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Photo contributed by Stephen Alvarez / The Iverson family on the Middle Creek Bridge, a beautiful part of the Rainbow Lake Trail.

Long, sunny days in Tennessee are best spent outdoors with family and friends. While well-known attractions like Ruby Falls, Rock City and Ocoee River rafting are go-to hotspots for family outings, there are dozens of other hidden gems to explore both within Chattanooga's downtown proper and the surrounding area.

Strolling in the Heart of Chattanooga

If you're looking for an easygoing and convenient outdoor activity with your family, look no further than downtown's Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge, one of the longest in the world boasting scenic views and great photo opportunities. On the downtown side of the bridge, you can find the Tennessee Riverwalk, a paved walking and biking trail that weaves along the river for more than fifteen miles with numerous parks and playgrounds along the way.

Across the pedestrian bridge in North Chattanooga, Coolidge Park and Renaissance Park are side-by-side parks with beautiful views of the river, downtown and pedestrian bridge. In addition to their grassy knolls perfect for picnics, they also host kid-friendly activities like Coolidge Park's interactive water fountain and one-dollar rides on its antique carousel, and Renaissance Park's grass sledding site nicknamed "Cardboard Hill." Take in the view of the city from the top of the hill and then sled down to the bottom on sheets of cardboard for a fun all-ages activity.

 

Cooling off in the Water

For those looking to get out on the water this summer, Chattanooga's Tennessee River and surrounding creeks offer many options to choose from. Located part of the way up Lookout Mountain is Glen Falls Trail, a short, level walk featuring a rustic rock stairway and doorway, an enchanting waterfall and a wading pool for swimmers. There's also a creek just past and above the swimming hole that is perfect for kids who love exploring under rocks.

Maintained by the Chattanooga Audubon Society and reachable only by canoe, kayak or boat, Maclellan Island is an 18.8-acre nature sanctuary located in the center of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga. Because a section of the island is underneath Veterans Memorial Bridge, the island is home to a rain-shadow desert, a unique microclimate where vegetation survives in the absence of rain and sunlight. Although this destination is a primitive urban wilderness and you should plan your visit carefully, the island is outfitted with restrooms, picnic area and camping for permit-holders. With 1.5 miles of trails and a diversity of wildlife, the island is a great spot for light hikers, campers and birding families.

 

Finding Shade on the Hiking Trails

You'll find more than fifty trailheads within thirty minutes of downtown Chattanooga, which makes it one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. Lookout Mountain is famous for its numerous scenic overlook trails like Craven's House Loop, but there are also some particular gems to highlight to the north of the city. Stringer's Ridge is just outside downtown Chattanooga and hosts an urban hiking experience with short interweaving loop trails and a breathtaking overlook of the city below.

Twenty minutes outside of Chattanooga, just past Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, is Big Soddy Creek Gulf, offering a 1.25-mile level path following alongside a scenic creek with beautiful mountain views. It is a perfect option for a relaxing hike with kids who love creek play.

The Rainbow Lake Trail is located on Signal Mountain, ten minutes north of the city. Perfect for the more experienced hiking family, it offers a 3-mile loop with rocky outcroppings and one steep gorge climb to Signal Point at the end. Rainbow Lake is man-made, and its waterfall and trail overlooks are some of the most beautiful in Tennessee. This area is protected as a part of a conservation easement through The Land Trust for Tennessee, which has conserved over 1,300 acres in Hamilton County and over 130,000 acres in total. The organization works to protect public open spaces, but it also works with individual landowners to conserve and protect significant landscapes for future generations. For more information about its work, visit landtrusttn.org.

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Photo contributed by Stephen Alvarez / Izzy O'Dell with her two kids, Maddy and Tommy, getting ready for a hike.

"I feel so lucky to live in a place with such an abundance of opportunities to be outside. My family regularly hikes, bikes, paddleboards, picnics in the parks and strolls the Walnut Street Bridge. As a Chattanooga native, knowing how different the city was a few decades ago, it's always thrilling to see so many people out and about enjoying what a truly special place it is now."

"I've been hiking with my daughter since she was a baby (Rainbow Lake was her first hike at just a few months old). Now seven, she is growing up with a love for the outdoors and a sense of adventure that I know she will carry with her wherever she goes in life."

~ Sarah O'Rear, Land Trust for Tennessee director of stewardship

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