The Chattanooga area has no shortage of vantage points from which to experience the sublime sunsets and fiery fall colors that reignite our passion for nature.
But it's no secret that some of those spots get a little more lovin' from locals than others.
Before you take another trip up to Sunset Rock or Edwards Point, consider rounding up that special someone or grabbing that well-worn page-turner and discovering a new view at one of the region's less frequented, though no less breathtaking, lookout locations. We've listed a few of our favorite easy-to-access overlooks to help you take advantage of every high-rise scenic setting the area has to offer.
Located in Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area, this panoramic vista remains a slightly ironic testament to its late namesake, Zilman Smith Hood, a Georgia business owner and preservationist who ran daily even after losing his eyesight in his 30s. The cliff grants visitors an expansive view of everything from the cities of LaFayette and Summerville below to Johns Mountain and Taylor Ridge in the distance. Its wide, open space has also made it a frequent launch point for hang glider pilots.
Drive Time: 1.15 hours from Chattanooga
Few downtown-facing overlooks can make you feel as small and reverent as this Raccoon Mountain gem can. From its fenced perimeter, visitors can see everything from Moccasin Bend to the Cherokee National Forest, including the entirety of downtown Chattanooga, which is easily dwarfed by Lookout Mountain looming to the Southeast. If you aren't impressed, come back at sunset to watch the line of golden light retreat from the valley as the city itself begins to glow. We promise you'll be mesmerized.
Plan Your Trip: Mountain bikers and hikers may already be familiar with the series of trails that encircle Tennessee Valley Authority's pumped storage facility atop Raccoon Mountain. After taking in the view, take a trip on the 13-mile technical loop, easily accessed from East Overlook, which offers more views of downtown and the Tennessee River Gorge. Or bike the two newer, steeper trails: Livewire and High Voltage. Don't forget to check out the more expansive view of the gorge from the overlook at the Raccoon Mountain Visitor Center 2.3 miles away from East Overlook.
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There's a simple reason Snoopers Rock is one of the most photographed vistas near Chattanooga: It has the best view of the Tennessee River Gorge from any angle, at least in our opinion. Decide for yourself with an early morning trip to this easy-to-reach hotspot in Prentice Cooper State Forest, where you can watch the sun peek over the mountains as the valley fills with mist. There's only one word to describe the scene: magic.
Plan Your Trip: If you're hungry for more scenery or just itching to prove us wrong about Snoopers, check out the "Grand Canyon of Tennessee" from the other angles accessible via the trails in Prentice Cooper, most of which are rated intermediate. You can take Mullens Cove Loop (10 miles) to Mullins Cove Overlook, Pot Point Loop (12 miles) to Ransom Hollow Overlook, or follow the Poplar Spring section of the Cumberland Trail (5 miles) to find Lawson Rock Overlook.
Accessed through the park's Overlook Trail, Cloudland Canyon's signature overlook provides a stunning preview of all the state park has to offer — should you be compelled to peel yourself from the awesome view. From the fenced ridge, hikers can peer down into the thousand-foot-deep gorge where sandstone walls are lined with lush, green trees, and see one of the waterfalls the park has in store for those who venture onward.
Drive Time: 30 minutes from Chattanooga
Plan Your Trip: With 30 miles of trails to explore, there's plenty for hikers and mountain bikers to do at Cloudland Canyon. To get started, we recommend you take a trip down the strenuous, 2-mile Waterfall Trail, where you'll be rewarded with a close-up of the park's two other picturesque attractions: Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls. Options for golfing, fishing, caving and horseback riding are also available at select locations in the park.
GREAT STONE DOOR
Named for the top-to-bottom crack that makes this massive cliff face look like a door left slightly ajar, this rock is a sight to behold — though it's the view from its peak that's the true wonder. From the top of the door, sojourners can see where the three gulfs that make up the Savage Gulf State Natural Area converge, and the simple, paved trail makes the impressive view accessible to anyone.
Plan Your Trip: In addition to approximately 55 miles of hiking trails, Savage Gulf offers a buffet of breathtaking overlooks. After you've taken in your fill at the Stone Door overlook, journey to Rattlesnake Point to catch another stunning view of the gulf; Savage Falls Overlook to sneak a peek at the titular waterfall; and Split Rock Overlook to get a better view of Stone Door itself.
CHILHOWEE MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK
If you're ever passing by the Cherokee National Forest, consider spending the night at Chilhowee Recreation Area, if only to catch a glimpse of this almost tropical view. From one of the many observation overlooks atop Chilhowee Mountain, you'll be able to see the uniquely pyramid-shaped Sugarloaf Mountain and the sparkling, Ocoee River-fed waters of Parksville Lake, both of which will have you questioning whether you're in Tennessee anymore.
Drive Time: 1.15 hours from Chattanooga
Plan Your Trip: In addition to its 25 miles of trails for hiking and biking, Chilhowee Recreation Area gives travelers access to nearby McKamy Lake, where they can spend a day resting on its sandy beach, swimming in its cool waters or catching trout from its banks. Within the area, visitors will also find Benton Falls and many opportunities for wildlife viewing.
We like to believe that when Chattanooga photographers die, they don't go gently into the light; they're transported 170 miles northeast to Great Smoky Mountains National Park so their souls can spend eternity shooting stills from Morton Overlook. Famed as a shutterbug's paradise, the picturesque beauty of Sugarlands Valley below is well worth the drive. Each day offers a different view — especially when the setting sun lights up the sky with various reds and oranges, pinks and purples as it slowly sinks behind the surrounding ripple of mountains.
Drive Time: 3 hours from Chattanooga
Plan Your Trip: The Great Smoky Mountains offer a plethora of activities for outdoorsmen of all tastes, but if you've driven that far just for the view, you're in luck. Within a 20-minute drive of Morton Overlook there are other outstanding vista points, such as Inspiration Point, Chimney Tops Overlook and Carlos Campbell Overlook. When you're ready to take a break, head to nearby Chimneys Picnic Area to eat lunch and marvel at the view of Little Pigeon River, where swimming and fishing are allowed.
This overlook in the newly acquired Window Cliffs State Natural Area may not be the most traditional since it does not offer far-reaching scenery hundreds of feet below, but the unique geological formations towering above make it a must-see for any local explorer. After 2 miles of tough trails, hikers will get full view of the titular bluff, so named because years of erosion on both sides have left it with natural bridges, or open spaces in its limestone that resemble a window.
Drive Time: 2 hours from Chattanooga
Plan Your Trip: If you want to experience everything the natural area has to offer, you'll have to pay your way in sweat. To get to the top of the limestone cliff, you'll need to traverse the 5-mile out-and-back trail, which has a total of 18 creek crossings and is considered strenuous. If you succeed, you'll be rewarded with a satisfying, near-360-degree view of the treetops covering the native forest below. But take heed: Both going and coming, you will get wet.
Inspired? Send a picture of yourself at one of these overlooks — or one of your favorites — to email@example.com and we'll share your adventure.