Chattanooga is at the center of a world of opportunity when it comes to camping and hiking. There are options for a rugged conquest or a quiet, spiritual escape to nature.
Stay close to home to travel further north in the Smoky Mountain wilderness.
A paradise near the Georgia state line
Cloudland Canyon State Park, 122 Cloudland Canyon Road in Rising Fawn, Ga., is less than an hour's drive from Chattanooga.
• The park is known for its beautiful walking trails around the canyon and lustrous waterfalls. If you watch the creeks around the park long enough, you might see an extreme creek boater soar over the falls.
• Backpacker Magazine named this park one of the Top 20 hiking destinations in the country.
• Pay $16 for a walk-in campsite or $25 for a tent, trailer or RV campsite. Cottages and group lodges also are available. To book, go online to www.gastateparks.org/CloudlandCanyon.
Source: Outdoor Chattanooga
Diversity in the ancient mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the Tennessee and North Carolina line, is a wonderful place to spot rare wildflowers, bears and elk. It also is one of the best places to plan a camping vacation.
• There are backcountry campsites for backpackers and front-country campsites for people who want running water and flush toilets. There are even horse camps that offer hitch racks for horses. Fees range from $14 to $23.
• This park, three hours from Chattanooga, is the most visited national park in the country with between 8 million and 10 million visitors annually. With more than 800 miles of trails, you can find a peaceful overlook or take a daylong, sweat-breaking trek through the wildness.
• Don't miss the fall colors or old-growth forests. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/grsm.
Source: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
An outdoor launch point to North Alabama
DeSoto State Park in Lookout Mountain, Ala., is only an hour from Chattanooga near Fort Payne. Newly remodeled camping areas in this park offer a more luxurious twist to the camping experience. There are cable-television hookups, sewer, water and electric hookups, grills, coin-operated laundry machines and a country store for any overnight needs.
• Prices for the 94 full-hookup sites start at $28 a night.
• During the day, explore 25 miles of hiking trails. The Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail is part of the North Alabama Birding Trail and is handicap-accessible.
Source: DeSoto State Park
Famous hikes only a day trip away
South Cumberland State Park lies atop the Cumberland Plateau. The visitor center is between Monteagle and Tracy City, Tenn., on U.S. Highway 41, about an hour from Chattanooga.
• Savage Gulf, one of the state's most-noted outdoor areas, resembles a giant crow's foot. The Big Creek, Collins River and Savage Creek tumble down 800 feet through gorges. Visitors will be in awe of the canyon views and sheer sandstone cliffs. Other spots to scope out are Hawkins Cove, Grundy Lake, Foster Falls and Sewanee Bridge.
• Camping in this new state park requires a permit and is primitive and not for the faint of heart. Water gathered from springs and streams should be treated before use and open fires are prohibited.
• Watch out for copperheads and rattlers in this wilderness.
Source: South Cumberland State Park
-- Compiled by staff writer Joan Garrett