For years, drivers of Ferraris and Porsches and Shelby Cobras have quietly slipped into Chattanooga on their way to points unknown. Well, at least "unknown" to people not named Eddie Rahm.
The one constant in these car-club excursions has been Rahm, who personally curates many of these road trips to include the best scenic stops, restaurants and attractions. A former motorcycle-club leader and writer, Rahm sees value in documenting road-trip itineraries for others to follow.
Using the Scenic City as a launching point, the motor clubs have explored the Southern Appalachian region in their high-performance cars, winding across mountain roads and then snaking back down into lush valleys, following carefully drawn paths chosen by an experienced and discerning traveler.
Now, Rahm, a semi-retired engineering specialist, is ready to share his secret maps with a wider audience with this fall's release of a new, curated website called Scenic City Backroads. Rahm says he is doing this as a gift to the city where his family has lived for six generations. He is not being paid to share these trip guides and has no plans to charge for access to the information.
"I'm from Chattanooga. We've been here six generations," he said in an interview earlier this summer. "What I teach my kids is, you are either going to be a leader or a follower in life. There's no in-between."
The website (sceniccitybackroads.net) includes 17 road trips, all mapped out with plenty of notes about the best pit stops along the way. All but one or two of the trips are meant to be completed in a day's time and to put no more than 200 miles on your car's odometer.
By the Numbers
6 — The number of generations Eddie Rahm's family has lived in the Chattanooga area
20 — The number of years Rahm and his wife, Mary, have spent meticulously documenting the best road-trip routes originating in Chattanooga
600 — The number of hours Rahm estimates he has spent traveling and documenting day-trip "loops" for his Scenic City Backroads project
17 — The number of road trips included (so far) on the Scenic City Backroads website
120-200 — The typical number of miles in a day-trip loop
Although some of the routes bisect small towns, Rahm tries to stick to country roads to showcase sights and sounds that are literally off the beaten path. He likes taking road trips with his wife, Mary, in their 2015 Porsche Boxster. Rahm calls his day trips "loops" because the 120- to 200-mile journeys typically start and stop in Chattanooga. Drawn on a map, some of the loops look like ovals, while others are shaped more like bananas.
About a decade ago, Rahm came up with a similar user's guide to area backroads called "The Biker's Dozen." A former leader of a Christian motorcycle club called Wings in the Wind, Rahm brought years of backroad biking to the design of the routes for motorcycle enthusiasts.
"I'm all about backroads and small towns," Rahm said at the time. "I tell people who complain that things from the past are gone, 'They're still here; you've just got to get off the interstates.'"
Over the years, he has refined his loops and adapted them to automobiles, since they can go on country roads that are sometimes too treacherous for motorcycles — which are allergic to loose gravel. Also, he has integrated modern technology by linking the routes to an app called "Ride with GPS," which will offer turn-by-turn instructions on each of the loops.
Beginning with this edition, Chatter magazine will introduce readers to these Scenic City Backroad loops in the "Diversion" section. So check your oil and rev up your engines. Our Scenic City's backroads beckon.
Drive the 'Scenic City Backroads' with these three loops heading northeast from Chattanooga
We're kicking off the Scenic City Boackroads series with creator Eddie Rahm's picks of the top three routes in the Northeastern region of the Greater Chattanooga area. Download the Ride with GPS app for free (thanks to local car affciando and Coker Museum owner Corky Coker) to get turn-by-turn voice directions so you can just enjoy the ride.
Route: This loop features scenic views on a mixture of narrow country roads and curvy state highways. From Hamilton Place mall, it heads north up I-75 toward U.S. 11, heading east into the countryside via two-lane roads before heading back to the highway. Next, it passes through Charleston, crosses the Hiwassee River and into Calhoun before heading into Delano and back over the Hiwassee. The route then goes alongside the river, past Reliance and on toward Ocoee Lake. It heads back to Chattanooga on country roads, passing through the outskirts of Cleveland and Apison and crossing briefly into Georgia before ending at Chattanooga's Heritage Park.
Good for: River and lake views and drivers who prefer to avoid mountain roads
Who should skip it: Drivers who don't like curvy roads
Length: 121 miles, about four hours
Photo op: Scenic views abound along the Ocoee Scenic Byway, the first-ever designated national forest scenic byway. The portion of the byway that runs along U.S. 64 passing through the Ocoee River gorge and Ocoee/Parksville Lake is included in the Calhoun Loop. Mac Point Beach Recreation Area in Reliance is a good place to stop and take in the scenery, have a picnic or go for a swim.
Worth a stop: Webb Brothers General Store, open since 1936, once served as the post office for the town of Reliance. In addition to being a general store, Webb Brothers also provides a float service that transports people to a put-in on the Hiwassee River 5 miles upstream, allowing them to float down the river through the Cherokee National Forest and back into town. If you'd rather drink wine than float on the water, stop for a tasting at Savannah Oaks Winery in Delano.
Where to eat: Steelwheel Corner, 8784 U.S. 411 in Benton, is a 1950s-themed diner and gift shop located in a renovated service station that's a popular stopping spot for car club. It serves up traditional diner food, such as hamburgers, hot dogs and milkshakes.
Tellico Plains Loop
Route: While nearby drives such as the Cherohala Skyway and the Dragons Tail (aka Deal's Gap) attract loads of car enthuiasts and motorcycle riders, this scenic loop takes the roads less traveled. From Hamilton Place mall, the route takes I-75 up toward Snow Hill Road, passing over Savannah Bay and through the countryside on remote roads before taking the highway north, crossing the Hiwassee River and heading back into the country. It then meanders through the outskirts of Sweetwater to the city of Madisonville and past the small towns of Tellico Plains, Farner, Turtletown and Ducktown. The route then heads west on a curvy highway sandwiched between the Ocoee River and a vertical rock mountain to Ocoee Lake. Next, it veers back toward the country and through Varnell, then heads north through Ringgold and back toward I-75 to the Tennessee Welcome Center.
Good for: Drivers looking for little-traveled country roads in remote areas
Who should skip it: Drivers who want to avoid rough pavement
Length: 197 miles, about six hours
Photo op: Shortly after turning onto U.S. 64, park at the pull-off for views of Ocoee Lake and Ocoee Dam. If you time your trip with recreational release dates at Ocoee Dam No. 2, you can watch the whitewater rafters and kayakers brave the rapids. Several parking areas also have public restrooms if you need one.
Worth a stop: Go by Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams, 2603 Highway 41 in Madisonville, to pick up some famous Benton's bacon, which can be found on the brunch menus of many of Chattanooga's best restaurants.
Where to eat: Donna's Old Town Cafe, 100 Collegedale St. S in Madisonville, is known for its buffets filled with home-style country cooking, including breakfast classics like sausage and biscuits, along with loads of lunch and dinner options, from chicken and fish to fried green tomatoes and pie.
Route: This long drive passes through charming little towns along the Ocoee River, with plenty of opportunities to stop and shop, eat or explore. From Hamilton Place mall, this route takes I-75 to U.S.-11 East, an old two-lane highway, toward Ocoee Lake and the Ocoee River. Next, you'll take on 33 miles of curves passing through the small communities of Ducktown, Turtletown and Tellico Plains before turning onto another highway toward the city of Englewood, past Athens and through Decatur before ending at Tennessee Riverpark.
Good for: Exploring small towns
Who should skip it: People who don't enjoy driving curvy roads
Length: 170 miles, about five hours
Photo op: Fields of the Wood, located a few minutes off of U.S. 68 and just across the North Carolina border on NC 294, is a unique 200-acre Biblical theme park with giant monuments. It was created by A.J. Tomlinson, then head of the Church of God of Prophecy, before his death in 1943, according to the church's website. You're unlikely to find a 300-foot-wide representation of the 10 Commandments stretched across a mountainside anywhere else.
Worth a stop: The Burra Burra mine, located just off U.S. 68 at 212 Burra Burra St. in Ducktown, was once the largest copper mine in the area, known as the Copper Basin. The site is now a giant sinkhole that formed when a portion of the mine collapsed, and it's also home to the Ducktown Basin Museum that focuses on the area's mining history.
Where to eat: Make a sweet stop at Dairy Barn, 1108 Congress Parkway in Athens, for a banana split or strawberry shortcake.