One of the major attractions of living in the Chattanooga area is the abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities, which includes many miles of hiking trails close to town. As a new year gets underway, you may be thinking you’d like to get started or do more in the way of hiking some of those trails. Or you may already be an avid hiker who’s recently moved to Chattanooga from somewhere else and would like to explore the local trails.
What may be holding you back is the lack of someone to hike with. Your friends and family members may not be interested in doing serious hikes, and you may be reluctant to go hiking on your own. Well, there’s a solution to that problem. There are a number of organizations in the Chattanooga area that regularly host free guided hikes. The following list of seven such organizations is a good place to start.
Chattanooga Hiking Club
This is where I got my start. I’ve been a club member since the meeting where it was formed back in 1989. Prior to that, I’d only been on three 10-mile hikes in my life because of a lack of acquaintances who were willing to hike over 4 or 5 miles. The club has hikes scheduled most weekends, as well as regular Wednesday hikes. Hikes vary from an easy 3.5 miles to more strenuous hikes of 15 miles or more.
Chattanooga Hiking Meetup
Presented as a social network of hikers and eco-volunteers, the group’s website states: “Chattanooga Hiking Meetup is an outdoor adventure and eco-volunteer club that plans hiking, backpacking, camping, paddling and biking events throughout the year, ranging from easy to strenuous, local to regional. The aim of the group is to explore the natural beauty of the region and to develop a social network for people of like interests.”
Tennessee Trails Association
Probably the most prolific of all the local hiking organizations, the Tennessee Trails Association, founded in 1968, generally has multiple hikes scheduled in the surrounding region each week. The statewide organization has 16 local chapters, the one nearest Chattanooga being the Soddy-Daisy chapter. They also provide a variety of hike experiences, from short, easy hikes to longer, strenuous hikes.
Likely the best-known of the organizations, the Sierra Club has state chapters and local groups, and leads outings nationwide, including in the local region. The Cherokee Group is based in Chattanooga, but other groups, in both the Tennessee chapter and Alabama chapter, also lead hikes in the area. The Sierra Club’s main website provides links to other state chapters, including Georgia and North Carolina.
Cherokee Hiking Club
Based in Southeast Tennessee, the Cherokee Hiking Club hosts hikes and backpacking trips in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southeast Tennessee, North Georgia and Southwest North Carolina.
South Cumberland State Park
South Cumberland State Park, spread over 10 separate units with many miles of trail, conducts one or more ranger-led hikes most weekends. These tend to be easy hikes of 5 miles or less, with many being 1.5-2 miles. They usually showcase a point of interest, like a waterfall or overlook, and sometimes have a theme, such as history, geology, wildlife or plants. This would be an excellent way for a beginner to get a feel for hiking.
Benton MacKaye Trail Association
The Benton MacKaye Trail Association was formed in 1979 to build and maintain the Benton MacKaye Trail, which runs nearly 300 miles through the southern Appalachians from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the northern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The organization schedules hikes, usually of the moderate to strenuous type, several times a month, and also conducts trail work outings.
Visit each organization’s website to learn more. There are other opportunities for group hiking, but one or more of the above should get you well on your way to being a seasoned hiker. You generally aren’t required to be a member of these organizations in order to participate in outings, but if you plan to go on a regular basis, paying a modest membership fee will help support the organization and get you on the email list. If you belong to the Sierra Club, you’re automatically considered a member of your state chapter and local group.
Besides being able to learn all you need to know about hiking from experienced experts, participating in group hikes such as these is a great way to meet interesting and like-minded people. So, as you can see, you have no excuse for not making 2017 the year you get out and discover the wonders of hiking in the Chattanooga area and beyond.
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 article belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.