With over 50 trailheads within 30 minutes of downtown Chattanooga, it wouldn’t be totally unfair to label the hiking scene here as one of the best in the country. From the slopes of Lookout Mountain to the steep crests of the Tennessee River Gorge, this region is blessed with a diverse and notable network of hiking trails, making hiking at Chickamauga Lake almost mandatory for any trip! Here are a few stops we think you are going to want to check out.
The number of hiking trails found near the Chickamauga Lake is boundless, ranging in difficulty levels, length, and style. Some are simply a walk around the gorgeous landscape and scenery, bringing you back to you where you begin. Others lead you to beautiful waterfalls in natural settings that will simply take your breath away. Here are a few favorites.
The Bluff Trail
Lookout Mountain alone is home to a staggering amount of excellent single and double-track trails. Towering sandstone cliffs, magnificent views, geological curiosities, history, and nature intertwined: this is just a sampling of what Lookout has to offer. Since its construction in the 1930s, the Bluff Trail has been one of the most memorable hikes in the Southeast.
Glen Falls Trail
The historic Craven’s House is a great jumping-off point for exploring. On the opposite side of the mountain, the Glen Falls Trail is an easy, yet beautiful day hike. And on the backside of the mountain is the peerless Lula Lake Land Trust—easily one of the most gorgeous natural destinations in the Chattanooga area.
Like Lookout, Signal is a mecca in and of itself. Making up the southern terminus of the Cumberland Plateau, this “mountain” is home to more than a handful of unforgettable Cumberland Trail sections. Whether it’s dipping into the steep gullies located in the heart of the mountain, or sticking to the western edge above the breathtaking Tennessee River Gorge, there’s much to savor on Signal
Hiking Nearby Destinations
The Greenway Farm is a 180-acre city park along North Chickamauga Creek in Hixson, TN, located off Hamill Road approximately 1 mile east of Highway 153. The 220 total acres managed by the City of Chattanooga as the North Chickamauga Creek Greenway features 6 miles of walking, running, hiking, and biking trails and 3 canoe access points along a 2.5 mile stretch of North Chickamauga Creek. Facilities at the Greenway Farm include the farmhouse with space available for rental, an off-leash dog park, and bathroom facilities. Outdoor Chattanooga and the non-profit North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy maintain offices at the Farm. The Outdoor Chattanooga OutVenture Barn houses the City of Chattanooga’s fleet of canoes, whitewater and sea kayaks, and serves as a hub for their outdoor recreation programming.
Included among the scenic views and attractions along the Greenway Trail is the quarry originally excavated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as a source of limestone for the construction of Chickamauga Dam. The Chickamauga Dam is located on the Tennessee River, just upstream from the mouth of the North Chickamauga Creek. A portion of the Greenway Trail follows the old haul road to the dam. The quarry is now flooded, and the cliff created by the quarry’s high wall is an impressive sight. Fishing and swimming are prohibited in the quarry.
The main Greenway Trail along North Chickamauga Creek is a mixed-use trail of asphalt or crushed rock surface. The branch trails along the way include mowed grass trails and single-track dirt trails. The Boy Scout Trail within TVA’s Big Ridge Small Wild Area is the only trail along the Greenway restricted to foot traffic only. The Small Wild Area is a sensitive preserve of plant and animal habitats and includes a population of the federally threatened wildflower Scutellaria Montana or large-flowered skullcap. The Boy Scout Trail is a steep trek up the side of Big Ridge that makes it a challenging 1.25-mile loop.
Dogs are welcome visitors to the North Chickamauga Creek Greenway. Dogs must be on a leash at all times while in the park, except in the large fenced-in off-leash area across from the bathrooms near the Hamill Road entrance. The dog park includes several agility ramps and water sources for dogs and owners. Please clean up after your pets.
Laurel-Snow Trail is a 6.1 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Dayton, Tennessee that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
Laurel-Snow State Natural Area has everything an outdoor enthusiast could wish for: great hiking, trail running, backpacking, and climbing.
Imagine beautifully contoured trails following cool, deep coves that lead you on a journey past blue holes, historic ruins, roaring waterfalls and breathtaking overlooks. This natural area is named after two scenic waterfalls, Laurel Falls (80 feet) and Snow Falls (35 feet). The first 1.5 miles from the trailhead are generally easy walking along Richland Creek, past the entrances of old mines and a reservoir that once provided water to Dayton. When the trail forks, go right (east) for another 1.5 miles along Laurel Creek to reach Laurel Falls and the five star sport climbing area located there.
Go left at the fork (west) to reach Snow Falls and Buzzard Point. This requires another 1.5 miles of serious switchback hiking, but you will be rewarded either by the cool Cumberland waters of Snow Falls or by a 300-degree panorama of the Cumberland Plateau and valley at Buzzard Point. If you can handle the exposure and extra weight, bring a rack of quick draws and a rope to sport climb at Buzzard point, too.
There is a lot to love here, from quick jaunts along the creek without much climbing to longer hikers up to the waterfalls for the more experienced.
The Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center
The Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center has much to offer close to downtown Chattanooga. It’s the perfect family destination for hiking, trail running, and nature viewing.
is a recreational and educational gem five minutes from downtown Chattanooga. A visit here can include hiking, bird watching, mountain biking, canoeing, animals from turtles to raptors and wolves, and much more. The 317-acre property is anchored by the Nature Center, with exhibits and friendly staff who can help you make the most of your visit.
Just outside is the start of a graceful three-mile gravel loop that can be driven, walked, run, or bicycled through pastoral meadows and avenues through old forest. A wooden boardwalk over the wetlands habitat of Lookout Creek leads to the Discovery Treehouse and Paddler’s Perch, complete with canoe dock (ask about renting, in season, at the Nature Center). Additional paths for hiking or running, fifteen miles of easy to moderate trail in all, adorn the lower slopes of the mountain. You can easily connect to trails on the adjoining National Parklands including the Skyuka Springs trail, the Lower Truck Trail, and the infamously steep Gum Springs Trail up to Sunset Rock.
Kids will love the Native Animal Exhibit, where they’ll encounter red wolves, a bald eagle, bobcats, sandhill cranes, and other fascinating creatures. Perhaps you’ll hear the red wolves howling and can imagine a time when the forests ran unbroken and wild for hundreds of miles in every direction. Rich in history, Reflection Riding is home to restored log cabins, Confederate trenches from the Civil War, and ancient trails walked by buffalo and Native Americans hundreds of years ago.
This is one destination sure to please people of all ages and abilities. It’s a wonderful place to bring the family or just yourself to walk, run, unwind, and learn something new about the natural world.
Of course, we haven’t even scratched the surface of all the great places available to do some hiking at Chickamauga Lake! Come and stay the day or the week. There’s always another trail you haven’t hiked yet! We’ll help you find it!
Sources: Roots Rated, North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, and All Trails