Chattanooga excels in nature and outdoor fun

Go ahead and get the Chattanoogo Choo Choo song out of your system.  Now that you’ve gotten past the train imagery this city often evokes, let’s talk about other great reasons to visit Tennessee’s fourth largest city.

Tennessee River runs through Chattanooga

If you love outdoor activities–and that includes anything from leisurely strolling along the river trail to hang gliding off a mountain—nature rocks in Chattanooga.  With a temperate climate year round, many days are perfect for exploring open-air venues. Chattanooga offers a smorgasboard of ways to simply enjoy beautiful scenery or to challenge your muscles to the max.

Get a bird's eye view while floating in the clouds

Soaring on the wings of the wind:

Glide through the clouds, free as a bird, over Lookout Mountain Flight Park.  For beginners, this spectacular ride starts when an ultra light plane tows the glider up to 2,000 feet and then releases it for a gradual descent.  It’s a magical ride, made safer with an instructor at your side.

By towing the glider up, the dream of quiet flight becomes a reality for millions of people who never imagined themselves jumping off a cliff while hanging on to a kite-like structure.  Floating through the sky gives an incredible sensation of freedom, at the mercy of the winds, yet controllable with body movements.

See Rock City—Again: Opened to the public in 1932, Rock City was made famous in the mid-1900s by boldly lettered signs splashed across barns in Southern and Midwestern states beckoning travelers to “Visit Rock City.” But it’s not a cheesy tourist trap that might be envisioned from the ingenious–and now mostly extinct–ad campaign. Instead, it’s a multi-faceted family attraction that reports in excess of 425,000 visitors annually.

Natural elements make Rock City a special garden

Rock City has updated by adding waterfalls, new trails, live music, and holiday programs that appeal to modern travelers.  The serene setting showcases a variety of natural wonders, evident at every turn along the garden path originally laid out by Garnet and Freida Carter on their private estate.  Visitors stroll along Enchanted Trail, enjoying 400 varieties of indigenous plants, shimmy through Fat Man’s Squeeze, marvel at Balanced Rock, and gaze out over seven states at Observation Point.

Splash and dash: The Ocoee River is one of the most rafted rivers in the country.  A quarter million people paddle their way annually through class III and IV rapids, keeping more than 3,000 river guides busy during summer days. Opened for commercial rafting trips in 1975, in a pact with Tennessee Valley Authority the water past the dam is drained from the river every night for use in producing hydroelectric power.  Early every morning, before the first runs at 8:00 a.m., the process is reversed, filling the river in about 1.5 hours.

The run is guaranteed to soak and thrill, yet it’s reasonably safe, even if you become a “swimmer” (fall out of the raft).  Outfitters like Ocoee Rafting and Ocoee Adventure Center provide equipment, and guides give explicit instructions, which they expect you to follow, often in a split second as water crashes overhead and your raft bounces in the currents.  It’s an exciting ride for all ages, but calmer raft trips are available for those who prefer a slower pace.

More outdoor adventures include:

Test your strength on the Walnut Street Bridge rock wall

Walking or biking along the River Trail in the River Park

Kayaking through downtown on the Tennessee River

Climbing the rock wall under the Walnut Street Bridge in Coolidge Park

If inclement weather stymies outdoor adventures, visit the Tennessee Aquarium to experience nature indoors.

Photos by Beverly and Larry Burmeier

Visit Going on Adventures and Austin Adventure Travel for more fun travel stories.