Late fall is arguably the most beautiful time of year in the Scenic City, an ideal time to embark on a journey along one of the area's backroads. For the third installment of Chatter's Scenic City Backroads series — based on routes developed by car enthusiast Eddie Rahm for his website by the same name — we focused on loops that head northwest from Chattanooga. Whether you're looking to spend a relaxing afternoon driving rural mountain roads through sleepy small towns or to combine your drive with a hike to one of the area's many stunning overlooks, these scenic drives will not disappoint.
Find full route descriptions and directions at sceniccitybackroads.net, or download the free Ride with GPS app and join the Scenic City Backroads group for turn-by-turn directions with voice cues for each loop.
Fall Creek Falls Loop
Route: From the Coker Museum in Chattanooga, this route takes Broad Street to Highway 41, running along the banks of the Tennessee River and crossing Raccoon Mountain. You'll pass through the towns of Jasper, Sequatchie and Whitwell in the valley before heading up the Cumberland Plateau past Gruetli Laager and toward Fall Creek Falls State Park, then descending back into the valley and passing through Pikeville and Dunlap. The route then heads up Walden's Ridge, through the town of Walden and down the W Road back into Chattanooga and ends at the Tivoli Theatre downtown.
Good for: Combining a drive with a visit to Fall Creek Falls State Park
Who should skip it: Drivers who want to avoid mountain roads
Distance: About 164 miles, or 4.5 hours
Photo op: The Taft Highway overlook, a pull-off along Highway 127 between Dunlap and Walden, is a good place to stop and stretch and snap a shot of the Sequatchie Valley as you head up Walden's Ridge.
Worth a stop: Fall Creek Falls State Park is a must-see attraction along this route and a great place to see the leaves change if you go during the peak season for fall colors. Overlooks of the park's namesake falls are easily accessible from a short paved trail, or you could venture down to the base of the falls — one of the tallest cascades in the Eastern U.S. at nearly 260 feet — on a slightly longer hike that features a swinging suspension bridge.
Where to eat: Stop by Fall Creek Falls State Park's recently reconstructed lodge for a meal at the restaurant, which offers indoor and outdoor dining with lake views.
Daus Mountain Loop
Route: Starting at Chattanooga's Renaissance Park, this route takes Suck Creek Road alongside the Tennessee River before heading up Suck Creek Mountain and then descending into Powells Crossroads in the Sequatchie Valley. Country roads take you past farmlands and the town of Whitwell, and the loop then takes you up the narrow, remote Daus Mountain Road with deep woods on either side. This route passes through the small towns of Gruetli Laager, Coalmont and Tracy City, then heads down the mountain toward Jasper and back into Chattanooga.
Good for: Deserted roads in remote areas
Who should skip it: People who want to avoid narrow roads and rough pavement
Distance: 110 miles, about three hours
Photo op: Take a short side trip to the Tennessee Valley Authority's Raccoon Mountain hydroelectric facility, where you can stop at the visitor center by the upper reservoir to learn more about the facility and check out the stunning views of the Tennessee River Gorge from the center's overlook.
Worth a stop: Dutch Maid Bakery & Café, 109 Main St. in Tracy City, is one of few places where you can find salt-rising bread. Opened in 1902 by the Baggenstoss family, Dutch Maid claims to be the oldest family-owned bakery in Tennessee. You can also pick up other baked goods or sandwiches from the café to enjoy as a picnic on your drive.
Where to eat: The Landing Zone Grill (previously Johnny's Hook N' Grill), 13060 Highway 28 in Whitwell, is a good spot to watch hang-gliders descend into the Sequatchie Valley, known as "the hang-gliding capital of the East." Try the fried shrimp and onion rings.