trust with 1,200 acres around the lake that he’d personally spent countless hours cleaning, planting trees on, and generally doing his part to offset years of neglectful degradation.
In honor of his legacy, the Land Trust expanded upon his grand master plan with new vigor, successfully obtaining an additional 6,800 acres and gradually transforming the area into what it is today: a pristine outdoor playground with well maintained hiking trails, breathtaking views around every corner, and a passionate and supportive local community behind it.
And while the Land Trust and its board still lack the resources to stay open at all times, and only open the gates on the first and last Saturdays of each month, these dime-a-dozen days are unforgettable.
We recommend making an all day affair of it. Wake up early. Load the car with picnic supplies, panting dogs (with their leashes), and good friends, and then make the 30 minute drive from Downtown Chattanooga, arriving at Lula Lake by 9:00 am just as the gates are opening. Then spend the entire day—until 5:00 pm when the gates close—exploring the area’s roughly 6 miles of trails as well as lounging about in the sun.
Of course the first stop is to check out the lake and the falls, where it’s more than possible to fill a camera’s entire memory card. Then take a hike down the steep and rugged trail to the bottom of the falls and watch as the water plummets nearly 100 feet into a huge basin and splashes off the rocks below. Once you huff and puff your way back up the strenuous trail and out of the basin, find a private rock above the falls and sunbathe like a lizard (or toad), maybe even with a book in hand.
Once you grow restless, hike to the east brow of the Land Trust, known as Eagle Cliff, and enjoy an expansive view of Chattanooga Valley and Flintstone, Georgia below. On clear days, it’s possible to see the famous hue of the Blue Ridge Mountains looming in the distance. Lay out a blanket on this shaded, grassy brow and break out the bread, apples, and cheese for a picnic with good company.
Once 5:00 pm rolls around, though you probably won’t be ready, it’s unfortunately time to leave. There is some solace, however. On your way back to town, in the historic St. Elmo neighborhood at Lookout Mountain’s base, is Chattanooga’s favorite local burrito joint: Mojo Burrito. Stop in for some cervezas and Macho Nachos and reflect on your day’s adventure at one of the Chattanooga area’s favorite hiking destinations.