The constraints of the coronavirus have us all feeling a little stir crazy. Maybe you're working from home, or out of work entirely, surrounded by kids and other family members. If you've so far dodged any symptoms of COVID-19 but have a bad case of cabin fever setting in, then consider one of these scenic drives through the region.
Gas is cheaper than it's been in years. Many restaurants are staying open, even if you have to settle for the drive-through and eat in the car.
This list of scenic stops originally appeared in the August 2017 edition of Get Out magazine, but being able to tap into something familiar seems essential right now.
For this assignment, former staffer Myron Madden went looking for some of the region's underrated overlooks, the less frequented, though no less breathtaking, lookout locations. All are easy to access and, this time of year, full of burgeoning greenery. The bonus: You won't have to rely on the standbys — Sunset Rock and Edwards Point — that are likely getting plenty of visitors right now.
Keep in mind that anywhere you travel, visitor centers and restrooms may be closed. TVA already has announced that the visitor center at its pumped storage facility at Raccoon Mountain (one of the overlook options below) will be closed indefinitely. Other situations may change by the hour.
State parks in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia are open too, offering lots of fresh air and social-distancing opportunities, so look for ideas for enjoying a stop there elsewhere on the page.
Located in Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area, this panoramic vista remains a slightly ironic testament to its late namesake, Zilman Smith Hood, a Georgia business owner and preservationist who ran daily even after losing his eyesight in his 30s. The cliff grants visitors an expansive view of everything from the cities of LaFayette and Summerville below to Johns Mountain and Taylor Ridge in the distance. Its wide, open space has also made it a frequent launch point for hang glider pilots.
* Drive time: 1.15 hours from Chattanooga
* Plan your trip: The wildlife management area is home to several trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, but those are just the appetizers. Just north of Hood Overlook you'll find Pigeon Mountain's blue hole, as well as Ellison's Cave, the 12th-deepest cave in the United States. Climbers can also drop by Rocktown just 1.5 miles away to find boulders for all skill levels.
Few downtown-facing overlooks can make you feel as small and reverent as this Raccoon Mountain gem can. From its fenced perimeter, visitors can see everything from Moccasin Bend to the Cherokee National Forest, including the entirety of downtown Chattanooga, which is easily dwarfed by Lookout Mountain looming to the Southeast. If you aren't impressed, come back at sunset to watch the line of golden light retreat from the valley as the city itself begins to glow. We promise you'll be mesmerized.
* Drive time: 15 minutes from Chattanooga
* Plan your trip: Mountain bikers and hikers may already be familiar with the series of trails that encircle the Tennessee Valley Authority's pumped storage facility atop Raccoon Mountain. After taking in the view, take a trip on the 13-mile technical loop, easily accessed from East Overlook, which offers more views of downtown and the Tennessee River Gorge. Or bike the two newer, steeper trails: Livewire and High Voltage. Don't forget to check out the more expansive view of the gorge from the overlook at the Raccoon Mountain Visitor Center 2.3 miles away from East Overlook. (TVA has closed the Visitor Center indefinitely.)
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There's a simple reason Snoopers Rock is one of the most photographed vistas near Chattanooga: It has the best view of the Tennessee River Gorge from any angle, at least in our opinion. Decide for yourself with an early morning trip to this easy-to-reach hotspot in Prentice Cooper State Forest, where you can watch the sun peek over the mountains as the valley fills with mist. There's only one word to describe the scene: magic.
* Drive time: 30 minutes from Chattanooga
* Plan your trip: If you're hungry for more scenery or just itching to prove us wrong about Snoopers, check out the "Grand Canyon of Tennessee" from the other angles accessible via the trails in Prentice Cooper, most of which are rated intermediate. You can take Mullens Cove Loop (10 miles) to Mullins Cove Overlook, Pot Point Loop (12 miles) to Ransom Hollow Overlook, or follow the Poplar Spring section of the Cumberland Trail (5 miles) to find Lawson Rock Overlook.
CLOUDLAND CANYON OVERLOOK
Accessed through the park's Overlook Trail, Cloudland Canyon's signature overlook provides a stunning preview of all the state park has to offer — should you be compelled to peel yourself from the awesome view. From the fenced ridge, hikers can peer down into the thousand-foot-deep gorge where sandstone walls are lined with lush, green trees, and see one of the waterfalls the park has in store for those who venture onward.
* Drive time: 30 minutes from Chattanooga
* Plan your trip: With 30 miles of trails to explore, there's plenty for hikers and mountain bikers to do at Cloudland Canyon. To get started, we recommend you take a trip down the strenuous, 2-mile Waterfall Trail, where you'll be rewarded with a close-up of the park's two other picturesque attractions: Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls. Options for golfing, fishing, caving and horseback riding are also available at select locations in the park.
GREAT STONE DOOR
Named for the top-to-bottom crack that makes this massive cliff face look like a door left slightly ajar, this rock is a sight to behold — though it's the view from its peak that's the true wonder. From the top of the door, sojourners can see where the three gulfs that make up the Savage Gulf State Natural Area converge, and the simple, paved trail makes the impressive view accessible to anyone.
* Drive time: 55 minutes from Chattanooga
* Plan your trip: In addition to approximately 55 miles of hiking trails, Savage Gulf offers a buffet of breathtaking overlooks. After you've taken in your fill at the Stone Door overlook, journey to Rattlesnake Point to catch another stunning view of the gulf; Savage Falls Overlook to sneak a peek at the titular waterfall; and Split Rock Overlook to get a better view of Stone Door itself.
CHILHOWEE MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK
If you're ever passing by the Cherokee National Forest, consider spending the night at Chilhowee Recreation Area, if only to catch a glimpse of this almost tropical view. From one of the many observation overlooks atop Chilhowee Mountain, you'll be able to see the uniquely pyramid-shaped Sugarloaf Mountain and the sparkling, Ocoee River-fed waters of Parksville Lake, both of which will have you questioning whether you're in Tennessee anymore.
* Drive time: 1.15 hours from Chattanooga
* Plan your trip: In addition to its 25 miles of trails for hiking and biking, Chilhowee Recreation Area gives travelers access to nearby McKamy Lake, where they can spend a day resting on its sandy beach, swimming in its cool waters or catching trout from its banks. Within the area, visitors will also find Benton Falls and many opportunities for wildlife viewing.
We like to believe that when Chattanooga photographers die, they don't go gently into the light; they're transported 170 miles northeast to Great Smoky Mountains National Park so their souls can spend eternity shooting stills from Morton Overlook. Famed as a shutterbug's paradise, the picturesque beauty of Sugarlands Valley below is well worth the drive. Each day offers a different view — especially when the setting sun lights up the sky with various reds and oranges, pinks and purples as it slowly sinks behind the surrounding ripple of mountains.
* Drive time: 3 hours from Chattanooga
* Plan your trip: The Great Smoky Mountains offer a plethora of activities for outdoorsmen of all tastes, but if you've driven that far just for the view, you're in luck. Within a 20-minute drive of Morton Overlook there are other outstanding vista points, such as Inspiration Point, Chimney Tops Overlook and Carlos Campbell Overlook. When you're ready to take a break, head to nearby Chimneys Picnic Area to eat lunch and marvel at the view of Little Pigeon River, where swimming and fishing are allowed.
This overlook in the newly acquired Window Cliffs State Natural Area may not be the most traditional since it does not offer far-reaching scenery hundreds of feet below, but the unique geological formations towering above make it a must-see for any local explorer. After 2 miles of tough trails, hikers will get full view of the titular bluff, so named because years of erosion on both sides have left it with natural bridges, or open spaces in its limestone that resemble a window.
* Drive time: 2 hours from Chattanooga
* Plan your trip: If you want to experience everything the natural area has to offer, you'll have to pay your way in sweat. To get to the top of the limestone cliff, you'll need to traverse the 5-mile out-and-back trail, which has a total of 18 creek crossings and is considered strenuous. If you succeed, you'll be rewarded with a satisfying, near-360-degree view of the treetops covering the native forest below. But take heed: Both going and coming, you will get wet.
Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama state parks remain open
State parks in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama are open during the coronavirus threat, though some programming may be canceled and access to facilities or other areas may be restricted. Because the evolving nature of the coronavirus makes all information subject to change, it’s best to check websites before traveling long distances.
Officials are touting the parks as viable options for anyone seeking solitude in nature as a solo adventurer or part of a small group. It would seem to be a great time to visit, as time outdoors is proven to relieve stress and improve mental and physical health. And parks provide plenty of room to maintain social distance.
In Tennessee, all park-hosted events through March 31 have been canceled. Recommended health precautions are being undertaken to maintain clean and sanitary public spaces, though offices, visitor centers and restrooms may be closed on a park-by-park basis.
For updates, visit https://tnstateparks.com/about/keeping-visitors-healthy.
In Georgia, all parks and historic sites managed by the Department of Natural Resources remain open, though some partner-operated sites may have reduced hours or closures. Facilities are being thoroughly cleaned and restrooms are well-stocked with soap. Hiking trails, fishing docks, campsites, accommodations, golf courses and other amenities are available. Some ranger programs have been modified to comply with public health recommendations.
For updates, visit https://gastateparks.org/Alerts.
In Alabama, cave tours at Cathedral Caverns and Rickwood Caverns state parks have been suspended until April 6. The sites’ campgrounds, trails and gift shops are open, as are other parks in the state system.
For updates, visit https://www.facebook.com/ALStateParks/.