The Chattanooga area has become known as a national hub for outdoors enthusiasts of all types. Drive a couple of hours in any direction from the city and you'll find a huge array of options for hiking, bicycling and rock climbing.
"There's endless amounts of opportunities," said Outdoor Chattanooga bicycle coordinator Philip Pugliese. "The thing that comes to mind first is Cherokee National Forest. Of course you've got the Ocoee River to get in the water. You've got a vast amount of hiking trails and mountain biking trails. There's camping available there as well."
The many outdoor options resulted in Chattanooga winning the recent online voting portion of Outside magazine's "Best Town Ever" contest this year.
It can be hard to know where to begin. The Outdoor Chattanooga website (www.outdoorchattanooga.com) is a good start.
The hiking options in and near Chattanooga range from the well-maintained trails at the Chattanooga Nature Center and the Chickamauga Battlefield to the more challenging hikes along the local portion of the Cumberland Trail and the John Muir Trail in Polk County.
"I've done a lot of research on this the last six months," Randy Whorton said in April, soon after taking over as the executive director of Wild Trails, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the use, expansion and protection of hiking trails in the Chattanooga area. "We have 54 trailheads within 30 minutes of downtown Chattanooga. I'll bet no other city on the planet can say that. I'll bet no other city has even 30 within 30 minutes. And those 54 lead to hundreds of miles of trails."
Some other popular hiking trials include:
-- Cloudland Canyon State Park near Trenton, Ga.
-- Cane Creek Loop in Pikeville, Tenn.
-- Lula Lake Land Trust on Lookout Mountain, Ga.
-- North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness in Soddy-Daisy.
-- Savage Gulf in Grundy County, Tenn.
-- Pinhoti Trail in Dalton, Ga.
With so many mountains throughout the area, it is little wonder that Chattanooga is known as a regional center for rock climbing. For those new to climbing, a trip to the Walnut Wall beneath the Walnut Street Bridge in Coolidge Park is a great place to learn in a safe environment.
Other popular climbing spots include:
-- Foster Falls near Jasper, Tenn.
-- The Tennessee Wall near Signal Mountain.
-- Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain, Tenn.
Road and mountain biking both have grown in popularity in recent years, with visitors and locals pedaling for exercise and transportation. The 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge draws thousands of cyclists to Chattanooga each May for a grueling 100-mile ride over Suck Creek, Sand and Lookout mountains.
Mountain bikers enjoy the trails at Booker T. Washington State Park and Edwards Point on Signal Mountain, as well as the trails at the Lula Lake Land Trust and on Raccoon Mountain. In North Georgia, the Silver Comet Trail (www.silvercometga.com) allows cyclists to ride from Eastern Alabama to the outskirts of Atlanta on a converted railroad bed.
Other popular areas for cycling include:
-- Brush Creek, Tanasi, Chilhowee and Star Mountain trails in the Cherokee National Forest in Polk County.
-- Franklin State Forest at Sewanee, Tenn.
-- Amicalola Falls State Park near Dawsonville, Ga.
-- Carters Lake Recreation Area near Ellijay, Ga.
-- Fort Mountain State Park near Chatsworth, Ga.
-- Red Top Mountain State Park at Cartersville, Ga.