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How to Max Your Days in Chattanooga: 24 Hours of Exploration

Taking in the views from Sunset Rock.

In the summer of 2016, The North Face and Rock/Creek challenged you to #MaxYourDays. We polled our staff and friends and came up with a few amazing itineraries to inspire you to get the most out of these long summer days. In this first edition, we go from catching a killer sunrise to paddling one of the city’s beautiful creeks, squeeze in some mountain biking, an amazing burrito, and end the night at one of our favorite camping spots. We’ll be releasing two more itineraries in the coming weeks, so check back soon, and don’t forget to show us how you #MaxYourDays with the form below, and you could win a Homestead Shelter from The North Face and Rock/Creek!

Living in a place like Chattanooga means that you can squeeze a lot of adventure into a limited amount of time—especially in the summertime when it’s daylight anywhere from 12-14 hours a day. And with 50 trails within 30 minutes of the city center, there’s no shortage of outdoor places to easily access and explore. Lookout Mountain—with its steep bluffs and web of historic trails—is within shouting distance of downtown. And farther down the river towards the Tennessee River Gorge, Signal Mountain—with its creeks, cliffs, and swinging bridges—rises above one side of the river, while Raccoon Mountain—with its 30 miles of swooping singletrack—rises above the other.

#MaxYourDays Photo Contest

What does all this mean for adventure-minded folks in the area? It means that given 24 hours in the Scenic City, you can get a lot of exploration done. So, consider the following itinerary a challenge. It won’t be easy. It will require you to wake before the sun rises and go to bed after it sets. It will require you to log about 20 miles in one day (through various means of human-powered transportation). It will mean there won’t be much room for rest…. But if you complete this itinerary in full, you’ll be all but guaranteed an unforgettable summer day for the record books.

6:00 am: 

View from Signal Point.
View from Signal Point.

Alan Cressler

Wake up before the sun, and head to Signal Mountain’s iconic Signal Point to catch the sunrise. Part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park , Signal Point once served as an important signaling post for the Union Army during the siege of Chattanooga. Today, it serves up one helluva view of the Tennessee River Gorge and of downtown Chattanooga. The sun will rise from looker’s left, illuminating the city in a swell of orange and gold. As it rises, the summer humidity will quickly rise too, so be sure to start your hike as soon as you’ve snapped a killer photo or two.

You’ll be heading down the Cumberland Trail towards Edward’s Point. It’s one of the classic day hikes in Chattanooga. The trail is 2.9-miles one way (5.8-miles round trip). So, if you’re hiking at 3-miles-per-hour, which is a pretty decent clip, the hike alone will take about 2 hours. But this doesn’t take into account the time required to stop at some of the worthwhile spots along the way—namely the Julia Falls Overlook, the swinging bridge over Middle Creek, and then of course Edward’s Point itself, which is another rocky bluff that showcases an equally, if not more impressive, panorama than Signal Point. Allow at least 3 hours for this hike.

10:00 am:

Mountain Biking on Raccoon Mountain.
Mountain Biking on Raccoon Mountain.

Jeff Bartlett

Once you’re down the mountain, swing by Whole Foods in the 2 North Shore Complex for some quick and healthy fuel, and then head towards Raccoon Mountain . Here’s where you’ll have some options: Do you want to hike along the East Rim Trail? Maybe you want to trail run a 25K course or even road bike up the whole friggin’ mountain? All are solid options, but really, it’s all about the (mountain) bike at Raccoon Mountain. And there’s no better way to see what this trail system has to offer than by riding the perimeter loop around the TVA pumped storage reservoir up top. We recommend parking at East Overlook and riding counter-clockwise. Skip the Small Intestine loop if you’re short on time, and be ready for some legitimate technical rock features on Megawatt and Laurel Point!

12:30 pm:

Mojo Burrito in historic St. Elmo.
Mojo Burrito in historic St. Elmo.

Perry Smyre

After you’re done, it’s time to refuel with the best burrito in Chattanooga in the nearby historic neighborhood of St. Elmo. Scarf it down on the outdoor patio and be sure to chug a bunch of water, because you’ve still got plenty of exploring to do.

2:00 pm:

Launching in at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.
Launching in at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.

Perry Smyre

Let the food digest with a casual paddle at  Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center . Whether on a SUP or in a kayak, you can paddle out and back on the calm waters of Lookout Creek, which weaves its way through the 317-acre property, with views of the lower slopes of Lookout Mountain. Paddle downstream to reach the mouth of the Tennessee River and big, open water, or paddle upstream where the narrow creek is shaded by dense, old growth hardwoods. Loaded with fascinating history, Reflection Riding is home to restored log cabins, Confederate trenches from the Civil War, and ancient trails walked by Native Americans hundreds of years ago, so you may want to come back when you have more time to tour the grounds.

4:00 pm:

Looking towards Alabama and Georgia from Sunset Rock.
Looking towards Alabama and Georgia from Sunset Rock.

Jake Wheeler

Once you’re done casually exploring Reflection Riding, drive up Lookout Mountain to take in the sweeping view from Sunset Rock . The tiny parking lot at the top fills up quickly, so be sure to read the signs and do not park on the street. The 5-minute walk down to Sunset Rock itself is super easy, and the views of Moccasin Bend and Lookout Valley below really are something special. After taking it all in for a bit, it’s time to drive half an hour along the scenic western brow of Lookout Mountain towards Cloudland Canyon. (Along the way, be sure to stop at the Lookout Mountain hang gliding jump off ramp. Even if there aren’t any pilots leaping off the runway, it still makes for yet another sprawling mountain view.)

7:00 pm:

Taking in the scenery at Cloudland Canyon State Park.
Taking in the scenery at Cloudland Canyon State Park.

Jake Wheeler

Once you find a campsite at Cloudland Canyon State Park , set up your tent or hammock, and prepare to see some waterfalls… two waterfalls—two giant, free-falling waterfalls—to be exact, that are connected via a short, yet strenuous stair-laden trail called the Waterfall Trail . After hitting both of these falls—60-foot Cherokee and 90-foot Hemlock—it’s time to head back up the roughly 600 stairs to your campsite.

9:00 pm:

The classic camp fire.
The classic camp fire.

Jake Wheeler

Finish your night around the campfire reflecting on your day of adventure (and probably nursing more than a few sore muscles). Tell some tales. Gorge on some mac and cheese with summer sausage. And then pass out in your sleeping bag knowing that it was a day well-lived.

Originally written by RootsRated for Rock/Creek.

Featured image provided by Jake Wheeler