It's fall, and that means the stunning overlooks in the Chattanooga area are at their best.
The subtle reds, yellows, greens and browns pop during the heart of the season and paint a picturesque scene across the region. There are hundreds of ways to view fall colors across the area, but few are better than the panoramic views from atop an overlook.
As the outdoors reporter for the newspaper, the job has taken me to Chattanooga's best wild places. This is a list of my favorite overlooks to view fall colors. There are obviously plenty that did not make this list, including a couple of my favorite spots (hey, I have to keep a few of my favorite lesser known spots relatively a secret, right?). This list narrows down 10 of the best, but it also offers some diversity. There are well-known places: Spoiler: Snoopers Rock ranks highly. But this list also features overlooks you may not know — or at least have never been to. We mostly focused on locations in Hamilton County, but we also chose one spot in the surrounding area in each direction: North, East, South and West (more Northwest, but you get the idea). Marion County to the direct west has arguably the most scenic roads to drive in the fall. State Highway 156 is a personal favorite, but the point of this list is to highlight the best sweeping overlooks in the region.
So, here we go. It's relatively in order from 10 to 1, but a lot just depends on the day and what you're looking for. Easy access? A long hike? Mountain views? Number five could easily be number one or vice versa. You get the idea. At the bottom, there's a map with trailheads to each of these places.
10. Signal Point/Julia Falls
Located at one of the most popular hiking trails in the Chattanooga area, this overlook gives views into the Tennessee River Gorge toward Raccoon Mountain. There are a number of overlooks along the trail, including one located at the Signal Point Reservation trailhead parking lot. This first overlook doesn't involve hiking. However, it is directly on the Cumberland Trail and leads to Julia Falls overlook about a half-mile down the steep trail. Learn more.
9. Stringer's Ridge
Stringer's Ridge offers one of my favorite views of Chattanooga. Its overlook located near the Spears Avenue trailhead is a quick reminder why we refer to ourselves as the Scenic City. The clearing is surrounded by forested area that really pops in the fall, but it also shows off downtown Chattanooga, North Shore, the bridges and Lookout Mountain in one peaceful shot.
8. Sunset Rock
Sunset Rock is on every list for places to visit, overlooks to see and even one list for "best outdoor kissing spots" (thanks, RootsRated). Full disclosure: my engagement photos were taken here. Everyone living in or visiting Chattanooga who's capable should experience a sunset here at least once. Learn more.
7. Anywhere in Savage Gulf State Natural Area
This 15,590-acre natural area in Grundy and Sequatchie counties has a number of overlooks along its more than 50 miles of hiking trails. Admittedly, I have yet to do all of them — although it's on the hiking to-do list. Savage Falls Overlook, Split Rock Overlook and Great Stone Door Overlook are among the more well-known. Learn more.
6. Raccoon Mountain East Overlook
Did I say Stringer's Ridge offered one of my favorite views of Chattanooga? Well, this overlook may be my absolute favorite for seeing the city. As a cyclist, it's arguably the best ride in the area, and the drive (for those of you who are more sane) is equally beautiful. The route along the river, up Raccoon Mountain Road, to the East Overlook displays the absolute beauty of the area and offers a view that stretches miles across the Tennessee Valley. Learn more.
5. Raccoon Mountain Visitors Center
Both Raccoon Mountain stops can be visited in one quick-trip but offer two distinct experiences. The Raccoon Mountain Visitors Center on the backside of the mountain is ADA accessible. It gives another shot of the Tennessee River Gorge from the west side of the mountain.
If you look down, you will often see mountain bikers riding on the area's most praised mountain bike trail system. I typically prefer the east overlook, but in the fall, the view of the gorge from the visitors center is nearly unmatched. Learn more.
As a Lee University graduate, this list wouldn't be complete without a Chilhowee mention. It's the go-to place for sightseeing for Bradley and Polk counties. The overlook gives an expansive view of the Ocoee River, Parksville Lake and its surrounding mountains. Plus, there's parking on-site. Learn more.
3. Lookout Mountain Flight Park
Atop Burkhalter Gap, the launch at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park features one of the most jaw-dropping views in the region. It faces west from the Georgia mountain to give a birds-eye view of Alabama and Tennessee. Stop by, watch the hang gliders and enjoy. There are areas to park along Scenic Highway, but keep in mind, this is an operating business and hang gliders will be using the launch. Mind your distance. Learn more.
The journey to the view is what makes this overlook rank so highly among my personal favorites. There are water crossings, a waterfall, a couple of overlooks and historical elements. The trail starts along Richland Creek and the old Richland Mine — which used to provide power and water to Dayton, Tenn. more than 100 years ago.
The hiking trail is a treat in itself, but it ends at one of the best overlooks in the area for seeing fall colors. The moderate hike will take you to Laurel Falls and up to the first overlook. This is where most people seem to turn around and head back, but you should keep going. The best overlook on the trail is just ahead. There is a small creek crossing just beyond the falls. It's about ankle deep (or shin deep for those who aren't 6'6".) In fall or winter, I recommend bringing a towel to dry off to stay warm. A short hike past the creek, and you'll reach the overlook that makes this trail magnificent. Learn more.
1. Snoopers Rock
One of the most famous views in Chattanooga is also, in my opinion, the best. The horseshoe bend of Elder/Raccoon Mountain in the foreground from this stunning overlook in Prentice Cooper State Forest captures the Tennessee River Gorge and all its beauty. It may be one of the most popular overlooks in the region, but that doesn't mean it's not still splendid. There are reasons places are popular. A day-hike to the overlook from the Ritchie Hollow trail is my personal recommendation. It combines two of the best trails in Chattanooga for one splendid 7.5-mile hike with a giant payoff. Learn more.