Chattanooga has had a special place in my heart since I first visited in 1984. What makes Chattanooga special is that it is centered in the middle of outdoor recreation of all types.
For the adventure seeker, you have hang gliding and paragliding off Lookout Mountain. No experience necessary if you want to go tandem through a variety of great outfitters in town.
There is extreme whitewater kayaking galore for the experienced paddler on Suck Creek, North Chickamauga, Bear Creek and Rock Creek, all just minutes away.
The Ocoee River, one of the most popular rafting runs in North America, is also close by.
Mountain bikers come from all over the country to ride Raccoon Mountain biking trails, which challenges technical riders. Enterprise South Nature Park is known for its more flowing trails and high speed runs. Both are worth coming to Chattanooga for, and are easy to locate for visitors.
World-class rock climbing abounds around town.
There are big crags with dozens of routes, sport climbing and bouldering can be found at the Tennessee Wall, The Stone Fort, Foster Falls and Sunset Rock (considered the grandmother of traditional climbing in the Southeast).
There’s also High Point Climbing, one of the biggest indoor rock climbing gyms in the U.S., located in downtown Chattanooga. Don’t be alarmed if you see climbers scaling the walls outside. At High Point Climbing, technique is practiced indoors and out. There’s a second location at Riverside which has 10,000 sq. ft. of indoor rock climbing.
For leisure outdoor activities, Chattanooga delivers it in spades, starting downtown. Miles of walking/hiking trails, including Riverside Park, one of my favorites.
Grab lunch to go at Riverstreet Deli, a New York-style delicatessen that’s owned by a transplant New Yorker who fell in love with Chattanooga. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but they do a Reuben that is to die for.
With lunch in tow, walk over the Tennessee River via the Walnut Street Bridge, one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. This bridge, built in 1891 connects downtown with the North Shore. You’ll get great views of the Tennessee Aquarium, boaters, kayakers and fishermen while savoring your delicious Riverstreet Deli sandwich.
When I come to Chattanooga with my 8-year-old son, we stop at the Creative Discovery Museum and Tennessee Aquarium, which are easily accessed on foot from the Walnut Street Bridge. The aquarium is a great place to learn about the Tennessee River Watershed as there’s an entire section on it, complete with just about every type of fish and wildlife you can find on the largest tributary to the Ohio River. You leave with an appreciation for the river system that’s found in Chattanooga through this exhibit.
Our most recent trip to Chattanooga included a new activity for my wife Kristine, son and me: visiting “Bat Cave” by kayak on Nickajack Lake. At dusk, hundreds of thousands of endangered gray bats emerge from a half-flooded cave on Nickajack Lake to feed on the flying bugs that come out at night.
We have heard about this awesome daily occurrence, but had never experienced it until this trip. We brought our Jackson Kayak Rivieras and launched at Maple View Boat Ramp (a 20-minute drive from downtown) which is the closest boat ramp to the cave. If you don’t have your own kayak you can get one from Outdoor Chattanooga or rent from Rock Creek Outfitters. It is a short paddle over to the cave and the action begins right after sundown. Bring a fishing pole and catch a few bass or bream before sunset. For the best bat view, position yourself on the left side of the cave, when looking into it. The bats fly out along the trees and then dip down to the water on that side. Before it gets dark, paddle out to the tree line and see where the bats drop down to water level to get into the mix.
After the spectacular natural occurrence, we went to our favorite pizza place, Lupi's Pizza Pies. Lupi's has an artsy vibe, decorated with Papier Mâché trees, LED lighting and exudes a true local feel. I tell everyone they have the best calzone, try it yourself!
Whether you want high-action adventure or a more leisure outdoor afternoon, Chattanooga fits the bill. With great restaurants, relaxed atmosphere and true southern hospitality, this city quickly becomes your home away from home.