Chattanooga's natural beauty lends itself to day-trip drives into the surrounding mountains or boating through the Tennessee River Gorge.
Whether you are new to the city or a lifelong resident still discovering its scenic wonders, following is a list of interesting destinations that can be done in a day on one tank of gas.
The site: A Monroe County community near the Polk County, Tenn./North Carolina line. Visitors will find arts and crafts for sale, cabin rentals, hiking trails and historic sites that include an ancient Indian village. A U.S. Forest Service tower offers panoramic mountain views, and the creek is regionally known for its exceptional whitewater rafting and kayaking.
Hours: Coker Creek Welcome Center, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Saturday.
Distance: 80-90 miles from Chattanooga.
To get there: Take Interstate 75 north to the Sweetwater exit, then follow State Route 68 southeast 30 miles to the Coker Creek Welcome Center. Or take I-75 to Exit 20 near Cleveland, then Highway 64 to Ducktown and follow SR 68 northwest to Coker Creek.
More information: 423-261-2286 or cokercreek.org.
FORT MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
The site: Enjoy nature's beauty in Chatsworth, Ga., in scenic Chattahoochee National Forest. Fort Mountain offers 14 miles of hiking trails, 27 miles of mountain bike trails, plenty of camping sites and cottages, horseback riding, fishing, pedal boats and a 17-acre lake.
Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Distance: About 55 miles southeast from Chattanooga.
To get there: Take I-75 South to Exit 333. Turn left and travel east on Highway 52 through Chatsworth. The park is eight miles east of Chatsworth at 181 Fort Mountain Park Road.
For more information: gastateparks.org/info/fortmt, or for camping reservations call 800-864-7275.
The site: This natural area in Marion County, Tenn., is part of South Cumberland Park. Flat trails are nice for novice hikers and families with children, the 60-foot waterfall is easily viewed and primitive camping is available along a 13-mile trail to the Fiery Gizzard trailhead. Rock climbers from across the country come to the area to try their skills there.
Hours: South Cumberland State Park's hours are 7 a.m. to sunset.
Distance: About 35 miles from Chattanooga.
To get there: Take I-24 West to Jasper, Exit 155. Turn right onto state Highway 28 and travel three or four miles, then exit onto Highway 41 north. At the second Jasper traffic light, turn right onto state Highway 150/U.S. 41. Bear left at Highway 41 and head up the mountain. The scenic area is three miles past the Mountain Mart Store on the left. Round trip is about 70 miles.
For more information: 931-924-2980
RED CLAY STATE PARK
The site: Located on Red Clay Park Road in Bradley County, this 263-acre park consists of former cotton fields and pastures that now have forested ridges. The Blue Hole Spring, a deep pool that flows into Mill Creek, was used by the Cherokee for water during their council meetings. Each year in August the park celebrates Cherokee Days of Recognition with traditional Cherokee dance, food and arts.
Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset March 1 to Nov. 30; 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 1 to Feb. 28.
Distance: About 45 miles from Chattanooga.
To get there: Take Interstate 75 north toward Cleveland, Tenn. Take a right on Highway 64 bypass. Go six miles to state Route 60 and turn right. Go about 10 miles, turn right on Weatherly Switch Road and go two to three miles. Take a left onto Red Clay Park Road and proceed to front gates.
For more information: 423-478-0339.
RUSSELL CAVE NATIONAL MONUMENT
The site: Russell Cave is part of the national parks system in the town of Bridgeport, Ala. Once the home of prehistoric people, the cave shelter archaeological site contains the most complete record of prehistoric cultures in the Southeast, according to the National Park Service.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Central) year-round except for New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Distance: Forty to 45 miles from Chattanooga.
To get there: Take I-24 west to Kimball Exit 152. Follow U.S. Highway 72 west nine miles, turn right on County Road 75. Go a mile and turn right on County Road 98 for four miles to the park entrance.
For more information: www.nps.gov/ruca/index.htm or 256-495-2672.
THE LOST SEA
The site: Visitors to this attraction in Sweetwater, Tenn., can ride glass-bottom boats across America's largest underground lake and pan for gold in an old-fashioned gem mine. In Sweetwater Village, visitors will find log cabins that house craftsmen such as a glassblower and blacksmith, a general store and restaurant. Or pack a lunch and eat in the picnic area.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. November-February; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. September-April; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. May, June and August; 9 a.m.. to 8 p.m. July.
Distance: 66 miles from downtown Chattanooga
To get there: Travel I-75 north to Exit 60 to reach state Highway 68. Turn right onto Highway 68 and travel 7.3 miles. Turn left at Lost Sea Road.
Admission: $15.95 adults, $7.45 children 5-12.
More information: www.thelostsea.com.
AARP's Favorite Places
In 2008, AARP of Tennessee polled its 300 state volunteers on their favorite 50 day-trips in the state. Some of the top 50 are near Chattanooga:
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
Mayfield Dairy Visitor Center in Athens
Ocoee Whitewater Center in Copperhill
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
Source: AARP of Tennessee