The Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Chattanooga
Contributed By: Guest Blogger, Lucy Crawford
It’s no wonder Chattanooga’s nickname is the "Scenic City.” It’s tough to find a place in and around town that’s not a nature lover’s paradise. Here are the eight best places to see native fall foliage in Chattanooga.
1. Rainbow Lake Wilderness Trailhead on Signal Mountain
Just fifteen minutes from Chattanooga’s downtown area, Signal Mountain is a favorite hiking spot for locals and visitors. The mountain is home to a multitude of well-maintained trails, including the popular Rainbow Lake Wilderness Trailhead. Only two miles long, this trail is a great place to explore the persimmons, hackberry, and red maple trees. Keep an eye out for the deer and occasional red fox. The park is pet-friendly so feel free to bring along your leashed four-legged friend.
2. Lula Lake
If you’re up for a steep hike, Lula Lake Land Trust, just outside of Chattanooga is well worth visiting. The upper falls leading into Lula Lake are surrounded by dogwood, snowbell, and black oak trees. You’ll also find the beautiful red chokeberry. (This plant does better in the wild than in backyards where shade is sometimes scarce.) You can head out for a long or short hike, but many trails include scenic overviews of waterfalls, each of which is ensconced by lush plant life. Although the sections of the park are typically only open on the first and last Saturday of each month, the majority of the trails are open daily, year-round.
3. Enterprise South Nature Park
Photo by Elijah M. Henderson
This nature park is located just off Interstate 75, making it easy to get to for busy travelers. The park is large, home to 1,300 acres of trails and scenic areas. While mountain bikers frequently use the area, you can also hike or leisurely walk the trails to catch a glimpse of box elder maple and Common Yarrow.
4. Prentice Cooper State Forest
Prentice Cooper State Forest is home to 6,000 acres of protected land. With that acreage comes the opportunity to see some of Chattanooga’s shade-loving native foliage, like moss phlox. You can camp overnight or set out for a short hike on one of the park’s 35 miles of hiking trails.
5. Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center
Photo by Jeff Guenther for Reflection Riding
For a more refined escape to nature, consider checking out the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center or one of Chattanooga’s’ many other botanical gardens. This arboretum and garden offers visitors a close-up view of local flora and covers nearly 317 acres.
6. Stringer’s Ridge
Stringer’s Ridge features 92 acres of wilderness trails just outside of the downtown area. This accessible destination overlooks the Tennessee River and offers trails that are ideal for running, mountain biking, or walking. The oaks, meadows, and poplars are especially amazing in the fall, as they begin shedding their leaves. New England has nothing on Chattanooga when it comes to beautiful fall colors!
7. Lookout Mountain Tower
Located at Ruby Falls, Lookout Mountain Tower is part of the historic limestone castle built in 1929. Climb the stairs to the top of the tower and get rewarded with a sweeping view of the Cumberland Plateau and Tennesee River. This bird's-eye view is incredible year-round but during the fall it is especially eye-popping with views of the valley and mountains blanketed in vivid autumn colors. Because of this spectacular view, Ruby Falls was selected by the State of Tennessee to be a location for one of only 13 specially equipped color-correcting viewfinders in the entire state. The viewer’s special lenses give folks with colorblindness the ability to see the true colors of fall. You’ll find this viewfinder on the Blue Heron Overlook at Ruby Falls. A Ruby Falls admission ticket isn’t required to try the viewfinder on Blue Heron Overlook but to access other areas of the park, including Lookout Mountain Tower, you’ll need a ticket.
While you're at Ruby Falls, stop by the cafe in the historic castle for a casual meal, local craft beer or fall treat to enjoy by the beautiful stone fireplace. The Castle Cafe was recently restored, revealing the stately limestone fireplace spanning an entire wall, returning the castle's main floor to its original purpose as a gathering place where Ruby Falls guests and locals can enjoy a meal and time together. An admission ticket is not required to visit the Castle Cafe.
7. Tennessee River
Whether you’re looking to take a leisurely leaf-peeping stroll, riverboat cruise or paddle slowly among the lush Chattanooga foliage, the Tennessee River offers it all. Accessible from multiple points in and near Chattanooga, the river is easy to get to and provides numerous opportunities to see native plants and trees. You’ll find white ash as well as several varieties of hardwoods and ground covers that are also breathtaking in the fall.
There are several ways to see all the beauty the river has to offer. The Riverwalk stretches thirteen miles from Chickamauga Dam to the base of Lookout Mountain. This popular river access allows you to park your car and walk or bike slowly along the river. Several of the shops downtown rent paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes. The Southern Belle Riverboat even offers fall color cruises this time of year.
Since most Tennesee homeowners are eco-friendly, you’ll also find many yards displaying the native trees and plants. However many of these plants and flowers thrive in the wild, so these parks are definitely the best places to see native foliage in Chattanooga.
Peak Fall Colors in Chattanooga, TN
Fall is when Chattanooga shines. The green forests transition to burning reds, oranges, and yellows. Each location we've included gives you an amazing vantage point to view the peak fall foliage in Chattanooga. Though the location is important, the timing is key. Historically, early November is when you will see peak fall foliage. The leaves transition color from mid to late October and have fallen by late November. Thanks to October temperatures already dipping lower than average, we're expecting an unusually colorful autumn and there's a very good chance colors will peak a bit earlier than usual. Ruby Falls shares fall foliage updates on their social media pages, follow along even if you don't have a trip to Chattanooga planned!
When you are planning your fall vacation to Chattanooga and want to catch peak autumn colors, come any week from the last two weeks in October through the first two weeks in November. If you time it right, you’ll be surrounded by mountains of fall colors. Happy leaf peeping!
Lucy Crawford is a home design and DIY writer, and lover of herbal tea. With her busy hands, she is always challenging herself with a new DIY project. She enjoys designing spaces where she can relax and enjoy a good book.
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