Trails and Ales: Chattanooga

With 50 trailheads within 30 minutes of downtown and an abundance of craft breweries, this Southern city is well worth a visit
October 6, 2019Words by Aaron Gerry

Chattanooga is a city of superlatives that may need to add a new moniker to its mantle: Trails and Ales Capital, USA. Thanks to over 50 trailheads within 30 minutes of downtown and 100+ miles of singletrack, this riverside city pairs an abundance of outdoor access with a brewing craft beer scene; Make that 10 breweries close to the center. 

This up-and-coming city is starting to be recognized as a premier outdoor destination. Rafting your thing? There are more than 77 miles of flatwater creeks to paddle; Standing or sitting, with beer in hand or not. Want to go vertical? Southeast Tennessee has one of the highest concentrations of climbing on the East Coast. No wonder Outside magazine named this Southern gem “Best Town Ever.” Twice. From pils to ales, and from downtown trails to the 175-mile Cumberland, there are hikes to meet your needs and plenty of beers to suit your taste.

Sunset Rock: Chattanooga
Photo: Matt Miller


Sunset Rock via Bluff Trail

How to get there from downtown: 8-minute drive (free parking available next to the building and along the street); 12-minute bus ride (take the #1 to the Bi Lo + Bi Lo Stop); 20-minute bike ride 

Hike: 3.4 miles (out-and-back), easy

Beer: The Tap House

Sunset Rock is the place to be when the daylight is flickering away. Nestled on the side of Lookout Mountain, watch as the Cumberland Plateau gets bathed in bright pastels as if Georgia O’Keefe splashed her paintbrush across the sky. Cheers to another day well spent with the WanderLinger’s Hillwalker American IPA, a light-bodied golden heavy on the hops with notes of pineapple. If you’re feeling ambitious, try the King Of Lookout Mountain run to add distance and elevation to your hike. Start at The Tap House and chug uphill for 1.86 miles to Point Park. You will pick up the Bluff Trail from there.

Conveniently located for a post-hike stop-by, The Tap House is a running club favorite offering up 30 taps of local brews, ciders, kombucha, and gluten-free options. The bar is located in the historic neighborhood of St. Elmo, one of the oldest suburbs of the city, and is run by Chris Calhoun, a Chattanooga native. Mozy in for a laid-back atmosphere and cozy up on the couches to catch the Chattanooga Football Club. We recommend The Porter: aka The Bar-B-Cuban, a spicy pulled pork sammy fit for a king.

Snooper's Rock Trail
Photo: Worth Multimedia


Snoopers Rock Trail

How to get there from downtown: 40-minute drive (park at the Cumberland Trail Parking Lot)

Hike: 5.9 miles (out-and-back), moderate

Beer: Flying Squirrel

The winding Tennessee River slithers its way to a switchback bend giving Snoopers Rock one of the best panoramic views of the gorge. Some say it’s jaw-dropping, and we suggest filling that open cavity with Naked River Brewing Company’s The Gorge IPA, a super juicy dry-hopped ale with a bubblegum aroma. If you want the views without the hike, you can cheat code your way by parking at Snooper’s Rock Parking Area for a whoop-dee-doo half-mile hike to the rocky promontory. 

When you get back into town (parched and famished, we’re sure), head to The Flying Squirrel for endless feasting and imbibing options. Started by rock climbers, Max Poppel and Dan Rose, the daring duo have injected an adventurous spirit into their design of the place. Frankly, the bar looks like a house out of “The Real World”, with funky exposed metal trusses, three-story-high glass walls, and extensively patterned wooden paneling. Pretend you’re a celebrity of the moment by putting your name on the list for their uber-popular weekend brunch when they cook up an electric mix of Southern fare.

The Upchuck
Photo: Shannon Rae Dye


The Upchuck

How to get there from downtown: 5-minute bike ride; 11-minute walk

Hike: 31 miles (out-and-back), extremely difficult (but still fun)

Beer: OddStory Brewing Company

Chattanooga is a trail running destination, and this one is for the masochistic of you. The Upchuck is 50 kilometers of technically challenging single track along the Cumberland Trail. The race organizers put it simply: “This is a serious endeavor and will quite possibly be your slowest 50k to date.” Well, there you have it. If you enjoy vertical gains, big descents and runs in the backwoods, with a high likelihood of regurgitating your breakfast, you have met your perfect pairing. Speaking of which, we recommend matching this with the Hutton & Smith’s Paleo Pilsner, a lighter affair with floral bitterness sure to clean your palette of that meal that tasted better going down than coming up.

When you’re done, limp your way to OddStory Brewing Company just minutes from the route's finish. Post up until the swelling goes down and sample their fabled brews like the Cloud Walker Pale Ale or the Golden Blackbird Belgian Blonde. The brewery, founded by father-son duo, Jay and Bryan Boyd, was inspired by the layered past of Chattanooga. According to lore, the Tennessee River flooded the area in the 1880s, which led a city-wide ordinance to raise all the buildings, burying the former street-level underground in the process. Turns out the tale is unsubstantiated, but hey, it makes for a fun (if odd) story.

Tennessee Riverwalk
Photo: Gabe McCampbell

The Tennessee Riverwalk: Citico Bar to Veterans Bridge

How to get there from downtown: 6-minute drive; 16-minute bus ride (via the #4, 16, or 21); 16-minute bike ride

Hike: 2.7 miles (out-and-back), easy

Beer: Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar

Soak in the ambiance of the city on this leisurely stroll along the waterfront. The paved path stretches for 13 miles from the Tennessee Aquarium to the Chickamauga Dam, with plenty of sights along the way. Top choices for diversions include the Hunter Museum of American Art, reflecting at Ross’s Landing Park, and skipping and high-fiving across the Walnut Street Bridge, one of the world's longest pedestrian bridges. You can rent bicycles using the city’s bike-share program if you’d rather pedal than shuffle. Note that Chattanooga’s open container law makes it illegal to drink in public places, so you’ll have to make your way to our recommendation for riverside drinks.

The Boathouse serves up some of the best seafood in town along with sweeping views of the big blue. Located alongside the Riverwalk, the restaurant is the turn-around point for the perambulation outlined above. Hang out on the patio and rehydrate with a Heaven & Ale’s See Hop City APA, which is full of ripe tangerine and subtle pine. Pro-tip: Come on Monday’s for half-price raw oysters.

Fall Creek Falls
Photo: CJ Lawson


Fall Creek Falls and Cane Creek Falls

How to get there from downtown: 70-minute drive

Hike: 2.4 miles (loop), moderate 

Beer: Monkey Town Brewing Company

Take a long walk off a short pier. Wait—that’s not right. Take a short hike to a long fall—the tallest waterfall east of The Mississippi, that is. Boom. At 256-feet high, Fall Creek Falls is a spectacular sight to behold. But that’s not all there is to see. With over 50 miles of hiking trails across 29,000 acres of the rugged Cumberland Plateau, you can make a big day of exploring the park. For your journey, pack yourself a Chattanooga Brewing Company Chattahooligan Kölsch, a German-style light brew, perfect for wandering through the thick hardwood forests, cascades, gorges, caves, and other natural beauty.

On your way back to Chattanooga, let Monkey Town Brewing Company present its case for a pitstop. Here you’ll enjoy good beer and a walk through a controversial history. Do the words, “Monkey, Dayton, Scopes” ring a bell? The brewery’s name is an homage to the Scopes Monkey Trial, which put John Thomas Scopes, a high school science teacher, on trial for teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law. The brewpub sits near the courthouse and the brouhaha that began on July 10, 1925. But there’s no monkey business here, just good beer. Try the Evolution IPA, hazy and double dry-hopped with Citra and Wai-iti.

Banner Photo: Experience Chattanooga

>>Next: Trails and Ales: Columbus


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