As the fourth largest city in Tennessee, Chattanooga boasts plenty of exciting things to see and do, but it's also a great place to base yourself if you're interested in doing some day trips around the area. Whether you'd like to pan for gold in the Cherokee National Forest, take a ride on one of the world's steepest passenger railways, or venture into the heart of Lookout Mountain to see a spectacular underground waterfall, you'll find exactly what you're looking for within driving distance of Chattanooga. Choose one of these incredible destinations, and plan a day trip you'll never forget.
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Nestled in the mountains of Northwest Georgia, Chatsworth is often referred to as the "Gateway to the Appalachians". Most visitors are drawn here by the abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation; the city provides easy access to the pristine Cohutta Wilderness Area, and the nearby Fort Mountain State Park boasts a 17-acre lake and plenty of hiking trails, one of which leads to an ancient, mysterious stone wall. You might be exhausted after a day of enjoying the great outdoors, but before heading home, try to stop by one of the wineries in the area to sample their delicious fruit wines and meads.
2.Cherokee, North Carolina
Named for its location on the reservation land of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, the town of Cherokee, North Carolina offers an excellent selection of historical and cultural sites for visitors of all ages. You can get a glimpse of the 18th-century Cherokee lifestyle through the living history exhibitions at the Oconaluftee Indian Village, watch an authentic Cherokee story unfold at the Unto These Hills Outdoor Drama, and learn about the community's history at the Museum of the Cherokee. The town is also located near the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and there are two beautiful waterfalls within driving distance.
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One of the largest Civil War parks in the country, the Chickamauga Battlefield was the site of an important battle between the Confederate and Federal forces in 1863. The first stop on your itinerary should be the Visitor's Center, where you can learn about the battle, see an impressive gun collection, and watch a short orientation film about the park. If you're lucky, you can join a ranger-led tour of the park, but it's also entirely possible to drive through the park on your own. The driving tour takes about two hours either way, and all key stops are equipped with information panels.
3370 Lafayette Rd, Fort Oglethorpe, GA 30742, Phone: 706-866-1159
4.Cloudland Canyon State Park
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Encompassing more than 3,500 acres on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, Cloudland Canyon State Park is a spectacularly scenic park filled with cascading waterfalls, sandstone caves and cliffs, and canyons cut deep into the mountain. The park offers more than 25 miles of enchanting hiking trails, including a popular 5-mile loop that meanders along the forested rim before descending into the canyon, and there are also approximately 20 miles of mountain biking trails. Other attractions in the park include an 18-hole disc golf course, a fishing pond, and caves that can be explored by guide tour.
122 Cloudland Canyon Park Rd, Rising Fawn, GA 30738, Phone: 706-657-4050
Found inside the Cherokee National Forest, Coker Creek is best known as the site of the first gold rush in America. Gold panning is still permitted in certain areas along the creek, and although most of the gold in the area consists of small flakes that need to be picked up with tweezers, it's still an interesting way to spend the afternoon. If you're more interested in simply enjoying the area's natural beauty, you can hike along the peaceful Coker Creek Falls trail, which winds its way through the forest and past countless beautiful swimming holes.
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Known as the "Apple Capital" of Georgia, the charming town of Ellijay is surrounded by heritage apple orchards and picturesque vineyards. The town is especially popular with visitors during the autumn, when local orchards offer apple picking and hayrides, but there are plenty of things to do no matter what the time of year. Visit one of the family-owned wineries for a tasting, tee off at one of the area's challenging golf courses, or simply wander through the downtown streets and browse the town's many antique stores. If you're visiting in April, you might be lucky enough to catch the town's apple blossom festival.
7.Fort Mountain State Park
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Established in 1938, Fort Mountain State Park is home to a 2,850-foot peak that gives the park its name. Approximately 60 miles of multi-use trails meander through the park, leading past blueberry bushes, across cascading creeks, and around a beautiful lake. There's a small swimming beach that's popular with visitors in the summer months, and there are plenty of beautiful picnic spots and day-use areas. Hikers who have the energy to make it to the top of the mountain will also have the opportunity to see an ancient stone wall, which stretches for 855 feet along the peak.
181 Fort Mountain State Park Rd, Chatsworth, GA 30705, Phone: 706-422-1932
Only an hour away from Chattanooga, Foster Falls is an impressive 60-foot waterfall that plunges over a cliff and into a deep pool below. A short hiking trail leads from the parking lot to a lookout point at the top of the falls, and from here, visitors have the option to continue on to the base of the falls. The pool here is a popular swimming spot during the hot summer months, but caution is advised due to the strong current. If you're an avid hiker, you can also consider hiking the 13-mile Fiery Gizzard Trail, which leads right past the falls.
498 Foster Rd. Sequatchie, TN 37374, Phone: 931-924-2980
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country, and Gatlinburg is the perfect place to kick off a day of hiking and wildlife watching in this incredible mountain paradise. If you'd prefer to stay in town, it's easy to spend an entire day here as well; sample the treats at one of the famous downtown fudge shops, browse the boutiques in The Village, and stop by one of the moonshine distilleries to enjoy a drink. During the summer, the town offers a complimentary open-air shuttle service to bring visitors up and down the downtown Parkway.
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Stretching from the Appalachia Dam to the Tennessee River at Blythe’s Ferry, Hiwassee River is a 55-mile waterway that flows through the Cherokee National Forest and past historic towns like Charleston and Reliance. The upper section of the river features gentle whitewater rapids and is popular with tubers and rafters, while the middle and lower sections are much calmer and offer excellent fishing, boating, and stand-up paddleboarding opportunities. Visitors can bring their own equipment to float down the river, but plenty of companies renting tubes and inflatable kayaks can be found in the area during the summer.
11.Lookout Mountain Incline
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The Lookout Mountain Incline holds the honor of being one of the world's steepest passenger railways, and it has been bringing visitors up and down Lookout Mountain since it was built in 1895. The ride to the top of the mountain is approximately one mile in length, and once there, visitors will have the opportunity to admire the incredible views from the observation deck before returning to the bottom. If you have time to spare, you can also visit the Civil War sites a few blocks away from the top station and the eclectic shopping center at the bottom station.
3917 St Elmo Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37409, Phone: 423-821-4224
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Situated almost exactly halfway between Chattanooga and Nashville, McMinnville, Tennessee is an exciting but little-known day trip destination. The city is the county seat of Warren County, best known for being home to hundreds of plant nurseries filled with beautiful shrubs and trees, but there's more to do here than shop for landscaping supplies. Children and adults alike will love visiting the Cumberland Caverns, a 32-mile cave system that can be explored by guided tour. Both walking tours and spelunking tours are available. Other attractions include a historic house built in 1825, a beautiful Victorian mansion, and the nearby Rock Island State Park.
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Perched on top of Lookout Mountain, Mentone is a sleepy town that boasts the highest elevation in Alabama. Many of the town's buildings have looked the same since they were built in the 19th century, and while you won't find any big-name stores or restaurants here, you can find everything you need at the quaint Menton Market. Pick up supplies for a picnic lunch and head out to the breathtaking Desoto Falls for the afternoon, then make your way back into town to tour the historic St. Joseph's on the Mountain Church and the landmark Mentone Springs Hotel.
Nashville is a must-see city for most visitors to Tennessee, and fortunately, it's entirely possible to make a day trip here from Chattanooga. The city offers a seemingly endless array of things to see and do, but if your time is limited, be sure to stop by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, listen to a bit of live music at one of Lower Broadway's honky tonks, and stroll through the charming streets of Hillsboro Village or East Nashville. If you're visiting on a Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday, try to get tickets to one of the famous shows at the Grand Ole Opry.
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Created by Nickajack Dam on the Tennessee River, Nickajack Lake is a 46-mile-long reservoir that passes right through Chattanooga. Boats and fishermen are welcome on the water, and boat launches are conveniently located on both sides of the lake. There is also a concrete fishing pier for visitors who would rather fish from the comfort of the shore. Another notable feature of the area is the nearby Nickajack Cave, which is home to an endangered species of bat that can be seen emerging from the cave in impressive droves at dusk between the end of April and the beginning of October.
16.Ocoee Whitewater Center
Constructed to host the canoe slalom event during the 1996 Summer Olympics, the Ocoee Whitewater Center is a stretch of the Upper Ocoee River that was carefully modified to have the drops and rapids needed for a slalom event. The river is now dry for most of the year, but the area still offers plenty of excellent hiking and biking trails, wheelchair-accessible picnic areas, and walkways through native gardens. When the river has water, typically between June and September, visitors can also canoe or kayak down the course or take a commercial whitewater rafting tour.
4400 US-64, Copperhill, TN 37317, Phone: 423-496-0100
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17.Prentice Cooper State Forest
Conveniently located only 10 miles outside of Chattanooga, the Prentice Cooper State Forest is a beautiful destination for outdoor recreation. The park encompasses the picturesque Tennessee River Gorge, and it offers approximately 35 miles of beautiful hiking trails. Other popular activities include rock climbing, mountain biking, bird watching, and camping in the park's two primitive campgrounds. The forest has also long been known as a hunting destination, particularly for deer and turkey. Visitors who have the correct permits can also visit the shooting range, which is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays when there are no managed hunts.
3998 Game Reserve Rd, Chattanooga, TN 37405, Phone: 423-658-5551
18.Red Clay State Park
Consisting of just over 260 acres of land that served as the seat of the Cherokee national government until 1838, Red Clay State Park is an uncrowded park rich in both history and natural beauty. The park's interpretive facility contains a number of informative exhibits about the culture and history of the Native Americans that formerly inhabited the area, and there is a 500-person amphitheater that regularly hosts theatrical performances. There are also two relatively easy hiking trails for visitors to enjoy, one that leads past the stunning Blue Hole Spring and another that loops over a hill and through the forest.
1140 Red Clay Park Rd SW, Cleveland, TN 37311, Phone: 423-478-0339
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Hidden away inside Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls is an extraordinary underground waterfall that wasn't discovered until 1928. At an impressive 145 feet high, the cascade is the country's tallest underground waterfall open to the public, and it also happens to be the deepest. Visitors have several tour options to choose from; the classic tour lasts approximately an hour and fifteen minutes, but there is also an extended tour for people who want more time at the waterfall. If you're feeling daring, you can also take an evening tour with nothing but hand-held lanterns to light the way.
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20.Russell Cave National Monument
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The Russell Cave National Monument is much more than a simple cave; it's a noteworthy archaeological site that contains a more complete record of prehistoric cultures than almost any other site in the Southeast. There's evidence that the cave provided shelter for prehistoric people as long ago as 10,000 B.C., and visitors can learn about the history of the people who lived here by taking a guided tour along the boardwalk to the mouth of the cave. Rangers offer prehistoric tool demonstrations by request, and there are also several picnic tables and a short hiking trail for visitors to enjoy.
3729 County Road 98, Bridgeport, AL 35740, Phone: 256-495-2672
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21.Savage Gulf State Natural Area
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Known for its dramatic sandstone cliffs, plunging waterfalls, and rugged canyons, the Savage Gulf State Natural Area is one of the state's most scenic pieces of wilderness. There are approximately 50 miles of hiking trails for visitors to explore, and although most of the area's biggest attractions require at least half a mile of walking, there are trails suitable for almost every ability level. All visitors should make time for the short, paved trail that leads to a massive 10-by-100-foot crack known as Stone Door, but if you're looking for something more challenging, try the four-mile walk out to the 50-foot Greeter Falls.
3177 TN-399, Palmer, TN, Phone: 931-779-3532
Home to The University of the South, Sewanee is a charming college town with only a few thousand residents. The community is well-known for their interest in the arts, and there are plenty of shops selling artisan products like handmade jewelry and blown glass. Live music is often held in the park on Friday nights, and the street is closed to traffic to create an inviting, festival-like atmosphere. No matter when you visit, be sure to take an hour or two to simply stroll through the manicured grounds and pay a visit to the beautiful All Saints' Chapel.
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As you might guess from the name, Sweetwater is a quaint, nostalgic town overflowing with antique shops and sweet Southern charm. The historic shopping district is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll, and there are plenty more shopping opportunities in the Sweetwater Flea Market, which hosts approximately 800 vendors. It's worth making time to explore the surrounding area as well; stop by the state's largest muscadine vineyard for a tour, take a drive along the scenic Cherohala Skyway, and pay a visit to the Lost Sea, where you'll find a massive underground lake and a historic 18th century village.
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If you're looking for a day trip that doesn't require much driving, the Tennessee Aquarium is the perfect choice. Located right in downtown Chattanooga, the aquarium is home to more than 12,000 animals displayed in two separate facilities: a freshwater aquarium known as the River Journey and the Ocean Journey building, which houses everything from sharks to penguins to jellyfish. In addition to marveling at the incredible aquariums, visitors can watch otters scamper around Cove Forest, get up close and personal with stingrays and sharks at Stingray Bay, and watch lemurs being fed in the rainforest-like Lemur Forest.
1 Broad St, Chattanooga, TN 37402, Phone: 423-265-0695
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24 Best Weekend and Day Trips from Chattanooga, TN
- Chatsworth, Georgia, Photo: Laura Ballard/stock.adobe.com
- Cherokee, North Carolina, Photo: bettys4240/stock.adobe.com
- Chickamauga Battlefield, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Cloudland Canyon State Park, Photo: Robert Hainer/stock.adobe.com
- Coker Creek, Photo: karrastock/stock.adobe.com
- Ellijay, GA, Photo: Ravil Sayfullin/stock.adobe.com
- Fort Mountain State Park, Photo: Laura Ballard/stock.adobe.com
- Foster Falls, Photo: Samuel/stock.adobe.com
- Gatlinburg, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Hiwassee River, Photo: PPstock/stock.adobe.com
- Lookout Mountain Incline, Photo: Ritu Jethani/stock.adobe.com
- McMinnville, Tennessee, Photo: Gregory Lee/stock.adobe.com
- Mentone, AL, Photo: James Deitsch/stock.adobe.com
- Nashville, Photo: Jbyard/stock.adobe.com
- Nickajack Lake, Photo: Stan Reese/stock.adobe.com
- Ocoee Whitewater Center, Photo: PPstock/stock.adobe.com
- Prentice Cooper State Forest, Photo: mapo/stock.adobe.com
- Red Clay State Park, Photo: danmir12/stock.adobe.com
- Ruby Falls, Photo: miami2you/stock.adobe.com
- Russell Cave National Monument, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Savage Gulf State Natural Area, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- Sewanee, Photo: Samuel/stock.adobe.com
- Sweetwater, Photo: Daniil/stock.adobe.com
- Tennessee Aquarium, Photo: Refocus Photography/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com