For thrill seekers, nature lovers or sports enthusiasts, the mountains and waterways surrounding Chattanooga are a playground of endless potential.
“What makes Chattanooga’s outdoors so special is the accessibility. It’s easy to get to and it’s close,” said Ruth Thompson, events and marketing coordinator for Outdoor Chattanooga. “You can see a trailhead from your office. That’s pretty cool.”
Downtown employees commute to work in the shadow of mountains lined with creeks and hiking trails, packed with sandstone boulders and rock crags. Within an hour’s drive are caverns and whitewater rapids for beginners and experts alike.
Here are some must-hit outdoor sport options for families, athletes and adventure addicts living in or visiting the Scenic City.
Chattanooga Nature Center: The nature center, at 400 Garden Road in Chattanooga, has trails for hikers of all levels, allowing for a tour of the center’s wetlands and creek. One five-mile trail leads to Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain.
Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, Ga.: Check out the waterfalls on the varied trail, on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, about an hour from downtown Chattanooga.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.: The battlefield features an eight-mile trail loop leading through historic Civil War monuments.
Cumberland Trail on Signal Mountain, Tenn.: Challenging trails for the moderate to expert hiker. According to Outdoor Chattanooga, 160 miles of the 303-mile Cumberland Trail are within 75 miles of Chattanooga.
Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness in Rhea County, Tenn.: Laurel Snow includes waterfalls and steep ascents in the 710-acre wilderness area. Camping and climbing available.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns: Call 821-9403 or visit wildcave.com to schedule a walking tour or an overnight “muddy tour” of the 5.5 miles of caves on the mountain.
The Lost Sea in Sweetwater, Tenn., offers overnight trips and hour-long excursions to the country’s largest underground lake, 140 feet below ground level.
The Adventure Guild leads caving tours at undisclosed locations. Call 423-266-5709.
Disclaimer: Many caves in the region are closed to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has killed more than 1 million bats in North America. Some caves on privately owned land are still open.
Visit Chattanooga Grotto, a caving member group, at ChattanoogaGrotto.org for information on becoming a member, cave preservation and white-nose syndrome.
Little Rock City, aka Stone Fort, at Montlake Golf Course in Soddy-Daisy. $3 per climber day pass; no dogs allowed. One of the most concentrated and varied boulder fields in the country, for climbers of all skill levels.
Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain: Rope climbing.
Foster Falls in Jasper, Tenn.: Rope climbing, leave time for a dip in the water afterwards.
Tennessee Wall: Traditional, or “trad,” climbing using placed gear, for experienced climbers. 20-minute hike to reach wall. Located in Dayton, Tenn., in the Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area.
Tennessee Bouldering Authority, in St. Elmo. Call 822-6800 or visit tbagym.com.
Urban Rocks, off Amnicola Highway. Call 475-6578 or visit urbanrocksgym.com.
Visit the local climbing gyms or visit the Southeastern Climbers Coalition at seclimbers.org for more information on recommended climbing locations, climber etiquette and land stewardship.
Hiwassee River in Reliance, Tenn.: Great for beginners. The dam-controlled river has Class I and II whitewater rapids. Family-friendly river is great for kayaking, rafting, tubing or other watercraft. For kayaking, “if you have never done it before, make sure you go with someone who is experienced,” said Ruth Thompson of Outdoor Chattanooga.
Cartecay River in Ellijay, Ga.: Class I to Class II-plus.
Ocoee River: For intermediate-level kayakers, the middle Ocoee is Class III-plus. For experts, the Upper Ocoee is a Class-V river and was the site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater events.
Lower Tellico River: Class II stream that is not dam-controlled.
Upper Tellico River: Class IV river for experienced kayakers. Stream levels vary widely.
For canoeing on the Chickamauga reservoir, above the Chickamauga Dam:
* Harrison Bay State Park
* Booker T. Washington State Park
* Chester Frost State Park
Greenway Farms in Hixson: Canoe along the North Chickamauga Creek.
South Chickamauga Creek: Launch from Sterchi Farm on Old Harrison Pike.
Lookout Creek in the Chattanooga Nature Center: Call 423-821-1160. The nature center offers boat rentals.
Nickajack Lake near Jasper, Tenn.: Shellmound Recreation Area. TVA facility. In the winter months when the water level is low, gravestones peek out from the water’s surface, relics from an underwater cemetery.
LEARN PADDLING SKILLS
* Outdoor Chattanooga’s “Rapid Learning Whitewater Club” holds a weekly kayaking skills practice Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. First time is free; after that $5. In winter, the practice is held at UTC’s Maclellan gym. In summer, it’s held at Greenway Farms in Hixson. Call 423-643-6882.
* The Tennessee Valley Canoe Club holds an annual canoe and kayak paddle school. This year it’s scheduled for the first weekend in June. Visit www.tvccpaddler.com.