These are the best winter walking spots in Chattanooga

Staff file photo / Sunset Rock
Staff file photo / Sunset Rock

During the coronavirus pandemic, one of the best escapes I've found is a good old-fashioned walk. While winter is typically a time when I head to the gym for exercise, this year I'm simply continuing my spring and summer exercise routine, which consists of "getting my steps in" outside. Why risk sweating it out with other people in an enclosed space when I live in a place that's nicknamed the Scenic City?

We have tons of obvious and awesome walking spots - the Walnut Street Bridge, Tennessee Riverwalk, Coolidge Park and Stringer's Ridge, to name a few - but I'd like to draw your attention to a few of my favorites that may be new to you, in case that helps motivate you to get out in the cold. And since dogs are the best motivators when it comes to walks, I've chosen several spots that are fur baby-friendly.

> Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain's west brow is, you guessed it, a great place to watch the sunset, and the view is far better in winter when the trees are bare. You can reach Sunset Rock via a short, rocky path from the small parking lot - which may be full if you visit during a busy time (like sunset). You can also take the Bluff Trail, which you can access from Point Park.

> About 2 miles round-trip, Glen Falls trail is a fairly short, easy walk that's a great option for kids, dogs and older folks. The limited parking, a pull-off on Ochs Highway with space for about five cars, keeps this spot from getting too crowded. Note that the presence of the falls is dependent on recent rainfall.

> Reflection Riding Nature Center and Arboretum features a flat, dog-friendly walking trail that allows you to enjoy nature without taking a hike. A boardwalk winds through a swampy area with a treehouse to explore, and the center also has rehabilitated wildlife exhibits you can check out. Unless you're a member, there's a $10 fee per person.

> Explore Sculpture Fields at Montague Park's 33 acres, which are dotted with 40-plus large-scale sculptures by world-class artists. Since there's little in the way of greenery, winter is as good a time as any to explore this unique art park, which can be hot in the summertime since the covered picnic table is the only shaded spot. The park is free and dog-friendly, with 1.5 miles of trail and ample space for social distancing.

> Collegedale has a wonderful, well-used greenway that gives nonresidents a perfect excuse to check out the city. Combine your visit with a trip to the Collegedale Market, where you can find local foods and handmade crafts along with a toasty fire inside the open-air Collegedale Commons. Also worth a visit is the lovely campus of Southern Adventist University. The school's "biology trails" are popular with students as well as local residents and their dogs.

> Cemeteries are among the best walking spots, and chances are good that you won't have much company. Reading headstones and making up stories about the lives of the deceased never gets old, for me at least. Unfortunately, dogs are not welcome. Here are a few of my favorite spots:

Forest Hills Cemetery is prettiest in springtime when the dogwoods are in bloom, but it's still nice in other times of the year. Combine your cemetery stroll with a walk on the Virginia Avenue Greenway through St. Elmo.

Citizens Cemetery, located on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus, is an ideal place for a walk or a picnic. Parking can be hard to come by, particularly when school is in session. Try to find a spot on Vine Street, where nonresidents can park for up to two hours, and check out the stately old homes as you make your way to the cemetery.

Pleasant Gardens, a historic African American cemetery open from 1891-1970, is hidden on a quiet street behind the Shepherd Hills neighborhood. A gravel road winds through the 22-acre site, which includes thousands of graves, including those of many local African American leaders as well as the grave of 1906 lynching victim Ed Johnson and about 1,000 unmarked graves. A chain blocks the entrance, where there's space for a single car to pull off the street.

I'm particularly partial to Chattanooga Memorial Park in Red Bank. I find something new and interesting every time I go. There's a spring-fed duck pond and several picnic tables, if sitting on the grass isn't your thing.

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