After a very hot and humid summer, signs that fall is approaching may have you thinking of getting outdoors and exploring some of the many trails with which the Chattanooga area is blessed. If you’re not sure where to start, here are ten “must hike” trails of varying lengths and difficulty ratings located within an hour’s drive of downtown Chattanooga. Click on the name of each hike for more in-depth information.
Signal Point Park, Signal Mountain – Rating: Moderate – Length: 5.6 mi. – Drive: 20 min.
Long one of the area’s more popular hikes and the southern terminus of the Cumberland Trail, this hike passes the historic Rainbow Lake on it way to Edwards Point, with its panoramic views of the Tennessee River Gorge. A shorter alternative is a 3.6 mi. round trip hike to Edwards Point from the Rainbow Lake trailhead.
Pot Point Cabin, River Canyon Rd.- Rating: Moderate-Strenuous – Length: 4.4 mi. – Drive: 25 min.
This new trail starts at the Tennessee River Gorge Trust’s Pot Point Cabin and climbs approximately 1,000 feet from the Tennessee River to the plateau top in Prentice Cooper State Forest, where it intersects the Pot Point Loop Trail. Along the way, it passes the 30-foot Blowing Wind Falls.
North Chickamauga Creek Gorge trailhead, Soddy-Daisy – Rating: Strenuous – Length: 4 mi. – Drive: 20 min.
This hike explores the spectacular and rugged North Chickamauga Creek Gorge, part of the Cumberland Trail State Park. After starting alongside fast flowing North Chickamauga Creek, the trail climbs to the base of the bluff near the top of the mountain. Eventually, after descending a set of wooden stairs, you come the Boston Branch Overlook, considered one of the best views of the gorge.
Big Soddy Creek Gulf trailhead, Soddy-Daisy – Rating: Easy – Length: 2.5 mi. – Drive: 30 min.
A 1.25 mi. gravel road provides an easy hike alongside scenic Big Soddy Creek in this relatively new and very popular park. In addition to creek access, this hike connects to other trails, providing opportunities for longer and more rugged hikes.
Dockside Cafe, Harrison Bay Rd. – Rating: Easy-Moderate – Length: 4.5 mi. – Drive: 40 min.
Harrison Bay State Park’s most popular trail, the Bay Point Loop Trail is a multi-use hiking and biking route which keeps fairly close to the shoreline of two large peninsulas in Chickamauga Lake, providing a mostly level and easy hike with lake views.
Cloudland Canyon Park Rd. Rising Fawn, GA – Rating: Moderate – Length: 5 mi. – Drive: 40 min.
A very popular hike, this trail accesses other trails that descend to the parks two major waterfalls and features a number of spectacular overlooks of Cloudland Canyon, as well as a view of Lookout Valley.
Cloudland Canyon State Park North Gate – Rating: Moderate – Length: 4.5 mi. – Drive: 30 min.
The Sitton’s Gulch Trail offers an alternative hike along Daniel Creek from the mouth of the canyon. This hike allows you to reach the 90-foot-high Hemlock Falls with only a moderate climb and without having to climb back out of the canyon. Though if you’re feeling adventurous, you have the option to hike to both falls and climb to the rim.
Snoopers Rock Parking Area, Game Reserve Rd. – Rating: Moderate-Strenuous – Length: 5.4 mi. – Drive: 40 min.
This hike in Prentice Cooper State Forest and Wildlife Management Area combines out-and-back components on both the Mullins Cove and Pot Point Loop Trails to take in impressive views of Mullins Cove from the Ransom Hollow and Mullins Cove Overlooks, as well as arguably the best view of the Tennessee River Gorge from Snoopers Rock.
498 Foster Falls Rd, Sequatchie, TN – Rating: Moderate – Length: 5 mi. – Drive: 45 min.
This hike starts at Foster Falls and follows the popular Fiery Gizzard Trail until it descends into Laurel Gorge 2.5 miles out. A shorter version turns around at one the best overlooks of the Fiery Gizzard at the 1.8 mi. mark, making a 3.6 mi. hike. Either way, you have the option of returning the same route, or taking the Climbers Loop, which is a bit more rugged as it follows the base of the bluff for about 1 mi. and brings you to the foot of Foster Falls.
131 Fiery Gizzard Rd. Tracy City, TN – Rating: Moderate – Length: 3.3 mi. – Drive: 55 min.
Grundy Forest State Natural Area is at the northern end of the Fiery Gizzard. This hike, which follows the Fiery Gizzard Trail for 1.3 miles, then takes the Grundy Forest Day Loop on the return, boasts five waterfalls. While a couple may not be that impressive, Blue Hole Falls, Black Canyon Cascade and Sycamore Falls, along with stretches of hemlock shaded mountain stream, makes the hike worthwhile.
Whatever you’re looking for in a hike, you’re bound to find it in at least one of these.
Addresses used for each location work with Google Maps. All hike lengths are round trip. Drive times are from downtown Chattanooga. To my knowledge, all locations allow dogs on leashes, though one or two may ask that you pick up after your pet.
Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog www.Nickajack-Naturalist.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.