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Paddle boarders on the Tennessee River head toward the Walnut Street Bridge

Tennessee

Chattanooga, Tennessee: An Insider Guide to Urban Outdoor Activities

By: Zaida Rios

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  • States:
    Tennessee

Located at the end of the Appalachian Mountains chain with the Tennessee River running through it, Chattanooga lives up to its reputation as a vibrant, walkable and great “Scenic City of the South.”

Voted “Best Town Ever” twice by readers of Outside Magazine, this exciting river city welcomes you with a terrific mix of outdoor activities and river adventures. If you’re looking for water sports, biking, climbing, whitewater rafting, scenic walks or hikes, and natural wonders, you’ve come to the right place.

Chattanooga RiverWalk

One of the best ways to experience the city is a leisurely stroll along the Chattanooga RiverWalk, a scenic 13-kilometer pathway alongside the Tennessee River. It’s easy to relax by the flowing waters, whether walking, using a Chattanooga Bike Share bike or jogging. Plan to wander at your own pace, reconnect with nature and soak up the natural ambiance of downtown or the mountains only 15 minutes away. There are plenty of parks to explore or boat tours ranging from cycle boats to lunch or dinner cruises.

The Chattanooga Bike Share makes it easy to ride the RiverWalk

The Chattanooga Bike Share makes it easy to ride the RiverWalk
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Paddling from Coolidge Park

Coolidge Park on the NorthShore is an ideal spot to launch a kayak or paddleboard (SUP) and head over to Maclellan Island, a seven-hectare wildlife sanctuary. The island is a habitat for geese and Kingfishers, and the forest is home to turkeys, owls, fox, songbirds and woodpeckers. Visitors can also see nesting osprey, great blue heron spreading their wings and migrating warblers looking for lunch. Beyond the island and along the Southern shore lives the city, where paddlers will discover a different side of the river filled with architectural landmarks. The limestone cliffs below the Hunter Museum of American Art, the 1890s Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge and the Tennessee Aquarium all come into view.

A group of kayakers set off along the river in Chattanooga

A group of kayakers set off along the river in Chattanooga
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Chattanooga Pier on the Tennessee River

You can take a stroll down the Chattanooga Pier, then take a ride on a Chattanooga Cycleboats or splash down in the river in a World War II-era amphibious landing craft, or “duck.” Steps from the pier, stop by Ross’s Landing Park & Plaza to tour The Passage, a memorial to the “Trail of Tears” removal of Cherokee Native American tribes. This outdoor exhibit is part monument, part art exhibit and features a flowing waterfall.

Kids dipping their feet in The Passage, an interactive Trail of Tears memorial

Kids dipping their feet in The Passage, an interactive Trail of Tears memorial
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Calling All Climbers

Just a few blocks from the river, continue your visit to High Point Climbing Center. You’ll be blown away by their whimsical steel and glass structure, which features 9,000 meters of climbing space and welcomes climbers of all skill sets. Climbing Magazine even named it “the country’s coolest gym.” The gym features lead, top rope, auto-belway walls and even two 15-meter speed climbing walls. Climb interior boulders and walls, or head outside and scale the side of the building.

Exterior steel and glass climbing wall at High Point Climbing Center

Exterior steel and glass climbing wall at High Point Climbing Center
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Beyond the City Limits

Just 9.6 kilometers from Chattanooga, thrill seekers can hang-glide off Lookout Mountain or trek historic trails and visit a national Civil War park that towers over the city. Within the mountain, descend 340 meters below the surface to encounter the majestic Ruby Falls. Venture into the cave room and see the stunning 44-meter waterfall.  For more fun on the water, take a short trip to try whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River – it was featured in the 1996 Summer Olympics – or float in an inner tube down the calm Hiwassee River.

Getting There

You can fly into Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and connect to the Chattanooga Airport (CHA) where you can rent a car, or take a shuttle, taxi or Uber to start your scenic city outdoor adventure.