Chattanooga is a great city all year long, but it’s particularly beautiful in the fall. There are many hiking trails, scenic views, waterfalls, and other amazing natural attractions throughout the greater Chattanooga area. The best hiking in Chattanooga for fall foliage offers the opportunity to view the amazing colors of the season while getting some fresh air and exercise!
Rainbow Lake Wilderness Trailhead
Signal Mountain is a favorite hiking spot for Chattanooga locals and visitors. Located just fifteen minutes from the downtown area, the mountain is home to well-maintained trails, including the popular Rainbow Lake Wilderness Trailhead. The trail is two miles long and is a great place to explore the fall foliage as well as persimmons, hackberry, and red maple trees. You might even see deer and an occasional red fox!
Ready for a more challenging hike? Lula Lake Land Trust, also just outside Chattanooga, promises a steeper hike and an amazing view of fall foliage. Many of the trails include scenic overviews of waterfalls, each of which is surrounded by lush plant life. The upper falls leading into Lula Lake feature dogwood, snowbell, and black oak trees, as well as the beautiful red chokeberry. The park is typically only open on the first and last Saturday of each month and reservations are required.
Overlooking the Tennessee River, Stringer’s Ridge offers 92 acres of wilderness trails just outside of Chattanooga’s downtown area. These trails are ideal for running, mountain biking, walking, and hiking. Fall foliage is especially striking among the oaks, meadows, and poplars along the trail.
While the overlook itself offers spectacular views, the journey up to the overlook includes water crossings, a waterfall, and even some historical elements. The trail starts along Richland Creek and the old Richland Mine, used to provide power and water to Dayton, less than an hour north of Chattanooga, more than 100 years ago. The moderate hiking trail takes you to Laurel Falls but keep going past the falls and you’ll be treated to the best overlook on the trail. Be prepared for a short hike through a shallow creek and for an amazing site once you reach the top.
Offering over 50 miles of hiking trails, Savage Gulf is a 15,590-acre natural area located in Grundy and Sequatchie Counties. Carved like a giant crowfoot into the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau, it is one of Tennessee’s most scenic wilderness areas. Its sheer sandstone cliffs and rugged canyons provide extraordinary views. A significant feature is Stone Door, a 10 ft. wide by 100 ft. deep crack, forming from the top of the escarpment into the gorge below. It looks like a giant door left ajar and was once used by native Americans as a passageway.
Breathtaking waterfalls form at the head of many gorges, where streams drop off over hard sandstone cap rock. Greeter Falls drops over a 15-foot upper ledge and then plummets over a 50-foot lower ledge into a cold, clear plunge pool. Savage Creek enters its gorge over cascades and drops 30-foot at Savage Falls. Collins River and Ranger Creek have waterfalls that drop over limestone ledges and flow into sinks where they disappear. Big Creek, Collins River, and Savage Creeks each tumble down over 5 miles, dropping over 800 feet through narrow gorges, forming the “Gulfs.” Observed from a 750 overlook, Big Creek mysteriously disappears below. Many other big streams go underground cutting through shale and limestone to form dry creek beds.
Prentice Cooper State Forest
Just 10 miles west of Chattanooga, Prentice Cooper State Forest offers 35 miles of hiking trails, including the south end of the Cumberland Trail State Park, for great views of the fall foliage. The forest is located in Marion County, on the scenic Tennessee River Gorge. Prentice Cooper was proclaimed a State Forest in 1945. Sixty-nine percent of the forest is in multiple use regulated forests and the remainder is in conservation areas. Approximately 6,939 acres are designated as unregulated scenic zones that protect this view shed and other scenic areas of the forest.
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