Day Trips from Chattanooga: Small Towns Edition

Ready to hit the road? If you’re pining to get out of town – even just for the day – we have you covered. Chattanooga is conveniently situated near some of the Southeast’s best low-key day trip destinations that won’t break the bank. With scenic vistas, friendly folks, and plenty of small-town charm, the following rural getaways are all less than two hours by car from Chattanooga and can cater to families, couples, or even a solo excursion. Bon voyage!

mcminnville tennessee painted wall

TENNESSEE

MCMINNVILLE

Positioned approximately halfway between Chattanooga and Nashville, McMinnville is the county seat for Warren County, Tennessee. Fun fact: Warren County is known as the Nursery Capital of the World, with hundreds of thriving plant nurseries in operation. But you don’t have to be a horticulturist to appreciate McMinnville’s charm; the town also boasts history, nature, and unique shopping and dining. 

cumberland caverns of mcminnvile tennessee and bluegrass underground

Things to Do

Right outside of town, Cumberland Caverns draws a crowd year-round with almost 27 miles of caves and underground passageways (including rock formations, waterfalls, pools, and more). See it for yourself by choosing an easy, moderate, or extreme cave adventure, or you can even catch a live show underground. Relive a bit of history on a tour at Falcon Rest Mansion, built by entrepreneur Clay Faulkner in 1896 and filled with Victorian-era antiques. Visitors to the town can also tour The Black House, the oldest remaining house in McMinnville. Not to be missed, an enormous white oak called The Birthing Tree welcomes travelers to McMinnville and once served as a local landmark for settlers passing through the area.

vanilla bean café McMinnville Tennessee

Shopping & Dining

Downtown McMinnville is home to a number of boutiques and shops. Find one-of-a-kind items at The Vintage Market and Renewed Creations, or restock your closet with the help of places like Evelyn Taylor Avenue and Linen and Grace Boutique. Come early for breakfast at the Cumberland Biscuit Company, which serves traditional favorites like buttermilk pancakes and omelets alongside unique eats like chocolate gravy biscuits, Scotch eggs, and a fried chicken benedict. For barbecue fans, you won’t find better meat in town than Collins River BBQ & Café – try a little of everything with the Smokehouse Trio Sampler (1/2 rack of baby back ribs, hand-pulled pork, and hickory-smoked brisket). Be sure to end your day trip with something sweet at The Vanilla Bean Baking Company.

sewanee tennessee university of the south

SEWANEE

Sewanee is perhaps best known for being home to The University of the South, but this college town has so much more to offer visitors of all ages. Located atop the Cumberland Plateau and rife with eclectic shopping, this destination is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts and casual window-shoppers alike. And, clocking in at just 50 minutes from downtown Chattanooga, Sewanee makes a great day or half-day trip depending on your schedule.

perimeter trail sewanee tennessee

Things to Do

The first thing you’ll want to do is stroll around The University of the South, a private Episcopal liberal arts college that welcomes more than 25,000 visitors to its campus annually. At the center of this mountaintop campus is All Saints’ Chapel – a formal gathering and worship space for students and a stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture. This Gothic-style architecture is peppered all throughout the sprawling, nature-filled campus, which has earned the university a spot on many “America’s Most Beautiful” lists. Next, check out the Perimeter Trail – a 20-mile loop featuring beautiful overlooks, lakes and ponds, forests, and more – that’s suitable for hiking, mountain biking, and running. If you’d rather spend some time on the green, The Course at Sewanee is open to all golfers with nine holes and terrific views.

mountain goat market sewanee tennessee

Shopping & Dining

For a small town, Sewanee has a diverse selection of shopping and dining opportunities. In quaint Sewanee Village, find local shops like The Lemon Fair, Locals Gallery, and Taylor’s Mercantile. A Sewanee institution since 1974, Shenanigans serves up deli sandwiches, made-from-scratch pizzas, and craft beer, while The Blue Chair Cafe and Tavern is a go-to spot for coffee and fun dishes like fish-n-chips, egg rolls, and house-made chicken salad. A little outside of town in nearby Monteagle, Mountain Goat Market is worth the pilgrimage for its killer sandwiches, pizzas, and desserts.

north georgia blue ridge mountains

GEORGIA

BLUE RIDGE

You can (and should!) visit Blue Ridge any time of year, but this mountain town is absolutely stunning when the leaves start to change. Here, you can be exploring rugged trails one minute and a craft brewery the next. Did we mention that Blue Ridge is also one of Georgia’s top art towns? Oh, and it’s the Trout Fishing Capital of Georgia. Blue Ridge truly has something for everyone.

mercier orchards north georgia

Things to Do

Those seeking the full Blue Ridge experience should climb aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway; visitors can choose between a two-hour or four-hour excursion that includes a stop. At the heart of Blue Ridge’s thriving arts scene is the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association and Art Center, which regularly hosts exhibits, festivals, and events for the community to enjoy (don’t miss Arts in the Park, held in the spring and fall). Blue Ridge gives nature enthusiasts access to the Chattahoochee National Forest along with plenty of hiking opportunities – there are 16 waterfalls in the area. If you’ve timed your visit right, you can pick your own apples at Mercier Orchards, a family-operated apple orchard in its fourth generation. The orchard also grows strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries and makes its own hard cider.

harvest on main north georgia restaurants

Shopping & Dining

Blue Ridge’s charming downtown is a shopper’s paradise. A variety of shops, including shabby chic boutiques, antique stores, art galleries, and stores selling jewelry, gourmet food, and home furnishings, are within walking distance of one another. Blue Ridge also has no shortage of fantastic local restaurants. The Black Sheep and Harvest on Main offer farm-to-table dining at its best, and if you have the kids in tow, Mystic Mountain Pizza is sure to make everyone a happy camper. For anyone with a sweet tooth, a stop by The Sweet Shoppe for a made-from-scratch cupcake is a must. Rum Cake Lady Cuban Café also slings out its famous rum cakes six days a week.

chatsworth georgia

CHATSWORTH

Nicknamed the “Gateway to the Appalachians,” Chatsworth is one of those under-the-radar destinations that won’t be overrun with tourists – but is absolutely worth the less-than-an-hour trip from Chattanooga. This North Georgia getaway is situated at the base of Fort Mountain and boasts natural surroundings that will have you returning again and again.

chatsworth georgia things to do

Things to Do

A visit to Chatsworth wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Fort Mountain State Park, which has 4,058 acres rife with biking, fishing, hiking, paddling, and swimming; located just south of the Cohutta Wilderness, this state park also offers multiple overlooks with spectacular views. If hiking is your thing, you’ll want to add the six-mile Emery Creek Trail, full of lush forest and waterfalls, to your itinerary. Native American history is an important part of Chatsworth’s story, and a tour of Chief Vann House State Historic Site will allow you to learn more about the Cherokee influence in the area. The restored Chatsworth Depot houses railroad memorabilia and is a part of the Chatsworth Downtown Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Saucey Bones BBQ chatsworth

Shopping & Dining

Although nature is Chatsworth’s bread and butter, you can find shopping every day of the week at Stars and Stripes Shopping Center. When hunger strikes, landmark institution Edna’s Restaurant serves up some of the best county-style, home-cooked Southern food you’ll find this side of Mississippi, while Saucey Bones BBQ lures customers with its fall-off-the-bone ribs. Another must-stop in Chatsworth is Donut Palace, known far and wide for its fresh pastries and mouthwatering apple fritters.

mentone alabama sunset

ALABAMA

MENTONE

This quaint mountain village is nestled atop Lookout Mountain in DeKalb County, Alabama – roughly 45 minutes from downtown Chattanooga. Mentone is a year-round destination that attracts visitors from across the Southeast with its natural beauty, quirky arts scene, and down-to-earth vibe. Averaging less than 500 residents, what Mentone lacks in population, it makes up for in charm.

desoto falls mentone alabama

Things to Do

Topping the list of things to see is the stunning DeSoto Falls, one of the state’s tallest waterfalls at 104 feet (and also the most photographed). The waterfall can be accessed via DeSoto State Park, where you’ll also find hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, fishing, and other outdoor activities. In the winter, Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort the only ski resort in Alabama – offers two slopes for skiing as well as golf during the warmer months. Also near Mentone is horseback riding on the picturesque trails at Shady Grove Dude Ranch, which covers approximately 800 acres of pristine wilderness. Finally, you can end your day with a gorgeous sunset at Brow Park, one of the few public areas in Mentone with views from the brow of Lookout Mountain.

wildflower cafe mentone alabama

Shopping & Dining

Mentone’s Log Cabin Village provides a shopping experience unlike any other, with 10 unique stores clustered together selling everything from pottery and art to gourmet coffee and food. You can also shop the Mentone Market, a local general store that has been in operation for over 80 years, for local gifts and homemade food. Travelers venture from near and far to eat at the Wildflower Café, famous for its savory tomato pie (one of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama). The funky restaurant also serves up home-style meals with plenty of organic and vegan options. Come evening, a meal at Elevation Bistro is sure to impress thanks to its local, farm-to-table offerings.