Increasingly, Chattanooga is staking its claim as one of the country’s premier trail running meccas. Thanks to the incredible commitment of non-profit and volunteer-driven organizations like Wild Trails, The Friends of the Cumberland Trail, Lookout Mountain Conservancy, and the Land Trust for Tennessee (just to name a few), Chattanoogans have access to more than 50 trailheads within 30 minutes of downtown.
The trail running community is burgeoning, and hundreds of people gather together on a weekly basis for group trail runs. For races, there are three race organizers, orchestrating no less than 12 trail races around Chattanooga: Wild Trails has 10 race dates and 17 races while Rock/Creek and the Chattanooga Track Club have 2 races apiece. And for entry-level outdoor enthusiasts, trail running connects beginning enthusiasts to Chattanooga’s broad ecosystem of outdoor pursuits, which also just so happen to include world-class climbing and whitewater paddling. For those looking to get started, here are four places to join in the fun.
1. Lookout Mountain
One of the iconic landmarks in Chattanooga is Lookout Mountain, the famous plateau that comes to a point overlooking the city. The mountain was the site of key Civil War battles in the late fall of 1863, and as a part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, much of the mountain’s western flank has been protected and preserved for recreational use. Just minutes from downtown, trail runners can access an extensive network of trails that wind their way up and down the mountain.
For trail runners, perhaps the best place to start on Lookout is from the historic Cravens House, situated halfway up the mountain. It provides beautiful views of Chattanooga and a convenient gateway to Lookout’s trail network.
The Bluff Trail is the mountain’s gem, and with easy access from the Cravens House, as well as several other access points, outdoor enthusiasts flock here for superb hiking and trail running. From 2,000 feet above the valley, runners enjoy panoramic views of the rolling hills and ridges of the southern Appalachian chain.
2. Raccoon Mountain
For a terrific 13-mile loop with views of Chattanooga that rival those from Lookout, runners will enjoy the trails at Raccoon Mountain. Make sure to share the trails with mountain bikers, though. Like Lookout, the trail system here provides for a number of loop options, and the east overlook is just 15 minutes from downtown.
3. Stringers Ridge
Urban nature can’t get any more accessible than Stringers Ridge. No more than 5 minutes from Chattanooga’s downtown business district, and maybe 2 minutes from the bustling North Shore district, Stringers is a great place to trail run. The ascents are punchy, and the descents are fast and fun. If you like roller coaster running, this is the place to go. Watch for mountain bikers and be sure to read the signs to determine which direction they’ll be traveling on the trail.
4. Signal Mountain and the Cumberland Trail
Like Lookout, Signal Mountain, which makes up the southern terminus of the Cumberland Plateau, is a destination in and of itself. Creek gulches, staggering cliff bands, waterfalls, and astounding views of the Tennessee River Gorge, which is known locally as the “Grand Canyon of the Tennessee,” make Chattanooga’s ‘other’ mountain a trail runner’s paradise.
The 6-mile roundtrip out-and-back route from Suck Creek Road to Mushroom Rock, requires quite a bit of climbing, but the rewards of bombing down gorges and crossing swinging bridges make it all worth it. Signal Point to Mushroom Rock is a 12-mile, out-and-back that provides magnificent views of the Tennessee River Gorge along the Cumberland Trail.
Photo credits: Mark McKnight, Rodger Ling & Rock/Creek