Chattanooga is known as Tennessee’s Scenic City, offering visitors the convenience of a great city that’s an easy drive to some of the state’s scenic beauty and outdoor adventures. Check out these small towns close to Chattanooga, perfect for a day trip.
Travel to the small town of Cleveland, Tennessee located 32 miles from Chattanooga for boutique shopping where you’ll find women’s fashion at Orange Blossom Boutique and Simply Chic Boutique, men’s pieces at Hardwick & Co., and must-have home décor from Southern Traditions. Go down the Ocoee River for a rushing day of adventure or enjoy the view with a glass of wine at Morris Vineyard and Winery, close by. The area is rich in Native American history, preserved at the Hiwassee River Heritage Center, Red Clay State Historic Park – where the Trail of Tears began – and Museum Center at 5ive Points. You can also see the first Red Back hymnal, a mainstay songbook in Southern Gospel music at the Museum Center. It was conceived, compiled and printed in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Dayton, Tennessee is 38 miles from Chattanooga and a fisher’s haven since it’s located close to Chickamauga Lake, famous for huge bass. Fishing tournaments flock to Dayton, not only for the fishing opportunities but the atmosphere. Downtown Dayton has a charming square with shops, restaurants like Screen Door Cafe, brews at Monkey Town Brewing Company, and even has an interesting story to tell. Dayton was the site of the legendary Scopes Trial, the 1925 prosecution of a science teacher, John Scopes for teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school, which was illegal at the time. See the original courtroom with the judge’s bench, four tables, jury chairs and additional artifacts at The Scopes Trial Museum & Rhea County Courthouse. On your way back to Chattanooga, plan some time to explore the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge for breathtaking views, hiking, fishing and rock climbing opportunities.
Monteagle, about 46 miles from Chattanooga, is a small town that’s ideal for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s just minutes from South Cumberland State Park that spans more than 30,000 acres with 90 miles of hiking trails, bouldering opportunities, waterfalls, vistas and more. After all that activity, you’ll want a great meal. Dine in at Jim Oliver’s Smoke House Restaurant for amazing barbecue ribs and brisket, sandwiches, soups and fried pies. You’ll hear live music wafting from Jim Oliver’s every weekend. Learn more about the music history of the region by poking into the Louvin Brothers Country Music Museum, located on the restaurant’s property.
The newly-developed Mountain Goat Trail currently runs between Sewanee and Monteagle. It is paved and accessible for cyclists, runners, walkers and more. Historically, the trail carried coal and passengers between towns of the Cumberland Plateau. It was one of the steepest railroad ascents in the world. When fully finished, the more than 35-mile trail will connect seven towns in two counties. Spend some time visiting the historic buildings that make up Sewanee University of the South. The 10,000-acre campus is known for its gorgeous architecture and grounds. Downtown Sewanee, 50 miles from Chattanooga, is where you’ll find music, wood fire pizza and wine at Octopi and dinner and brunch at eighteen58 along with sips from Shenanigans. Get some gifts for those you love or for yourself at The Lemon Fair for handmade jewelry and Taylor’s Mercantile for an assortment of gifts.
Go to downtown Pikeville, about 58 miles from Chattanooga, to mosey around the town square, stopping in the boutiques and seeing the historic buildings. Stop in to Ember’s Ice Cream Shoppe on Main Street for a sweet treat. Do some exploring at one of Tennessee’s largest state parks, Fall Creek Falls, and Cumberland Mountain State Park, both conveniently close to Pikeville. Visit Oren Wooden’s Apple House where you can get mouthwatering apple dumplings, pies, and, of course, whole apples.
Sure, Manchester is known for Bonnaroo, the iconic music and arts festival that brings big name artists and bands to The Farm each June, but the town, which is about 70 miles from Chattanooga, is full of more that will easily fill a day trip. Start out downtown shopping for antiques, crafts, homeware and local goods. Do some exploring at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park where you’ll find waterfalls, secluded foot trails and beautiful scenery. Get a local taste at Beans Creek Winery that produces dry, full-bodied reds, fruit wines and sweet whites. Discover the murals around the downtown area for that perfect selfie.
Have a day full of wellness in McMinnville, about 74 miles from Chattanooga, with yoga, classes, biking trails, health-focused meals and more. Start off with a yoga session at Twisted Yogis, check out Juicy’s Wellness Cafe, do a guided meditation at ISHA Institute of Inner-Sciences then take some time to sit by the falls at Rock Island State Park. Catch a show at the Park Theater or Cumberland Caverns, where music flows 333 ft. underground in the Volcano Room.
This vintage mountain town is 77 miles from Chattanooga and close by to the Cherohala Skyway, a National Scenic Byway with several overlooks. Also nearby, the Cherokee National Forest is filled with boating, hiking – be sure to hike over to Bald River Falls to see its water cascade nearly 100 feet, fishing and sight-seeing opportunities. Besides outdoor adventures, the town has a laid back atmosphere with several shops that house everything from antiques, books, arts and crafts from regional artists, custom-made furniture, homeware, handmade soaps and more.
Historic Liberty Square in downtown Sparta, about 81 miles from Chattanooga, is full of historic buildings and homes, art galleries, antiques, restaurants and shops. Learn about local military heroes and music at the White County Heritage & Lester Flatt Museum and see the Rock House Shrine, a famous stagecoach stop and early American frontier home. Former presidents James K. Polk and Andrew Jackson frequented this stop during their travels from Nashville to Washington, D.C. Get out in nature to see several waterfalls including Virgin Falls and Burgess Falls. Wrap up your day by taking in the view at Sunset Rock.
Ninety-eight miles from Chattanooga is Cookeville, tucked away in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland region. The town has so much to see and do, you’ll easily go back for another day (or three) of exploring. The town not only is close to caves, lakes, streams, trails and waterfalls, but is also home to “Fittest Man on Earth” Rich Froning’s CrossFit Mayhem facility. Get fit then head downtown. Shop at Poppie’s Boutique for dresses, jumpsuits and denim; The Market on the Square for all your kitchenware and gifting needs; and The Painted House for home styling pieces and gifts. Grab a meal and a drink at Father Tom’s, Red Silo Brewing Company or 37 Cedar Restaurant and Bar. Have a sweet end to the day at Ralph’s Donuts or ice cream at Cream City.
You'll find authentic hospitality, great food, amazing views and countless memories just waiting to be made in Tennessee's small towns.