Outdoor Tourism in Chattanooga Surges – Here’s What to Do

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According to Tourism Economics, Chattanooga and Hamilton County, Tennessee, saw over $1.5B in visitor spending in 2021, which ranked fifth out of the state's 95 counties. This uptick in tourism revenue marked a 40% year-over-year increase, making Hamilton one of only 10 Tennessee counties to see that level of growth.

Whether your summer vacation plans are completely outdoor-focused or balance urban adventures with meaningful nature breaks, outdoor tourism has become increasingly popular everywhere, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, is no exception.

Outdoor Tourism in Chattanooga Surges – Here's What to Do

Paddleboarding at Nickjack Lake.
Image credit: Visit Chatt.

Outdoor Tourism in Chattanooga Commissioner Mark Ezell, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. , says the growth is primarily due to the many outdoor recreation opportunities in Chattanooga and Hamilton County. “Visitors from around the world come to Tennessee for our unmatched scenic beauty and adventure and can experience these elements in Chattanooga without ever leaving the city.”

2020 saw a shift in tourism, causing tourists to prioritize outdoor experiences when traveling. “We saw the important role outdoor adventures played during the pandemic,” explains Ezell. “Chattanooga remains at the top of everyone's travel wish list as visitors escape to be wowed by the city's great outdoors, as well as their incredible culture and world-class attractions.”

A Peaceful Sunset Paddle to a Bat Cave

From late March through early October, visitors can paddle across Nickjack Lake to the mouth of Nickjack Cave to watch thousands of endangered gray bats emerge at dusk for their nightly feeding. Local tour companies such as Outshine Adventures and Chattanooga Guided Adventures offer several options for organized stand-up paddle boarding and kayak tours that offer a front-row seat to one of mother nature's most spectacular and mystical occurrences.

If you want to see the bats from the land, you can do so from the Maple View Recreation Area viewing platform.

Explore Rock City Gardens

Lookout Mountain is six miles from downtown Chattanooga. Rock City Gardens is a 4,100-foot walking trail atop the mountain that treats guests to views of unique rock formations, lush gardens, and a 140-foot waterfall cascading down the mountain.

Guests will navigate paved pathways, bridges, and steps to reach the top of Lookout Mountain, where they are treated to views of seven states on a clear day. A flag court at the top pays tribute to all seven states: Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama.

Sink Into Civil War History at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

History buffs and park enthusiasts will enjoy exploring this nine-acre park at Lookout Mountain. The battle between the Union and Confederate Armies to control Chattanooga in 1863 was pivotal in the Civil War. The ominous quote of one Confederate soldier, “This is the death knell of the Confederacy,” proved true. However, the war continued for nearly two years after the Union Army successfully took Chattanooga.

Chickamauga & Chattanooga Military Park tells the story of the Battle of Chattanooga through monuments, exhibits in the park's visitor center, and ranger-led activities. There are two creeks within the park's boundaries for paddlers and over 50 miles of hiking and running trails that connect the park to Lookout Mountain Battlefield and Chickamauga Battlefield. Visitors can rock climb in two areas of the park, Sunset Rock on the western bluff of Lookout Mountain and Eagles Nest on the northern lower slope of Lookout Mountain.

Walk, Bike, or Segway Along The Tennessee Riverwalk

The Tennessee River Park extends from the Tennessee Valley Authority's Chickamauga Dam to the foot of Lookout Mountain. Walk or bike along the wide paved paths and explore parks, green spaces, and public art while enjoying river views.

If you want to explore on two wheels, grab a bike at Bike Chattanooga, the city's bike-share system. Bike Chattanooga has 42 bike stations around the city and over 400 bikes. If you want to try a different way to explore on two wheels, book a tour with Chattanooga Segway Tours to discover the Tennessee Riverwalk and parts of downtown Chattanooga.

Book a Tandem Hang Gliding Session

If high-adrenaline activities top your travel bucket list, Lookout Mountain Flight Park offers hang gliding and paragliding programs for beginners. In a nutshell, the difference between hang gliding and paragliding is the kite's shape. Beginner tandem sessions use the hang gliding kite.

Tandem gliding allows adventurous visitors to Chattanooga to soar at a high altitude with a certified instructor. Weather conditions can interfere with scheduled flights, so plan your session early in your visit so you'll have time to reschedule if weather forces a cancelation.

Stroll or Bike Through The Southeast’s Largest Sculpture Park

Sculpture Fields at Montague Park is the largest sculpture park in the southeast. This 33-acre outdoor museum features work from artists worldwide and is considered one of Tennessee's leading cultural tourism attractions.

Montague Park is currently home to 45 large-scale sculptures. Visitors can take a self-guided tour via the Oto Cast app. Stand at the sculpture's base and listen to an audio message from the sculptor for deeper insight into the art and its
meaning. The 1.5-mile trail is suitable for walking, running, and biking.

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