Cooler temps mean an abundance of pumpkin-flavored treats, campfires, comfy sweaters and...trail running. As trees turn to golden hues, trail runners across the region flock to Chattanooga's impressive pathways.
Autumn changes things in the South. Because the sun comes up later in the morning, early-risers shiver in the crisp morning air and stumble in the dark to gather headlamps and reflective gear. They dress themselves in leggings and long-sleeve shirts, before beginning their stampede through crunchy fallen leaves, following switchbacks through the mountaintops. Shortly into the run, the sun starts to rise, and a swirl of vibrant pinks and purples spreads across the sky. The temperature rises slightly and gradually, and by the time the run is over, an orange-tinted warmth floods in.
To no surprise, Chattanooga is an absolute mecca for outdoor enthusiasts at this time of year. Whether you're a walker, hiker, novice runner, or trail expert, here are some of our favorite trails—all worthy of putting on your autumn-bucket list:
This pristine 10-mile loop meanders through Prentice Cooper, offering immaculate views of the Tennessee River Gorge. With rolling hills, limestone bluffs, unparalleled panoramas from Snooper's Rock, and flowing streams, the single-track trail is diverse in tread, as well as scenery. Though the trail traverses a number of technical segments, the majority of the trail is soft and smooth; and any steep climbs are met with corresponding downhills. All in all, if you're wanting to witness the forest gorge bursting with color, this is an autumn must!
Lookout Mountain offers some of the area's most impressive trails, with Craven's House serving as a gateway to a number of the best routes—including the 10-mile Big Daddy Loop on the Bluff Trail, the 5-mile Guild Hardy Trail that follows an old railroad bed, and the 4.5-mile Point Park Loop that goes passed Sunset Rock. Starting at this quaint Civil War home and its surrounding monuments, you're immediately sent back in time; and the untouched woodland escape only heightens feelings of historical reflection. All of the trails along Lookout are moderately difficult, with technical rocky sections, sheer drop-offs, and undulating hills. With a myriad of little connector trails and well-marked signs, it's easy to wander around for an all-encompassing Lookout Mountain experience!
While parking on the side of Suck Creek Road may seem sketchy, you're actually only seconds away from one of the best trails in Chattanooga! Once you've hopped the guardrail, you'll cross a short wooden bridge and immediately begin a brutally steep climb. Though this trail is a total lung-buster, packed with grueling climbs, it's breathtakingly beautiful! Uniquely peculiar rocks string the pathway, with the main attraction being Mushroom Rock—a super neat geological formation composed of massive, stacked boulders that literally look like a mushroom. Once you've taken time to admire the fungus-like tower, you turn around for a whizzing descent. Overall, this 6-mile trip leads you deep into the woods, through narrow ridges and along swerving lines of the gorgeous Cumberland Trail!
One of the greatest spots for a sunset run, Raccoon flaunts awesome overlooks into the Tennessee River Gorge. But don't be fooled, there are technical sections, bumbling with rocks and roots. The traditional Raccoon Mountain loop is about 13 miles in length, comprised of rolling terrain, a few short ascents, and plenty of beautiful vistas. That said, there are countless options—all of which are well-marked at the trailheads. The 8.5-mile Livewire Voltage dives into the valley and then back, making for an extremely challenging, (type two) fun workout! And if you're looking for something a bit more tame, trails near the East Overlook are some of the mountain's less technical options, befitting for inexperienced trail runners.
This 4.9-mile loop offers astounding views from the rim of Cloudland Canyon, with wide vistas of dense forests and gushing waterfalls. Starting from the east rim, the trail plunges into the canyon, and then climbs towards the canyon's western walls. Boasting adrenaline-pumping drop-offs, creek crossings, twisting boulder-strewn tread, cave passings, beautifully scented flora and strenuous elevation gains, this trail is challenging, yet thrilling!