Chattanooga Nature and Outdoors
Chattanooga Nature and Outdoors
Chattanooga is very uniquely situated – the spectacular Tennessee River Gorge is the fourth largest east of the Mississippi, and the only river canyon bordering a larger city. The canyon is an ecological treasure, home to thousands of plant species, and a true bird-watcher’s paradise. Just north of Chattanooga is the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, a favored spot for migrating birds, including sandhill cranes, great blue herons and bald eagles. Directly north and east of Chattanooga lies the iconic Great Smoky Mountain National Park and to its south, the Chattahoochee National Forest. Not surprisingly, Chattanooga and its natural environs form one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the country – it remains for you to get out there and see it!
The Tennessee Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer unique high speed 70-seater catamaran conducts regular cruises into the Gorge. An aquarium naturalist is always along for the ride, to deepen understanding and enjoyment of the Gorge’s living wonders. Blue Moon Cruises runs year-round trips on the Tennessee, with trips scheduled through the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge being a special highlight. For an offbeat, perhaps more adventurous tour, try the Chattanooga Ducks, refurbished WW2 amphibious vehicles that conduct regular tours of the Chattanooga waterfront and MacClellan Island.
We tend to think of the natural world as being that bit which enjoys regular sunlight. But within one hour’s drive of downtown Chattanooga there are more than 7000 caves, ranging from the narrowest of tight squeezes (not recommended for claustrophobics) to soaring underground cathedrals, containing underground trickles to mighty waterfalls. Predominantly formed by chemical weathering of limestone rock over thousands of years, they represent a true little-discovered world. Luckily, one needn’t be an expert spelunker to enjoy them. Raccoon Mountain is one of the top-rated caves in the country, offering 5 ½ miles of discovered trail, and caving opportunities ranging from the benign to the downright adventurous. Ruby Falls is a remarkable cave complex beneath Lookout Mountain, whose highlight many consider to be its 145 foot waterfall. Be careful – caving can be addictive. The Chattanooga Grotto can attest to that!
You may like your nature with a little more photosynthesis – and does Chattanooga have gardens for you! For those who prefer their gardens less formal, the Chattanooga Audobon Society has just the thing. Encompassing hundreds of acres spread over three distinct sanctuaries, visitors are encouraged to walk their miles of trails through varied landscapes of hardwoods and wildflowers. The Chattanooga Nature Center on Lookout Mountain, while not a garden in the strictest sense, is nonetheless a preserve in the best sense, being home to a breeding pair of red wolves, North America’s most endangered animal. In addition to their “animal ambassadors”, the Center has a treehouse built in a 100 year old oak tree, miles of trails, river views, and several native gardens, among them a fragrance garden. For a unique opportunity to experience a harmonious blend of cultivated garden and nature, the Reflection Riding offers its mute splendor. Spread over its 300 acres are an arboretum, botanical garden and historic site dedicated to the study and conservation of native plant life. Visitors may tour its 3 mile loop by car, stopping at waybys as they wish to walk in the grounds and gardens. Located on top of Lookout Mountain, Rock City is a massive assemblage of ancient rock formations, interspersed with gardens containing over 400 species of native plants, and views that are truly “7 state”.
Many activities can take one into the splendor that is nature in and around Chattanooga. For an overview of the many outdoor sporting opportunities, such as mountain biking, whitewater rafting, hiking, camping, and rock climbing, please look at our “Chattanooga Sports” page.