‘Swing’ into fall with old-fashioned family fun at one of these four Chattanooga-area neighborhood playgrounds

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Many came out to play at Pioneer Frontier Playground in East Ridge. The playground, built in 1994, was recently renovated and made accessible to children with special needs.

The mention of parks in Chattanooga usually brings to mind Coolidge Park, arguably the city’s most well-known green space. The urban park’s scenic location along the banks of the Tennessee River has been the setting for events from concerts and art shows to canine agility contests.

But did you know there are more than 130 parks and recreation areas here? They include playgrounds, ball fields, golf courses, soccer complexes, walking trails, nature preserves, community parks, state parks and even a national military park.

If you’re searching for an afternoon of old-fashioned family fun on a playground, following is a look at four neighborhood playgrounds to help you get in the “swing” of things.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Many came out to play at Pioneer Frontier Playground in East Ridge. The playground, built in 1994, was recently renovated and made accessible to children with special needs.


Location: 1509 Tombras Ave.

Take the family and your dog out for a daylong staycation at this park where you can picnic, play in the water or on the playground — plus, exercise Fido all in one location. Residents of East Ridge waited three years for the March reopening of this playground, originally built by volunteers in 1994. And boy, was it worth the wait!

Rebuilt with metal and colorful plastic pieces replacing the former wood installments, the new design is ADA-compliant and includes a new splash pad and dog park.

Eight Laps Make a Mile

The playground is outlined by a concrete walking track; circle it eight times to walk a mile. The playground with pea gravel surface inside the track offers 11,856 square feet of fun. Preschool and elementary-age play sets include seven slides of varying heights reached by steps or ladders. There are sling and flat swings, monkey bars, climbing walls and even the cutout shape of a ship that rocks for pretend pirate adventures at sea.

Picnic Possibilities

On one side of the playground is a pavilion with two tables; the restrooms are on the opposite side. Pack a lunch since the closest place to buy food is across busy Ringgold Road at Jack’s or The Epicurean.

Play For Pooches

The new dog park officially opened July 9. Located behind East Ridge Library across the parking lot from Pioneer Frontier, it includes agility tunnels, hoops, seesaw and lots of green space to sniff. One section of the park is fenced off for small breeds.

Get In a Workout

Bright orange metal pieces fill one corner of the playground at a workout station for adults and kids. Scan a QR code for tips to use its Thrive 450 equipment.

Make A Splash

The new splash pad lures preschoolers and parents to dash through its 19 water features. Four, tall lotus petals anchor the corners. Inside of those, fountains shoot up from beneath the concrete floor, water rains down from sprinklers as well as drenches anyone beneath the rotating paddles of the center water wand. Water cycles through the splash pad on a recirculating pump.

“Even when it starts storming people don’t want to leave. We have to tell them they can’t stay in a storm,” said Shawna Skiles, East Ridge Parks and Recreation director.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / St. Elmo Park, Blue Cross Healthy Place


Location: 4909 St. Elmo Ave.

Tucked into the foot of Lookout Mountain on a heavily trafficked residential street in St. Elmo, this eye-catching park opened in March. Designated a BlueCross Healthy Place, the neighborhood playground was funded with a $750,000 grant from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

This revamped playground replaced aging equipment in the park. It includes ramp access, challenge course, fitness station and new soft rubber floor surface — all done in a vibrant royal blue and white color scheme.

Play For All Ages, Abilities

It’s designed with two play areas for ages 2 to 5 and 6 to 12. Kids can see who is king of the mountain on climbing walls made of rope or metal. Age-appropriate swings and slides are on each playground.

A workout section includes a balance board, push-up bar, hand cycle and captain’s chair. Instructions for their use are offered on a sign installed beside the equipment.

Parents can pass the time walking the path that circles the playground but is close enough to keep an eye on the kids from every angle.

Picnic Possibilities

Although the playground is not shaded, a pavilion with restrooms is set off among trees and includes two picnic tables. Bring a lunch; the closest spot to pick up food is 2 miles away in St. Elmo at the intersection of St. Elmo Avenue and Ochs Highway.

Clean Enough to Impress Mom

If first impressions are lasting, this park will be remembered for its cleanliness and grounds upkeep. Granted, this park only opened in March, but the blue-and-white play equipment is practically pristine, no litter to be seen on the grounds and the surrounding lawn is well maintained.

“We are visiting from Florida and stopped because I saw the variety of activities for my younger and older sons. Also, it looked extremely clean. It’s phenomenal how clean,” said Heather Schmitt of Vero Beach.

Take a Hike

Access Guild Trail up Lookout Mountain from the back side of the park across Alabama Avenue. Park along Alabama and look for a yellow sign marking the trail entrance. The trail is an upward climb with several switchbacks before heading south where it meets Glenn Falls Trail. More yellow signs mark the trail.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Vandergriff Park is located in Hixson.


Location: 1414 Gadd Road

Nestled into a Hixson residential neighborhood, this park is named in memory of the late Commissioner James R. Vandergriff. It’s across Gadd Road from the Hixson Youth Athletic Association ball complex.

You don’t have to be a UTC Mocs fan to appreciate its cheerful royal blue and gold color scheme. A lighted asphalt walking path encircles the playground and the property includes a large pavilion with restrooms.

Chutes N Ladders

There is play equipment for younger and older children that includes a dozen swings and just as many slides accessed by stairs, ramps and climbing walls.

Picnic Possibilities

The pavilion includes overhead lighting and 10 picnic tables. Four more blue metal tables are spaced across the grassy space encircling the pea gravel playground.

Bring your meal since the closest place to pick up anything is 1.7 miles away on Highway 153.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Imagination Station is located in Collegedale.


Location: 4910 Swinyar Drive

This expansive playground, in combination with the adjacent Commons, has become the entertainment epicenter of the Ooltewah/Collegedale area.

The playground’s train theme is designed with two age-appropriate playgrounds inviting kids to swing, climb, jump, hop and crawl through tunnels, logs and small train cars. The Commons has become a well-used event center hosting anything from concerts and cook-offs to farmer’s markets and fall festivals.

Imagination Station was built by East Hamilton volunteers in the early 1990s. After the original wooden equipment began deteriorating, the decision was made in 2015 to update it with metal and plastic equipment and make it ADA-compliant.

Lots To Do

Parents won’t hear whines of “I’m bored” here.

There is a fenced toddler playground with bucket swings and rocking ride-on animals that adjoin the main play area.

A child-size train engine and several cars are the centerpiece from which a swinging bridge, ramps and stairs lead to turreted towers. There are a dozen swings, covered and open slides, balance log, stationary exercise equipment and climbing walls to explore.

A real caboose and boxcar are stationed beside the pavilion, where visitors will find restrooms and four pickleball courts.

Within Walking Distance

Walk, skate, bike or push a scooter along the concrete walkway beside the playground that connects to the Collegedale Greenway through a tunnel under Apison Pike. The easy, 3-mile greenway parallels Wolftever Creek.

Don’t let a rain shower dampen your fun. Just run across the parking lot to the Collegedale Library to read a book or catch a story hour until showers pass.

Or, make a short walk (less than 75 yards away) around the corner and down the sidewalk on Apison Pike to discover a smorgasbord of world cuisine.

Choose from Curry Pot Taste of India, Los Potros Mexican Restaurant, China Kitchen, Papa John’s or Domino’s pizzas, Frogurtland, 4Corners Cafe, The Bakery and Scooters’s Coffee.

Collegedale’s Boardwalk Empire

Tying Imagination Station to the 10,000-square-foot Commons and its surrounding event halls is a recently built boardwalk.

“The boardwalk is 400 feet and leads to three pavilions that are 18 by 18 feet,” said David Barto, executive director of the Collegedale Foundation. “The pavilions are open to anyone who would like to stop in one and picnic.”

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Construction continues at the Little Debbie Park at the Commons on July 22, 2022. Several features at the playground are reminiscent of Little Debbie snacks.


Coming in 2023

Location: Swinyar Drive

The Commons’ attraction continues to grow with the anticipated addition of Little Debbie Park at The Commons. This 10-acre park, currently under construction, will flank the opposite side of The Commons from Imagination Station. It is funded by McKee Foods Foundation.

“It will have all kinds of interactive fun and a large hill (32 feet) for sliding, much like the one at Renaissance Park downtown,” said Barto.

Sit On a Snack Cake

The new playground’s highlight will be five play sculptures designed like popular Little Debbie cakes. There will be Oatmeal Cookie and Nutty Bar seating, Cosmic Brownie climbing wall, Chocolate Cupcake sculpture and a seasonal white Christmas tree cake.

Qualifies For Arboretum Status

In addition to two stormwater ponds, the landscaping will include 418 trees and 5,775 shrubs. One large and five small pavilions will be available for picnics.

Sensory Experience

Little Debbie Park will not only have 16 swings but 20 more play experiences to activate the senses. These include a sensory dome, log climber and log balance beam, zipline, geometric Eclipse, sensory wave seat, wrinkle wall sidewinder and PlayCore musical instruments.

  photo  Photo by Susan Pierce / Take a tackle box, fill its compartments with your favorite snack foods and you’ve just made a snackle box.

Road Trip Snack Hack

Take a tackle box, fill its compartments with your favorite snack foods. and you’ve just made a snackle box.

Think charcuterie board in a box. Fill one with meat, cheeses, crackers, nuts and chocolates, take along a bottle of wine and it’s date night.

Fill one with chocolates for your valentine, gummies and candy assortment for Halloween or healthy fruits and veggies for a playground picnic.

It’s small enough to fit in a backpack but big enough to hold a good assortment of snacks.