Conquer rocks, water and trails

Conquer rocks, water and trails

March 25th, 2012 by Jim Tanner in Chattanooganow2012

Betsy Bale scales rocks at Little Rock City on Mowbray Mountain in Soddy-Daisy.

Photo by Staff Report/Times Free Press.

The Chattanooga area is blessed with so many options for outdoors enthusiasts, most within a short drive of downtown.

The Tennessee River flowing through the city brings water sports and flat-water kayaking, and there are plenty of options for hiking, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking and canoeing all easily accessible.

The abundance of outdoor options led readers of Outdoor Magazine to select Chattanooga as the best outdoor city in the United States for 2011.

Getting involved is easy, with several clubs and organizations devoted to outdoor pursuits and willing to help newcomers learn the ropes.

The best place to start is Outdoor Chattanooga, a city-funded organization dedicated to promoting outdoor recreation and helping residents and visitors get involved.

Outdoor Chattanooga has offices at Coolidge Park staffed by friendly people who can help you begin your outdoor adventure in the Scenic City.

HIKING

Chattanooga Nature Center: The nature center, at 400 Garden Road, has trails for hikers of all levels, allowing for a tour of the center's wetlands and creek. One five-mile trail leads to Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain.

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, Ga.: Check out the waterfalls on the varied trail, on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, about an hour from downtown Chattanooga.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.: The battlefield features an eight-mile trail loop leading through historic Civil War monuments.

Cumberland Trail on Signal Mountain: Challenging trails for the moderate to expert hiker. According to Outdoor Chattanooga, 160 miles of the 303-mile Cumberland Trail are within 75 miles of Chattanooga.

Laurel Snow Pocket Wilderness in Rhea County, Tenn.: Laurel Snow includes waterfalls and steep ascents in the 710-acre wilderness area. Camping and climbing available.

CAVING

Raccoon Mountain Caverns: Call 821-9403 or visit wildcave.com to schedule a walking tour or an overnight "muddy tour" of the 5.5 miles of caves on the mountain.

The Lost Sea in Sweetwater, Tenn., offers overnight trips and hour-long excursions to the country's largest underground lake, 140 feet below ground level.

The Adventure Guild leads caving tours at undisclosed locations. Call 423-266-5709.

Disclaimer: Many area caves are closed to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has killed more than 1 million bats in North America. Some caves on privately owned land are still open. Visit Chattanooga Grotto at ChattanoogaGrotto.org for information on becoming a member, cave preservation and white-nose syndrome.

OUTDOOR CLIMBING

Little Rock City, aka Stone Fort, at Montlake Golf Course in Soddy-Daisy; $3 per climber day pass; no dogs allowed. One of the most concentrated and varied boulder fields in the country, for climbers of all skill levels.

Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain: Rope climbing.

Foster Falls in Jasper, Tenn.: Rope climbing, leave time for a dip in the water afterward.

Tennessee Wall: Traditional, or "trad," climbing using placed gear, for experienced climbers. 20-minute hike to reach wall. Located in Dayton, Tenn., in the Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area.

INDOOR CLIMBING

Tennessee Bouldering Authority, in St. Elmo. Call 822-6800 or visit tbagym.com.

Urban Rocks, off Amnicola Highway. Call 475-6578 or visit urbanrocksgym.com.

Visit the local climbing gyms or visit the Southeastern Climbers Coalition at seclimbers.org for more information on recommended climbing locations, climber etiquette and land stewardship.

KAYAKING

A water release by the Tennessee Valley Authority provides a water playground for rafters and kayakers along the Upper Ocoee River. The section of the river was the whitewater paddling site for the 1996 Olympics.

Photo by Tracey Trumbull/Times Free Press.

Hiwassee River in Reliance, Tenn.: Great for beginners. The dam-controlled river has Class I and II whitewater rapids. Family-friendly river is great for kayaking, rafting, tubing or other watercraft. For kayaking, "If you have never done it before, make sure you go with someone who is experienced," said Ruth Thompson of Outdoor Chattanooga.

Cartecay River in Ellijay, Ga.: Class I to Class II-plus.

Ocoee River: For intermediate-level kayakers, the middle Ocoee is Class III-plus. For experts, the Upper Ocoee is a Class-V river and was the site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater events.

Lower Tellico River: Class II stream that is not dam-controlled.

Upper Tellico River: Class IV river for experienced kayakers. Stream levels vary widely.

CANOEING

For canoeing on the Chickamauga reservoir, above the Chickamauga Dam:

• Harrison Bay State Park

• Booker T. Washington State Park

• Chester Frost State Park

Greenway Farms in Hixson: Canoe along the North Chickamauga Creek.

South Chickamauga Creek: Launch from Sterchi Farm on Old Harrison Pike.

Lookout Creek in the Chattanooga Nature Center: Call 423-821-1160. The nature center offers boat rentals.

Nickajack Lake near Jasper, Tenn.: Shellmound Recreation Area. TVA facility. In the winter months when the water level is low, gravestones peek out from the water's surface, relics from an underwater cemetery.