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Hiking Around the Southeast

Every year thousands of adventure-seekers and outdoor fanatics descend upon Chattanooga, intent on exploring the mountains, rivers and valleys that make up the southeastern region of the country. So gear up and get ready to set the pace as you course your way through deep gorges, along streams and high atop the mountains of the Cumberland Plateau. Here are some of our favorites spots:

Stringer’s Ridge – 3 miles from the hostel
Looking for a quick 1-2 hour hike close to town? This is the place for you. 10 minutes from town and great overlooks over all downtown Chattanooga

Lookout Mountain – 6 miles from the hostel
The pride of the Scenic City, this behemoth offers a myriad of hiking and other outdoor opportunities.

Signal Mountain – 9 miles from the hostel
Explore the Cumberland Trail and visit numerous waterfalls as you lose yourself on this mountain.

Cumberland Trail – 10 miles from the hostel
Over 125 miles of excellent woodland and ridge top trails beckon the would-be adventurer.

Edwards Point – 10 miles from the hostel
A moderate hike with a suspension bridge leads to an incredible view of the Tennessee River Gorge.

TVA Raccoon Mountain – 11 miles from the hostel
Hike along the gorge or around the reservoir on 17 miles of trails (Good for hikers, best for bikers).

Lula Lake Land Trust – 12 miles from the hostel
Hike to a 150 ft. waterfall or up along a ridge that connects to Cloudland Canyon (open the first and last weekend of the month).

Prentice Cooper State Park – 17 miles from the hostel
35 miles of hiking trails including the south end of the Cumberland Trail State Park.

Harrison Bay State Park- 19 miles from the hostel
Three short trails are open year-round at this marina located on 39 miles of the Chickamauga Reservoir.

Cloudland Canyon State Park – 25 miles from the hostel
One of the best hikes hands down, Cloudland offers hikers long vistas as they weave around the rim of the canyon.

Red Clay State Park Nature Trail – 25 miles from the hostel
This remote park offers short hikes, open fields for Frisbee and the aqua-marine Blue Hole Spring.

Possum Creek Gorge – 30 miles from the hostel
With 10 miles of Cumberland Trail, this hike features unique rock formations at the C-shaped falls.

Coker Creek Falls – 33 miles from the hostel
This 3.2 mile trail connects to the John Muir Trail and features numerous small waterfalls.

John Muir Trail – 47 miles from the hostel
18.8 miles of trail following the Hiwassee River with both easy and challenging sections.

Laurel-Snow Pocket Wilderness – 48 miles from the hostel
The drive is worth it: two waterfalls and a gorgeous trail hugging a mountain gorge with many deep pools.

Savage Gulf – 63 miles from the hostel
Over 55 miles of trails, vistas, waterfalls and forest spread over 11,500 acres on the Cumberland Plateau.

Benton MacKaye Trail – 65 miles from the hostel
Find solitude on 300 miles of rugged and remote wilderness trail spanning the states of TN, GA and NC.

Fall Creek Falls State Park – 69 miles from the hostel
256 ft. waterfall and 20,000 acres of cascades, gorges, waterfalls, streams, and virgin timber.

Cane Creek Loop – 70 miles from the hostel
Offers a 12 mile lower loop to Fall Creek Falls and a 13 mile upper loop on the Fall Creek plateau.

Rock Climbing in the Southeast

Chattanooga has long been heralded for its wealth of great climbing. From the most-frequented areas to the most obscure, the Cumberland sandstone is generally excellent, access is easy, and the climbing is a joy.

Meanwhile, thanks to the tireless explorers out there, new cliffs and boulders seem to turn up weekly during each season – and the climbing season here is long.

This guide sticks to the climbing areas that are fairly well documented, either online or in The Dixie Cragger’s Atlas. This is a comprehensive guidebook to many of the major, well-established crags in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.  Area-specific guidebooks are noted where available. We will make every effort to have a good collection of guidebooks available for perusal at The Crash Pad.

Many of the lesser-travelled, undocumented areas have sensitive access, limited parking, complicated directions, or are simply too small and easily impacted for us to feel quite right about shouting out on our site. If you are determined to get off the beaten path, please ask someone on The Crash Pad staff for a recommendation. Whether you want to quake in your boots on some horror show in Suck Creek Canyon, or find some boulders that don’t have a speck of chalk on them, we can probably send you in the right direction.

The Southeastern Climbers Coalition is an excellent resource for beta, access updates, info on trail days and cleanups, and pretty much everything else climbing-related in the Southeast. They play a crucial role in gaining and protecting access to climbing areas throughout the Southeast. Join today!

Driving distances are just a bit rough, and are measured from The Crash Pad. Areas are listed in order by distance from the hostel. None of the areas listed here require a high-clearance vehicle.

Bouldering

This guide only covers the “big three” bouldering areas close to Chattanooga. Each of these destinations offers several hundred boulder problems on some of the best rock in the country. Generalizations abound, such as, “Horse Pens is all slopers,” and “Rocktown is all steep climbing.” In fact, each area contains so many climbs, of such variety, that trying to define them in such simple terms is probably pointless. We’ll leave it to you to figure out the differences.

Countless smaller areas dot the landscape around downtown. Please inquire with the staff if you’d like to get some woodsy solitude.

If the weather heats up beyond your liking, or you’re craving something besides sandstone, take the 4.5 hour drive up to Boone and Blowing Rock, NC, for another lifetime of steep, amazing gneiss bouldering in a temperate rainforest setting. Visit Footsloggers on your way into town for beta and gear.

The Stone Fort (AKA Little Rock City):

Distance: 21 miles, mostly highway. 20 minutes.

Cost: $5/person.

This ridiculous boulderfield is the closest major area to downtown, and is perhaps best known these days as the location of the final leg of the Triple Crown Bouldering Series. LRC has stacks of excellent climbs in every style imaginable. Crack lines and highballs abound.

The rules and regulations at LRC are not a joke, or a suggestion; please comply with the extremely simple and fair guidelines, or the area may once again be accessed only by sneaking in.

You can find an excellent guidebook on sale at the hostel front desk, at Rock/Creek, or order one here.

 

Rocktown:

Distance: 38 miles, mostly fast country roads. 50 minutes.

Cost: $3.50 for a 3-day pass, or $19.00 annually.  You can go online to purchase a pass here:  (https://www2.ga.wildlifelicense.com/index_hf.php) or purchase one at the Walmart in LaFayette, GA. Don’t get caught without one of these, the rangers are strict!

Of the three main areas, Rocktown offers the wildest setting. One can easily get lost every time for the first ten visits. Taking the main trail to its end, one will run into the Hueco Simulator, one of the best warm-up walls anywhere.

Toproping, or even leading with a skinny rack, is also an option at Rocktown; some of these boulders are enormous. Check out Lost Wall, down the road, for single-pitch trad routes.

Please respect these woods! Already, climbers have lost the privilege of camping right at the trailhead, because people crapped everywhere and completely trashed the place. Rocktown is under close scrutiny from the rangers as a result.

A guide of Rocktown has now been published from our good friends at Brayack Media. You can buy it here or pick one up at the front desk.

Horse Pens 40:

Distance: 113 miles, mostly highway. 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Cost: $5/person.

Horse Pens is out of control. The concentration and rock quality are mind-boggling. If one had to find something to complain about, it would probably be the park-like atmosphere, relative to Rocktown’s woodsy quietude.

HP40 is an excellent mini-vacation destination from Chattanooga. The camping is fairly inexpensive and the sites are right next to the boulders. Be prepared, though: the fine-grained sandstone probably will have sanded all the skin off of your tips by the end of your first day climbing at Horse Pens. Plan accordingly.

Info on upcoming events, history, rules, and camping/lodging can be found on their website. An excellent guidebook can be purchased at Rock/Creek, or online here.

 

Routes

Within a 45 drive from downtown, one can find everything from easily accessible single-pitch clip-ups on wildly overhanging, bulletproof white rock, to multi-pitch outings with real alpine ambience and remoteness.

Generally, the cragging around Chattanooga consists of excellent rock in the 80-100 foot range, with a good mix of sport and traditional pitches. That said, the Tennessee Wall is one of the few crags where trad and sport climbs exist side-by-side in harmony. Foster Falls, for example, is almost entirely bolted; Sunset Park probably has fewer than ten bolts (not including anchors) on the entire cliff band.

The new Chatt Steel guidebook offers the comprehensive guide to all of Chattanooga’s sport climbs within a 45 minute driving radius. Pick it up either here or online! Written by two good friends of the hostel, Chatt Steel gives the lowdown on access, parking, directions, and detailed topos across its 432 color pages. The same guys are putting out a similar Trad focused book, coming out Fall 2014.

We also mention some farther-flung areas in the Southeast that shouldn’t be missed. Hit the road for a week or two; The Crash Pad will still be here when you return.

 

Trad

Sunset Park:

Distance: 4.5 miles, no highway. 10 minutes. Limited parking.

Once you’re up on “the Mountain,” it is advisable to drive the speed limit.

Sunset is amazing. Even the “easiest” routes require focus and creativity, both for the climbing and the protection. Cracks do appear from time to time; load them up with gear, and commit to thought-provoking sequences on perfect, hidden crimps and slopers, and great iron-rock jugs. The rock here, at its best, is reminiscent of water-polished river boulders.

Only a handful of the routes at Sunset are convenient and safe to toprope. Get psyched to lead! There’s gear up there, even if it’s not obvious from the ground.

Please make every effort to keep the main trail free of gear and ropes! Many people hike and run here, and if they keep getting pissed off at climbers blocking the trail, we may lose the privilege to climb here.

The whole cliff stays in the shade until roughly 2pm. Climbing here in the winter can be brutally cold.

Suck Creek Canyon:

Distance: 12 miles, no highway. 15 minutes.

The crags lining Suck Creek Canyon offer everything from excellent single-pitch cracks and faces, to multi-pitch adventures where a helmet and double ropes are probably a good idea. On many of these climbs, you won’t find so much as a piece of faded tat around a tree at the top of the cliff to hint at previous passage.

The approaches can be quite strenuous, as the trails are not well marked, and often overgrown. Going with someone who’s been before will probably speed the process. The climbing out here is extremely rewarding and definitely worth checking out.

One should not expect to find any kind of fixed protection on most of the routes, with the exception of some really old, rusty fixed pins. However, most of the “popular” routes have anchors at the top. Bring extra slings and ‘biners just in case.

Because of the orientation of the canyon, it is possible to chase sun, or shade, all day in Suck Creek.

The bouldering down in the actual creek is excellent, but many of the climbs are under water for much of the year.

Tennessee Wall:

Distance: 17 miles, no highway. 25 minutes.

Drive with caution on River Canyon Road; dogs are often in the road.

The T-Wall has got to be one of the best crags in the South. Literally hundreds of excellent routes exist side-by-side, from clean 100’ corner systems that devour gear, to devious face climbs protected only by small gear in incipient cracks and hidden horizontals. A decent number of sport climbs are up here, too. Some are excellent; most are difficult. The 20-minute approach hike and unspoiled river gorge views give T-Wall a remote feel.

There are no easy topropes to set up at T-Wall, without first leading something.

T-Wall faces due south. During the coldest days of the winter, as long as the sun is shining, one can expect to climb comfortably in a light base layer. Climbing here in the summer is hellish.

Purchase Rob Robinson’s excellent new guidebook here. This guy wrote the book on climbing at T-Wall, back in the mid-80s; now he’s literally written the book.

 

Sport

Leda:

Distance: 19 miles, mostly highway. 20 minutes. Limited parking.

Be careful crossing the road; people drive EXREMELY fast down the hill.

Leda has good rock, a two-minute approach, and a long day’s worth of quality sport routes. There are also four or five good gear routes. This is a good place to break into leading outside.

The downside of Leda stems from the same reasons that make it good: the easy approach means that it gets crowded, especially on weekends, and many of the good moderates can be tied up for a long time.

A trip here can easily be combined with a session up the road, at LRC.

Foster Falls:

Distance: 35 miles, mostly highway. 45 minutes.

Foster’s is probably the biggest convenient sport-climbing area near Chattanooga. A lot of the routes offer creative moves on beautiful white and orange walls. The gently overhanging White Wall is a beauty; the Bunkers offer extremely steep and acrobatic routes that tackle massive, tiered roofs. Many sections of the cliff stay dry in a light rain.

During the warmer months, the excellent swimming hole beneath the falls can start to look better than the routes. When the water is high enough, the wall behind the falls is great as a miniature deep-water-solo. Beware the weekend crowds of hikers and families that descend upon this otherwise idyllic spot.

Climbing Gyms

Tennessee Bouldering Authority:

Distance: 2.5 miles, 5 minutes.

Cost: $8.

Chattanooga’s first climbing gym. TBA is all bouldering; the setters do an excellent job providing quality movement, on climbs ranging from easy to inhumanly hard. Even though they rank climbs by color, not by grade, they STILL feel sandbagged! This place has a great vibe. They offer cool deals on most nights, such as Couples’ Night and Students’ Night.

Urban Rocks:

Distance: 5 miles, 10 minutes.

Cost: $12 for bouldering, $14 for routes.

Now in its fifth year of operation, Urban Rocks offers an extensive top-out bouldering wall, lots of top ropes and lead routes up to 40 feet, and a great training area upstairs. The textured Rockwerx walls are top-of-the-line.

High Point Climbing and Fitness

Distance: 1 mile, 3 minutes.

Cost: $13 for children, $15 for adults. Gear rentals are extra.

Chattanooga’s newest climbing gym features 18 foot top-out boulders, 50 foot lead climbing walls both inside and outside, and a full weight room and cardio equipment.

Easy Road Trips

Obed:

Distance: 95 miles, highway and fast country roads. 2 hours.

The Obed/Clear Creek area offers hundreds of routes, mostly sport, plus some good bouldering at the Lilly Boulders and other spots. The variety is great, but it’s the massive roofs that command one’s attention. Obed offers some of the steepest climbing imaginable – for example, the 30+ foot, dead horizontal roof of Rage at the Stephen King Library. Please check with the Park Service in Wartburg for the current status of the camping in and around the Obed area.

A two- or three-day trip to Obed can be a great change of pace.

Brevard/Cashiers Valley, NC:

Distance: 170-200 miles, highway and fast mountain roads. 3.5-4.5 hours.

Are you craving big granite and big adventure? No need to fly to Cali, when you can just hop in the car and cruise for a few hours into western North Carolina.

Laurel Knob is the biggest cliff in the East, and is now legally accessible thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Carolina Climbers Coalition. Looking Glass Rock offers multi-pitch aid routes and Yosemite-style crack climbing on its impressive north side, and the infamous “eyebrow” routes and rolling slabs of the Nose area, Sun Wall, and south side. Down the road, Whiteside Mountain’s southeast face offers a truly gnarly lineup of Grade IV 5.12 routes with legendary runouts, major exposure, and the possibility of having your first real epic!

Asheville is a really cool city, and an excellent base camp for exploring these “crags” and many others, including Rumbling Bald for sport, trad, and bouldering. Check out our friends at Sweet Peas Hostel while you’re there.

Order your copy of “Selected Climbs in North Carolina” here, or pick up a copy at Rock/Creek.

Linville Gorge:

Distance: 250 miles, highway and gravel road. 5 hours.

The Linville Gorge is an extremely remote and adventurous climbing destination. From the relatively beginner-friendly routes on Table Rock, to the steep and intimidating face of Shortoff Mountain, one will encounter narrow trails, dense and hardy mountain flora, strenuous gully descents, and steep quartzite climbing. The rhododendron-jungle ambience is great, and crowds are unlikely.

The Linville Gorge is easily combined with a trip to Boone.

Red River Gorge:

Distance: 275 miles, mostly highway. 5 hours.

At this point, there are probably more than 2,000 routes at the Red. Steep, pumpy jug-hauling is the stereotype; in fact, routes of all styles, including many hundreds of trad climbs, are found on the 100+ crags of the region. Go to Miguel’s for pizza after your long day of cragging; you’ve earned it.

Pick up the guidebook at Rock/Creek, or order one here.

New River Gorge:

Distance: 385 miles, mostly highway. 6.5 hours.

The New offers thousands of routes in every imaginable style. Time will tell, but most people who have been there say that the New is the best cragging destination in the country. Check it out for yourself!

The guidebook is a worthy (and ambitious) read, even if you never plan on going. Order a copy here or head over to Rock/Creek.

 

Biking

Cycling and mountain biking are two of the most common sports here in Chattanooga. If you’re a mountain biker, dirtbiker, or trials biker, we recommend talking to the guys at the Trials Training Center. If you like longer, scenic cycling routes, here are a few to start on. And if you’d like more information, bike help, or a local guide, talk to our friends at the Trek Store.

Chickamauga Battlefield Loop – 13.06 miles

Ride through the historic Battlefields of Chickamauga. If you’re taking your time, visit all the monuments and scenic spots, or ride straight through – it’s an easy, mostly-flat ride with plenty of shade.

Tiftonia-Burkhalter Gap-Lookout Mountain Loop – 28.86 miles

If you’re looking for a beautiful ride, try this one: it winds along the base of Lookout Mountain where you can see plenty of scenery, hangliders, and wildlife. If you don’t want a mountain climb, turn around at the foothills, but if you’re looking for a challenge, ride up Burkhalter Gap – the view from the top is worth it.

Tour de Signal – 31.74 miles

Starting on the top of Signal, Tour de Signal loops the mountain, providing stunning views from all sides. Catch the Chattanooga Valley, the Cumberland forests and Tennessee River. The loop is long, but only moderately hilly.

Red Bank-Soddy Daisy Loop – 33.49 miles

This loop begins in North Red Bank and runs up the valley to the base of Mowbray Mountain. Climb Mowbray for a gorgeous country scenery, and come down the backside to follow winding roads into Red Bank and North Chatt.

3 State 3 Mountain Metric Century Ride – 60.83 miles

A base loop for many fundraisers and pro cyclists, the 3S3M ride is a complete tour of the Chattanooga Valley. Hitting scenes like Prentice-Cooper State Forest, the Nickajack Lake, and the Lower Tennessee River, the 3S3M is intense, but (according to dedicated cyclists) well worth the energy.

Signal Mountain-Suck Creek – 48.0 miles

Sporting two good climbs and a lot of rollers in between, the Signal Mountain-Suck Creek loop is within 8 minutes of downtown Chattanooga. Like the other mountain rides, this follows the Tennessee River and affords magnificent views from several spots along the top of Signal Mountain.

Apison Nitro EP – 35.63 miles

Winding through Red Clay State Park and rolling countryside, the Nitro is an easy, varied ride just outside the downtown area. (Note: Does not include distance from the Crash Pad to start of ride.)


Kayaking
Within an hour’s drive of Chattanooga there is a full range of kayaking from beginner level flat water/touring to expert level whitewater. Here is a list of options for paddle sports in the area:

Beginner Flat water/Touring
The Tennessee River Blueway, starting downstream of the Chickamauga Dam and ending at the Nickajack Dam, is a 45-mile river journey with multiple access points for flat water kayaking. The Blueway travels through downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River Gorge.  This is a great day trip or multi-day expedition. For more info, check out Outdoor Chattanooga’s Website. More info

Beginner Whitewater (Class II):
The Hiwassee River is a Tennessee State Scenic River and is only a one-hour drive from Chattanooga. This is an excellent river for family outings, canoeing, tubing, rafting and beginning whitewater instruction. More info

Intermediate Whitewater (Class III+):
The Middle Ocoee is a dam-released whitewater run that is popular for both kayaking and commercial rafting. The run is only an hour from Chattanooga, and it is a popular river for instruction, playboating and honing skills for harder rivers and creeks.  More info

Advanced Whitewater (Class IV+):
The North Chickamauga Creek is one of the classic runs around Chattanooga and is only 20 minutes from downtown. It is a natural flow river that only runs after a good rain in the winter or spring. The river runs through a pocket wilderness that is also a popular hiking and swimming destination. More info

Expert Whitewater (Class V):
Suck Creek is a roadside run only 15 minutes from downtown Chattanooga. The run is shallow with lots of sharp rocks and is only recommended for strong kayakers. That being said, it is the best class IV-V after-work run in the area, and with the easy shuttle, multiple runs per day are possible. More info

Expert Whitewater (Class V+):
If you have the minerals, Bear Creek coming off Lookout Mountain, GA, near Cloudland Canyon is the most classic hard creek in the area. It has multiple Class V+ rapids and is only recommended for very advanced paddlers. More info

Little River Canyon in Northeast Alabama is another classic run only an hour and a half from Chattanooga. Depending on the section, it offers a range of difficulty from class III to class V in a beautiful gorge. More info

Big thanks to FJ at Rock/Creek Down Under for putting this section together. Check out Rock/Creek Down Under at 191 River Street for all your paddling needs.