It's official—Chattanooga is the coolest city in the country. (Okay, maybe it's not actually official, but if you're reading this, then you probably think it's at least partly true.)
In order to make the most of what the Scenic City has to offer, we've compiled a list of 50 must-do outdoor-related activities in the area. From the best local hiking trails, to the most memorable camping getaways in the nearby area, to the top places for refueling after a long day in the woods, here's our definitive list of everything we love about this city.
1. Run the Big Daddy Loop on the Bluff Trail.
A staple for Chattanooga trail running, the 10-mile Big Daddy Loop is composed of seven different trails on Lookout Mountain, each offering convincing evidence that the Scenic City is a premier trail running town.
2. Attend or participate in the RiverRocks Outdoor Festival.
RiverRocks is an outdoor festival spanning the entire month of October, offering a series of over 20 outdoor events for both elite-level athletes and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Whether you're participating or simply spectating, it's quite a party.
3. Run a lap around the Maclellan Sanctuary on Audubon Island.
You know that island beneath Veteran's Bridge? Well, did you know that it has a 1-mile loop trail on it? Running a lap or two around it will definitely bring out your inner-Tom Sawyer adventurous side.
4. Spend a weekend in the Big Frog Wilderness.
The highlight of hiking in this pristine wilderness area is reaching the forested summit of Big Frog Mountain. Standing at 4,222 feet, this peak earns the unique title of being the highest western-most mountain in the Appalachian Chain.
5. Compete in the Stone Fort leg of Triple Crown.
Stone Fort has been a part of the Triple Crown Bouldering Series since the beginning, and it's pretty easy to see why. Special to this event is the access to the golf course area boulders, which are normally off limits. This means 50+ additional problems to the already densely concentrated number of prime sandstone lines.
6. Spend the night in Prentice Cooper State Forest by yourself.
With over 6,000 acres of protected land and 35 miles of hiking trails, Prentice Cooper is a vast expanse of dense forest just half an hour from downtown. A night of primitive camping alone in these woods will certainly give you some outdoor street cred.
7. Paddle the Tennessee River from downtown to Suck Creek Road.
If you're looking for an all-day affair on the water, paddling downriver from downtown to Suck Creek Road is just the ticket. Taking you under the city's bridges, around the contour of historic Moccasin Bend, and right to the entrance of the beautiful Tennessee River Gorge, this trip isn't short on spectacular scenery.
8. Go hang gliding at Lookout Mountain.
Hang gliding is one of the most memorable and soul-enriching experiences you could ever have, and Chattanooga just so happens to have the country's largest hang gliding school right in its backyard.
9. Run the entire Chattanooga Riverwalk.
While a 16-mile run on pavement, from Walnut Street Bridge to the Chickamauga Dam and back, might seem like a bit of an undertaking, the flatness of the path and the riverside beauty along the way makes it a realistic and worthwhile goal.
10. Go on a century bike ride.
Ambitious to say the least, but the rolling rural landscapes of Chattanooga's surrounding valleys are perfect for (really) long weekend rides.
11. Watch the sun rise and set in one day from the Walnut Street Bridge.
Bonus: try watching the sun rise and set from the Walking Bridge on the summer solstice. We bet you'd be the only one of your friends to say you've done that.
12. Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Only two hours from downtown Chattanooga, the Smokies are America's most visited national park—a magical place where hikers and backpackers can experience high altitudes, stunning views, enticing forest biomes, and incredible natural diversity.
13. Paddle the West Fork of Chickamauga Creek.
This scenic section of the Chickamauga Creek is easily one of the best-kept flat water secrets in Chattanooga.
14. Catch a sunset at Sunset Rock.
There are few things more inherently 'Chattanooga' than catching a sunset at Sunset Rock. Just be sure to get back to your car as soon as the sun drops, as the park closes at dark.
15. Spend a weekend exploring Cloudland Canyon.
Camping in this Georgia state park is one of the most idyllic ways you could spend a weekend. And with its many rugged trails, cascading waterfalls, and steep cliffs, you won't ever be bored.
16. Go bouldering at Rocktown.
With over 500 established problems spread out over a large area, the bouldering at Rocktown is about as good as it gets (and it's less crowded than other boulder fields in the area, which is an added boon).
17. Volunteer with a trail maintenance crew.
Find out what it's like to help build the trails you frequently enjoy. You'll probably gain a much deeper appreciation for what goes into it.
18. Hike a 50 mile section of the Appalachian Trail.
19. Spend the night at the Overmountain Shelter on the AT.
Yes, this shelter is cool enough to have its own category. Known more commonly as "The Barn," this two-story shelter, in the Roan Highlands, offers one of the best overnight experiences along the entire AT. Enjoy an unforgettable sunrise over the outstretching valley below and be sure to drink the wonderfully refreshing water from the piped spring.
20. Mountain bike Live Wire 1 on Raccoon Mountain.
The ripping descent of Live Wire 1 will put a smile on any experienced rider's face—and maybe a little pee in a beginner's riding shorts.
21. Climb at Deep Creek.
Located on the Cumberland Trail, Deep Creek's picturesque cliff line backs up to the confluence of two creeks: Big Soddy Creek and Deep Creek. What makes this place so great is the ample number of swimming holes you can jump in on the hottest days.
22. Paddle a river that Olympians paddled.
The site of the whitewater portion of the Atlanta '96 Olympics, the Ocoee River is one of the most popular whitewater paddling destinations in the world. Even if you're not an experienced kayaker, there are quite a few rafting companies that run trips in the summer.
23. Rent one of the Chattanooga city bikes.
You've seen them around. Practically every street corner in the city seems to have a docking station for these blue and green, three-speed bikes. Why not give one a spin? It's actually quite a fun activity for a sunny Sunday afternoon.
24. Cycle down the "W" Road.
For a huge burst of adrenaline, it doesn't get much better than bombing down Signal Mountain's most iconic road.
25. Hike a section of the Cumberland Trail.
Stretching over 300-miles along the Cumberland Plateau from Signal Point to the Cumberland Gap, the Cumberland Trail is home to some of the best section day hikes in the Chattanooga.
26. Learn the local history of Moccasin Bend.
The fertile floodplain of Moccasin Bend was once home to some of America's earliest known inhabitants. Now it's home to a golf course, a mental hospital, a police firing range, and a waste management facility.
27. Take a dip at North Chick.
For those who prefer their swimming pools to be of the natural persuasion, the North Chick blue hole is easily one of the best swimming holes in the area and is worth a visit.
28. Spend $50 at Rock/Creek.
Not only do they carry some of the best products in the industry, but shopping here helps support local business.
29. Mountain bike and trail run at Enterprise South.
It might seem counterintuitive to drive past Hamilton Place Mall to find some sweet singletrack. But that's just what you'll get at Enterprise South Nature Park—miles of amazing singletrack trails perfect for trail runners and mountain bikers alike.
30. Spend a weekend at Fall Creek Falls.
Tennessee is blessed with some pretty spectacular state parks. And Fall Creek Falls, with its towering waterfalls, steep gorges, dense rhododendron tunnels, and virgin hardwood forests, is one of the best.
31. Cook dinner over a campfire.
If you're craving a little Southern flare in your camping cuisine, check out these easy campfire recipes.
32. Get caught in a deluge while backpacking.
This doesn't mean you should plan your weekend backpacking trip during hurricane season, but you also shouldn't let a little rain keep you inside. Truthfully, there are few things more downright miserable for a backpacker than getting caught in a cold, pounding rain. But it's also an invigorating life experience worth having.
33. Go to a Chattanooga Trail Runners Meet-Up.
Meeting other local trail runners is a great way to spice up your running routine. Not only is it a great way to help motivate you, but these group runs are also quite a bit of fun.
34. Complete a half or a full IRONMAN.
Chattanooga is officially an IRONMAN city. If you were lucky enough to witness the inaugural event in September 2014, you'll know just how exciting it can be and just how rewarding it is to cross the finish line.
35. Visit Lula Lake.
If you've never been to Lula Lake, know that it's not an overstatement to say that you’ll likely never forget the staggering beauty of its falls and the surrounding cathedral of southern sandstone.
36. Have a date night at the Flying Squirrel.
The upstairs lounge at the Squirrel has a sophisticated charm that's perfectly suited for a romantic evening. And with the dim lighting, mellow music, and wide range of spirits to choose from, it's an easy place to feel comfortable in a one-on-one situation.
37. Eat a Tavern burger after going on a long hike.
It doesn't get much better than gorging on a juicy Tavern burger after having earned the calories on the trail. We recommend the Jalapeño Jack Burger with the addition of crispy onion ring straws, and tots on the side.... just make sure it was a really long hike.
38. Take a nap at Coolidge Park in the spring.
There are few things more relaxing than dosing off on a warm spring day in Coolidge Park—especially if you've just completed a run along the riverwalk or a tour of the town on a city bike.
39. Go on a date at Reflection Riding.
It might sound cheesy, but an innocent day date at Reflection Riding is actually quite enjoyable—strolling the gravel paths, taking in the scenery, and just maybe sneaking a kiss in the bamboo forest when no families with children are around.
40. Visit the forgotten Eagle's Nest quarry on Lookout Mountain.
Hidden by trees and overshadowed by more spectacular Lookout Mountain attractions, this spot was once destined to become a modern wonder of the world that would rival the hanging gardens of Babylon.
41. Trail run at Stringers Ridge before work.
You can't beat the feeling of heading into the office knowing that you've already gotten in your workout for the day. And Stringers is just about as convenient as it gets for snagging some early morning endorphins.
42. Scale the outdoor climbing wall at High Point.
Even if you've never been climbing before, scaling the side of a parking garage in the middle of a city is certainly something to write home about.
43. Find your go-to cup of Joe.
44. Run in a Rock/Creek Trail Race.
Each year, Rock/Creek hosts some of the best trail races in the Southeast. Lengths range anywhere from 10-milers to 50Ks, and all of them are distinctly awesome.
45. Spend a day exploring at Savage Gulf Natural Area.
If you’re looking for a place close to Chattanooga with a truly remote and rugged feel, Savage Gulf is a 15,590-acre natural playground on the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau that features 50 miles of trails, pristine waterfalls, and unforgettable canyon views.
46. Attend one of the events thrown by the Crash Pad Hostel.
Whether it's an epic outdoor film or a groovy dance party, these events are always a blast.
47. Taste every beer on tap at Chattanooga Brewing Company.
The brewers at Chattanooga Brewing Company are always coming up with new ways to improve their craft, and they've got quite a few delicious brews on tap to show for it. Not to mention, their motto of "Beer for Adventure" is really what it's all about.
48. Go on a headlamp trail run.
Rock/Creek frequently hosts headlamp/group run demos where like-minded runners can head out into the night for some adrenaline-inducing, flashlight fun.
49. Have the ultimate adventure day at Raccoon Mountain.
Raccoon Mountain is home to a wealth of outdoor recreation. Think you have what it takes to mountain bike, trail run, and road bike here all within the same day? Because it's possible.
We're always looking for contributors who are passionate about the local outdoor community. If you're interested, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.