There is good reason Chattanooga is the only city to be twice named by Outdoor Magazine as the Best Town Ever. Nestled in a rolling valley surrounded by the mountains of the Cumberland Plateau and the winding Tennessee River, Chattanooga is a picturesque gem.
Just a 9-hour drive or 1.5 hour flight from Tampa, Florida, Chattanooga is the ideal destination to experience the beauty of the mountains and world-class recreation. Deciding what to do in Chattanooga is a snap with this insider’s guide highlighting six incredible mountain experiences.
Hike a Mountain Trail
Miles and miles of pristine mountain trails await just minutes from downtown Chattanooga on Lookout Mountain and Signal Mountain. Trails feature a natural diversity that makes hiking options among the very best in the country.
With over 50 trailheads and 150-miles of trails in the area, there truly is a hike for every ability. Remember to follow essential hiking safety tips when you hit the trail.
See Rock City
Known for its legendary giant rock formations, Swing-A-Long Bridge, Mother Goose Village and world-famous seven states view, Rock City Gardens has been welcoming guests since May 21, 1932.
The attraction features a full annual festival and event calendar, with Summer Music Weekends beginning Memorial Day weekend.Experience the Birds of Prey Shows every Friday-Sunday (and holidays) this summer, along with entertaining live music. Have some refreshing lemonade or grab some coffee at the newly renovated Starbucks.
Make sure to allow time to try some new menu items at Café 7 while enjoying the breathtaking views (there’s even a new pet menu)! Don’t pass up an opportunity to see Rock City!
Picnic Above the Clouds
In a town with loads of options for an al fresco picnic, only one location tops the list. Picnic perfection is found at Point Park on Lookout Mountain under a canopy of giant oak trees on lush grass surrounded by incredible beauty and history.
This dreamy spot is a world apart but only a few minutes from downtown Chattanooga.
Thanks to the mountain elevation, the site of the Civil War’s “Battle Above the Clouds” has cooler summer temperatures that will make you want to linger and savor the moment. The park is part of the National Park Service and is open year-round from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Next to Point Park is the Battles for Chattanooga museum featuring a multimedia 3-D projection map presentation.
Visually experience Chattanooga's Battle Above the Clouds and Sherman's assault on Missionary Ridge before his historic March to the Sea. The museum and bookstore also display an excellent relic and weapon collection, as well as notable works about the Civil War.
Ride the Incline Railway
Take the scenic path less traveled on a funicular railway system in a trolley-style car that climbs Lookout Mountain, going straight up at a 72.7% grade.
The Incline Railway, built in 1895, originally brought locals up and down the mountain. In summertime, the windows of the trolley are open for a breezy mile-long trip and in winter, the trolley becomes a warm, cozy cocoon for the scenic trek.
Catch the Incline Railway at the top of Lookout Mountain or the St. Elmo station at the base of the mountain. Only a handful of funicular railways remain in the United States, making this a journey few people have the opportunity to experience.
Spend the Night in a Treehouse or Tiny House
Remember your childhood dream of having a secret hideout? This is the dream come true! Make memories in a one of a kind charming mountain treehouse or tiny house. Live a Little Chatt and Tree Top Hideaways combine rustic, refined Southern luxury with whimsy.
The views can be summed up with one word, WOW! Bring graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate for s’mores because a night around the fire pit under the stars is not complete with some gooey goodness.
Explore Ruby Falls
Tennessee has over 10,000 known caves, the most of any state. One of the best caves in Tennessee is hidden deep within Lookout Mountain, just a few minutes from downtown Chattanooga. Ruby Falls is home to the tallest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States.
Three types of guided walking tours to the waterfall are offered, each begins with a 26-story descent by glass-front elevator into the cavern.
Ruby Falls is consistently named a must-see cave in the United States and one of the best waterfalls in the world. Check out the swoon-worthy views of the Cumberland Plateau and Tennessee River from the top of Lookout Mountain Tower and Blue Heron Overlook.
Tours tend to fill quickly during peak seasons, be sure to buy your tickets online in advance for best availability.