For the final installment of Chatter's four-part Scenic City Backroads series, which is based on the website created by car enthusiast Eddie Rahm, we're focusing on loops combining remote country roads with stops at lesser-known parks southwest of Chattanooga. The Pocket Loop also offers the option for a seasonal stop at a family-run Christmas tree farm to pick up a freshly cut tree.
To find detailed directions for these and other loops featuring backroads around Chattanooga, visit the Scenic City Backroads site at sceniccitybackroads.net. For turn-by-turn directions with voice cues, download the free Ride With GPS app and join the Scenic City Backroads group.
Little River Canyon Loop
Route: Beginning in St. Elmo, this route heads into Georgia and passes through the towns of Chickamauga, LaFayette, Trion and Summerville before crossing into Alabama past Cedar Bluff, Centre and Lake Weiss. In Leesburg, the route turns toward Lookout Mountain, heading up and around the western rim of the Little River Canyon National Preserve and traversing the top of Lookout Mountain before heading back down into Chattanooga.
Good for: Combining a park visit with a drive through the country
Who should skip it: Anyone who wants a shorter drive
Distance: About 5 hours, or 186 miles
Photo op: The portion of Highway 176 that hugs the western rim of the Little River Canyon National Preserve is chock-full of scenic spots, including multiple overlooks, a waterfall and Mushroom Rock.
Worth a stop: Folk artist Howard Finster's Paradise Garden near Summerville, Georgia, is home to 46,000 works, including historical figures and pop icons. Fun fact: Paradise Garden was the location where rock group REM filmed its video for the song "Radio Free Europe."
Where to eat: Open since 1989, Phil's Primetime Pizza is a longtime local favorite in a historic building in downtown Chickamauga, Georgia, known for its pizza baked in a stone oven with dough that's made fresh daily.
Route: From East Brainerd, this loop takes country roads and state highways to the town of Armuchee and the Pocket Recreation Area in Northwest Georgia, a good halfway point to stop and have a break and picnic. The route continues south with a pleasant drive down shady Everett Springs Road, which parallels a small creek. After turning down a few more two-lane roads, you'll turn onto Highway 27 toward Big Texas Valley Road and SR 100 before heading back north to Chattanooga through the small Georgia towns of Lyerly, Menlo, LaFayette and Flintstone.
Good for: A relaxing ride in the country with a midway stop at a little-known park
Who should skip it: People looking for mountain drives
Distance: 4.5 hours, or 146 miles
Photo op: In LaFayette, take a short detour off of Pocket Road to the Johns Mountain overlook, accessed via a 2-mile dirt road, for an unparalleled view of the Armuchee Valley looking toward Lookout Mountain.
Worth a stop: If you're taking this loop in early December, take the opportunity to find your perfect Christmas tree at Kittle Christmas Tree Farm, at 949 Salem Valley Road in Ringgold, a family-run farm offering Leyland cyprus, Carolina Sapphire and white pine trees. Be sure to check if the farm is open before you go.
Where to eat: Stop by the Grey Flower Deli in Apison to pick up a picnic lunch to eat at the Pocket Recreation Area. This family-owned deli uses top-quality Boar's Head meats and cheeses for its sandwiches and offers a selection of freshly made desserts.