Mountain overlooks around Chattanooga are popular places for popping the question

Staff file photo by Olivia Ross / Alex Tejera proposes to Jordan Guiou on Sunset Rock.
Staff file photo by Olivia Ross / Alex Tejera proposes to Jordan Guiou on Sunset Rock.

Sometimes when she's on an assignment, Chattanooga photographer Emily Lester pretends to be a tourist. But if she looks like she's casually taking in the sights with her camera, she's not. She's waiting on the moment when two people in love walk into the frame and one drops to one knee.

"It's pretty fun to be a spy in disguise," she says.

Even after 12 years as a professional photographer specializing in weddings, elopements and other life events, Lester admits to still having nerves when she's photographing a couple mid-"Will you marry me?" She has to be ready to capture an intimate moment without intruding on it, and except for places with nowhere to hide (when she fakes being a tourist), she must remain completely out of sight so that the person about to be surprised with an engagement ring thinks they're alone with their beloved.

"It's always fun when the person who has proposed points over to me, and the person who was proposed to says, 'You had a photographer here? I had no idea.' So yeah, I'm just hiding out and waiting for the right moment," she says. "Alone with my thoughts behind a rock."

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Though the chosen location for popping the question may be personal to the couple — maybe it's where they met or had their first date — Lester says she's made repeat trips to certain areas of the Scenic City. Sunset Rock and Point Park on Lookout Mountain are popular, as is Snooper's Rock on Signal Mountain. All are high-altitude overlooks where, perhaps, the far reaches of land and sky symbolize a boundless future.

"Those are kind of the three places they tend to want to propose to their significant other," she says of her clients.

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The same holds true for another Lookout Mountain location. Marriage proposals have become fairly common at Rock City's Enchanted Garden of Lights, a holiday extravaganza that runs from late November to early January.

Meagan Jolley, senior manager of public relations and social media for See Rock City Inc., quickly cites several examples from the 2023 run, the event's 29th year.

  photo  Photo by Emily Lester / Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain is known for its views and as a popular site for marriage proposals.


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"People do reach out to us frequently to ask about logistics for popping the question," she says. "But others just come, and we see it on social media after the fact."

"Got engaged to my best friend today," reads a shared Facebook post from Dec. 23. "A New Chapter: Engaged December 16, 2023," reads another.

From December 2021, a "HeRockedIt" hashtag accompanies Instagram photos of a woman looking through a viewfinder at Rock City's Lover's Leap, while her boyfriend kneels behind her, followed by her stunned reaction when she turns around to see the engagement ring he's holding.

"Lover's Leap, especially, is a favorite place any time of year," Jolley says.

Lover's Leap, the balconied cliff where Rock City invites visitors to "See Seven States," represents everlasting love. It's named for a Cherokee legend of two young lovers from feuding tribes. When the brave, Sautee, was captured and thrown from the top of the rock, the distraught maiden, Nacoochee, then jumped to her death.

Jolley says she noticed marriage proposals at the Enchanted Garden of Lights were trending "at least 10 years ago, but it seems to have increased."

She attributes the upswing to the growing popularity of photo-sharing on social media and a surge in attendance for the Christmastime attraction, where the intermingling of twinkling lights, cold-weather snuggling and the gift-giving season seem to magically set the mood.

Not quite as high-altitude, but one of the downtown area's highest and most easily accessible peaks, the Bluff View Art District is also popular for proposals. "It's oftentimes during holidays, other seasons and warmer-weather months," Courtney Daugherty, the district's director of marketing and wholesale, says of the most common times for getting engaged in the Bluff View area.

Tucked atop a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River, this historic enclave is a charming assortment of businesses, including an inn, restaurants, a bakery and an art gallery with a scenic sculpture garden.

"From romantic, picturesque views, quaint details and the warm tones of the European atmosphere, Bluff View gives that destination feel without the destination," says Daugherty. "We often hear about how couples shared their first date at Tony's Pasta Shop or Rembrandt's Coffee House, so we love to see couples returning to their first-date spot for the proposal."

  photo  Photo by Emily Lester / The scenic view beyond Snooper's Rock on Signal Mountain provides the memorable backdrop for this marriage proposal.

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