Towering sandstone cliffs, magnificent views, geological curiosities, history, and nature intertwined: this is Lookout Mountain's Bluff Trail, where you may find you can't travel a hundred yards without stopping for a closer look.
Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, the Bluff Trail is a thin strip of singletrack, which hugs the western flank of Lookout Mountain as it travels along at a nearly constant elevation, sometimes at the base of tall cliffs, sometimes at the top, and occasionally on ledges between the two. Back in the day, several hundred men labored for 18 months to create this trail, and the stonework is still impressive nearly a century later.
The Bluff Trail is a classic in terms of the Chattanooga hiking scene. It stretches five miles from the Ochs Gateway, just below Covenant College, all the way to Point Park, and provides remarkable vistas nearly the entire way.
From Ochs Gateway, the first section of trail is a gently descending half mile path that brings hikers to an inspiring overlook called Judith's Bluff. Here, a large rock is suspended at the very edge of the cliff, offering the first of many fine views of Lookout Valley and Raccoon Mountain . As you hike, look for small caves in the bluffs, natural bridges, the Devil's Pit (a steep sinkhole over 100 feet deep), and the towering rockhouse known as the Giant's Niche.
Not quite three miles from Judith's Bluff is the spur trail up to Sunset Rock. This trail is steep and requires a bit stairmaster climbing up a large, stone staircase, but the reward of reaching one of Chattanooga’s most impressive scenic viewpoints makes the side trip well worth the effort. Once on top, you'll stand where Confederate Generals James Longstreet and Braxton Bragg once watched as Union troops entered the valley in 1863 and where they subsequently engaged in the “Battle Above the Clouds.”
These days, Sunset Rock is popular with rock climbers and day hikers, and both the climbing and the views here are spectacular.
Back down on the Bluff Trail, roughly a mile past the turn-off to Sunset, the Cravens Trail bears left and downhill for less than a mile before reaching the historic Cravens House —an old Civil War home with fascinating history and more fine views of downtown. You can choose this option or you can continue on the Bluff Trail a half mile until you reach the stairs up to Point Park. Climb these stairs to finish your hike and enjoy another stellar view of the city, or continue below the brow and around the point to descend a series of switchback trails to Cravens House.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy Lookout Mountain’s most iconic trail, and many people do. On your hike, don’t be surprised to see a large cast of characters: from burly trail runners connecting the Bluff Trail with a handful of other Lookout Mountain favorites, to novice families enjoying a pleasant day in the woods.
For a special treat, end your hike at Sunset Rock just in time to witness the sun begin its colossal drop behind Raccoon Mountain. After all, this crown jewel cliff face hasn’t earned its name for nothin’...sunsets here are magical. Just be sure you’re back to the car before dark to avoid a ticket.