The path to a picnic in Chattanooga will take you many places – sprawling green spaces, waterfront walkways, and an impressive number of playgrounds. Here’s where to find a taste of where the great outdoors meets a meal in the Scenic City.
Signal Point National Park, Signal Mountain
Land once used by Native Americans to send signals and by Union troops in the Civil War to keep an eye on river traffic, Signal Point offers panoramic views of the Tennessee River Valley in a way few other parks in Chattanooga can. A part of Chickamauga National Military Park, a picnic at Signal Point will prioritize a quiet mountain moment and a peek at the Tennessee River winding between Signal Mountain and Raccoon Mountain. Signal Point is also a popular starting point for local hiking. For a second view of the river, Raccoon Mountain, and Edward’s Point, take the steep wooden steps known as “the mousetrap” to the white blazes on the Cumberland Trail below.
Renaissance Park, Downtown
Home to two massive grassy hills often playing host to children sledding on cardboard boxes, Renaissance Park includes stunning views of the Northshore district and the Tennessee River, 23 acres of urban wetland, a pavilion, and public art commemorating the Trail of Tears and the Civil War. Formerly post-industrial land troubled by contaminated soil, the creation of Renaissance Park is a picture of Chattanooga’s commitment to the ecosystem, as the creation of the park also returned native plants to the area, created a place to hold and treat water run-off, and stabilized eroded riverbank.
Parking: From Frazier Avenue, turn onto Manufacturers Road, then into the parking lot on your left.
Coolidge Park, Downtown
Located in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, the backdrop for Coolidge Park includes the Walnut Street Walking Bridge, accessible from Frazier Avenue, as well as the Hunter Museum of American Art and Tennessee Aquarium on the opposite shoreline. Inside one of the blue-roofed buildings on site, you’ll find a fully restored 1894 Dentzel Carousel, brought back to life one wooden animal at a time by Chattanoogan Bud Ellis and students of his woodworking studio Horsin’ Around. Adjacent to the carousel, an interactive fountain surrounded by stone sculptures offers a place to cool off in warm weather months. At Coolidge Park, you’ll find people sprawled out on blankets, throwing frisbees, playing soccer, and frequenting local businesses on the Northshore. In 2006, Coolidge Park hosted World War II Army veteran Charles Coolidge when he was awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
Parking: From Frazier Avenue, turn onto Tremont Street toward the Tennessee River.
Tennessee Riverpark, Downtown
Just outside of the city’s center along Amnicola Highway, Tennessee Riverpark includes green spaces for flying a kite or kicking a ball, picnic tables, grills, four covered pavilions, and fishing docks along the Tennessee River. One of the most interesting park features is the bright blue hexagon-shaped benches that circle the trees. There are three large blue playground structures with green slides and a zip-line feature, plus a smaller playground with tunnels and lower-profile slides for the toddlers a few steps closer to the public restrooms.
Parking: From Amnicola Highway heading west, pass Chattanooga State Community College, go under the interstate then turn right into the park.
Located near the foot of Lookout Mountain, St. Elmo Park is a large playground built by community volunteers. The hallmark of this park is the wooden play structure that leads to a steep, shiny, wide metal slide. Kids can also climb on top of giant rubber tires, try out a zipline, and swing. There’s enough here that older children will see it as the perfect fortress for organized games, while younger kids get access to a smaller fenced-in playset and swing set of their own. The park has a few low-seated benches as well as a pavilion with restrooms.
Parking: Take St. Elmo Avenue just past W 49th Street, then turn into the lot on your right.
White Oak Park, Red Bank
It’s the colorful views of tree-covered mountains in the fall and wide open grassy spaces that make White Oak Park the perfect place for a Chattanooga picnic. Here you’ll find two small red playground structures for kids, but it’s the vastness of the land (and, let’s admit it, the hills to run or roll down) that’s the main draw for a quiet outdoor meal. Nearby, you’ll find access to ballfields and a dog park.
Parking: From Dayton Boulevard, turn onto Midvale Avenue. In map software, you’ll want to enter 798 Ben Miller Parkway.
Chester Frost Park, Hixson
Located on Chickamauga Lake, Chester Frost Park is 230 acres dedicated to public recreation from daylight to dark. You can choose to picnic on a sandy beach, at a picnic table overlooking the lake, or perhaps even on the end of a fishing pier. There are plenty of trees for hanging a hammock. Chester Frost Park is also home to a disc golf course, boat docks, campgrounds, and three playgrounds. For those who need to get a little work done on their lunch break, certain areas in the park offer free Wi-Fi. The property is large, so consider studying a map before choosing where to park, depending on which amenities you’d like nearby.
Parking: Take Hixson Pike to Gold Point Circle N, then veer onto Hamilton County Park Road (also known as Causeway Road) for access.
Vandergriff Park, Hixson
If you’re looking for the gold standard playground for older children in Chattanooga, this is the place to picnic. Here, there’s not much green space, but the pavilion is large enough for a sizable crowd, and the triple-structure playground is the main draw. Older kids love it here because it’s simply more substantial than playgrounds at other Chattanooga parks. There are more ways to climb, more ways to slide, and the structures are spread out in a way that makes it feel like you have access to three complete playgrounds in one location. Around the edge of the park is a simple paved 0.2-mile walking path.
Parking: Take Highway 153 past Northgate Mall, then turn right onto Gadd Road. Turn right to stay on Gadd Road, towards Hixson United Methodist Church.
Heritage Park, East Brainerd
Convenient to the Hamilton Place Mall as well as residential and commercial areas off East Brainerd Road, Shallowford Road, and Gunbarrel Road, Heritage Park opens with a large grassy field, a gazebo, and a creek popular among families ready to roll their pants up and get their feet wet hopping among the boulders. On the far side of the property is a large dog park, divided into separate play areas for big dogs and small dogs, a small blue and red playground structure, picnic tables, and a mahogany-painted barn known by locals as one of the best places to snap a photo for Christmas cards. At the center of the property is Heritage House, a large home once owned by the Henshell Family, now used for community events. The walking loop is bike-friendly (for kids, considering it’s a quick lap), provided you’re comfortable with them crossing the road one time per loop.
Parking: From East Brainerd Road, turn onto Jenkins Road, then turn right into the park.