A fleeting – but oh-so-welcome – window of time between the dog days of summer and impending chill of winter, fall is a season to be cherished. Not only do you have sweater weather, beloved holidays, football, and pumpkin spice everything, but autumn is also praised for its brilliant foliage – leaves turning from vibrant green into a spectacle of reds, oranges, and golds. For Chattanooga, the fall colors really start showing out in late October, and early November is considered peak leaf-peeping time. To make the most of this visually stunning season, check out our top 10 ways to experience fall foliage in the Scenic City.
1. Hit the trails.
Chattanoogans know that one of the best ways to get that picture-perfect fall photo requires a little effort. Ranging in length and difficulty, hike-worthy trails abound in and around the Scenic City – in fact, there are more than 50 trailheads within 30 minutes of downtown. A few favorites for taking in autumn’s colors include Signal Mountain’s Rainbow Lake Trail, Lula Lake Land Trust, Stringer’s Ridge, and Lookout Mountain’s Glen Falls Trail. If you don’t mind the drive, Georgia’s Cloudland Canyon State Park is home to popular trails like Overlook Trail, West Rim Loop Trail, and Waterfalls Trail that are simply spectacular when the weather cools.
2. Climb aboard.
The only thing more magical than fall colors is seeing them by rail. Passengers can board a vintage short-line train at the Tennessee Valley Railroad, located on Cromwell Road. Their most popular ride – the Missionary Ridge Local – lasts 65 minutes and takes passengers over four bridges and through the pre-Civil War Missionary Ridge Tunnel. Another rail experience can be had at Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. This ride takes passengers from St. Elmo to an observation deck atop Lookout Mountain, offering scenic fall views along the way.
3. Take to the skies.
For a truly unique leaf-peeping perspective, try a bird’s-eye view. Several Chattanooga companies will help you take to the skies – but be warned, this is not for the faint of heart! At Chattanooga Skydiving Company, guests can experience the exhilarating thrill of freefall on a tandem skydiving excursion. After less than an hour of instruction, expert guides will have you enjoying a scenic flight over the Sequatchie Valley before making the big leap. If hang gliding feels more your speed, you’re in luck. The folks at Lookout Mountain Flight Park send guests soaring above Lookout Valley on a tandem flight of 1,500 to 3,000 feet.
4. Cruise the river.
If you’re hoping to sit back and appreciate the autumn scenery via boat, you have options. The Southern Belle Riverboat offers fall foliage sightseeing cruises through mid-November; these three-hour cruises highlight the beauty of the Tennessee River with live narration included. Chattanooga Duck tours also run through mid-November and showcase views of Chattanooga’s downtown, Riverfront, and Maclellan Island from the Tennessee River. Or, reserve a tour with River Gorge Excursions – these tours highlight the scenic Tennessee River Gorge and last approximately two hours.
5. See Rock City.
One of Chattanooga’s most iconic attractions, Rock City, comes alive in the fall with an explosion of color. Here, guests can stroll the 4,100-foot Enchanted Trail featuring everything from caves and rock formations to a view of seven states at Lover’s Leap. Don’t forget to snap a photo on the 180-foot Swing-a-Long Bridge, which overlooks the Chattanooga Valley and all of its autumn splendor. Seasonal treats are always being served at dining locations across the gardens, so stop in and grab a bite – or a sip – before continuing your adventure.
6. Fly through the trees.
Make unforgettable fall memories and experience the Scenic City’s changing leaves from the zip lines at High Point ZIP Adventure at Ruby Falls. With 700 feet of rushing zip lines and a 40-foot climbing tower, the ZIP Adventure offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to see the kaleidoscope of colors whizz by. The operation is open daily during the fall through late November. Afterward, be sure to venture inside Ruby Falls – a can’t-miss Chattanooga attraction!
7. Ride a bike.
Viewing fall foliage by bike couldn’t be easier thanks to Bike Chattanooga, the city’s bicycle transit system. Locals and visitors alike can buy a pass to have access to more than 400 bikes set up at 42 stations citywide. Chattanooga’s Riverwalk, Walnut Street Bridge, and MLK District are all great places to pedal without ever leaving town. Mountain bikers can take advantage of the trail systems at Raccoon Mountain, Stringer’s Ridge, and Enterprise South for miles of trails and beautiful surroundings to boot.
8. Plan a picnic.
Fall is peak picnicking season – the crisp temperatures, dappled sunlight, and rustling leaves provide an enchanting atmosphere no restaurant can imitate. When planning a picnic, you have two priorities: food and location. For sandwiches that travel well, check out local institutions like River Street Deli, Lil Mama’s Chicago Style Hoagy, and Rembrandt’s Coffee House. Additional picnic provisions (both cheesy and vegan!) can be found at Bleu Fox Cheese Shop, Frothy Monkey, and Cashew Chattanooga. As for location, you can’t beat the views at Lookout Mountain’s Sunset Rock or Signal Mountain’s Signal Point.
9. Rent a kayak.
This time of year, you can get your heart pumping and take in the fall colors by going on a kayaking adventure with family and friends. Fortunately, Chattanooga is home to many locales that rent out kayaks, from Camp Jordan to Harrison Bay State Park. Whether you want to paddle the Tennessee River or Chickamauga Lake, you can do so at rates as low as $30 for the day. Even if you’re not an experienced kayaker, you can still get out on the water and enjoy our area’s most stunning fall foliage!
10. Go for a drive.
If nothing else, load up your car and go for a scenic drive when the leaves start to change. Winding from Chattanooga to Gadsden, Alabama, the Lookout Mountain Parkway is a great place to start. This 93-mile journey has even been named one of the most scenic drives in America by Reader’s Digest! On the west side of Signal Mountain, you’ll find Taft Highway Lookout, roughly 30 minutes from downtown Chattanooga; be prepared to encounter curvy roads and gorgeous vistas. Finally, the 4.6-mile Reservoir Loop on Raccoon Mountain is sure to delight with views of the mountains and reservoir.