Chattanooga, Tennessee—often referred to as “Scenic City” or “Choo Choo City”—was my home for 15 years. I was fortunate to grow up in the “Best Town,” according to Outdoor magazine, and one of the “Top 45 Destinations to Travel” in the New York Times. My old home is a growing tourist destination and is recognized for its diverse geographical features. Situated near Lookout Mountain and the Tennessee River, there are many things to do outdoors in and around Chattanooga. On any given weekend in the warmer months, my friends and I could hike a trail in the mountains or spend the day out on the river.
I woke up early—around ten—one morning two years ago when Billy Pritchard (my friend’s dad) decided we were going on a hike. Stella Pritchard (‘18 Girls Preparatory School and Billy’s daughter), Hailey Kleban (‘18 The Baylor School), Billy, and I drove two minutes to the Lula Lake Land Trust, and we began our hike to the locally treasured waterfall. I remember strolling through the seemingly endless woods of brown and green, wondering—I’m a very impatient person—if we would ever get there. This was the first time I had hiked a trail, and I didn’t enjoy it at first. I didn’t see the point in walking a few miles through the wilderness to get to a waterfall. I was cold—it was November—so I knew we wouldn’t even swim in the water if we got
there. I complained to Billy and Kleban continually, until Billy told me something along the lines of “Stop complaining and look around.” I increasingly began to enjoy it as the time passed. We did not walk all the way to the waterfall that day, and I found myself disappointed that we couldn’t have stayed out longer. This trek through the woods taught me to appreciate the hike, and I’m grateful to Billy, because hiking soon became one of my favorite pastimes.
One of the things I loved about living in Scenic City was how many fun and free activities there were. Swimming in the local river, creeks, and lakes is a popular activity; the five best swimming holes in Chattanooga are the Lula Lake Land Trust, North Chick Blue Hole, Deep Creek, Foster Falls, and Desoto Falls.
The first hot weekend of 2015, my friends and I decided to visit North Chick Blue Hole. The first thing I remember was that parking was a nightmare; we had to squeeze Sam’s (‘17 The Baylor School) red truck between lines of cars illegally parallel parked on the windy road descending towards the trail. Once we found a parking spot and met back up with the others, we started towards one of the boulders. There wasn’t a trail to follow for the first quarter mile, but we knew we had to cross the stream at some point, so we did. I fell twice balancing on the slippery rocks, so I was glad I wore a bathing suit and Chacos. Twenty minutes after we crossed the stream, we found a boulder that protruded about 10 feet over the water. I jumped off the boulder twice, but I refused to go off of the higher cliff that some of my friends jumped from. According to the others, I really “missed out” on the thrill of walking barefoot through the woods and jumping off of a cliff into shallow water, but I was content with just sitting on the rocks and watching them jump. The best time to go to the North Chick Blue Hole is on a warm day in the spring or the summer. I don’t recommend going when the weather gets too hot in the summer, because the North Chick Blue Hole tends to get more crowded the higher the temperature goes.
On a hot summer day, I liked to go to the Tennessee River. Anyone without a paddle board or kayak can go to the outdoor sports store L2 and rent one out for the day. Kelsey Holden (’18 The Baylor School) and I kayaked on the river on the last Saturday before our 2016 spring exams in June. We kayaked around Williams’ Island and passed by The Baylor School. It was a great way to get tan and relieve some of the stress going into exam week.
There are also many tourist attractions indoors in Chattanooga. One of the best Aquariums in America, the Tennessee Aquarium, has attracted over 20 million visitors to Chattanooga. There is this beautiful butterfly exhibit on the top floor where the butterflies fly all around the visitors. The nearby Hunter Museum also attracts tourists; I always admired the winding architecture of the museum. Another notable tourist attraction is the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo. The Glenn Miller Orchestra popularized Chattanooga in the 1941 film Sun Valley Serenade with a song titled “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” This hit remained the #1 song in the US for nine weeks, and it was the first ever “gold record” awarded by the RIAA. David Lane, my German teacher at the Baylor School, said that “Germans love their American music. Every time I would tell one of them I lived in Chattanooga, they would always respond: ‘Oh, like from the ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’? I love that song!'” The actual Chattanooga railways were important during the Civil war; Chattanooga was considered “the gateway to the Deep South.“
Chattanooga is a great place to find Southern comfort food. Champy’s has the best fried chicken in the state. But when I wanted a burger, I always went to Nikki’s Drive Inn or Sofa King Juicy Burger. However, Sofa King is also famous for their liquid nitrogen milkshakes. Breakfast is at Tupelo Honey Cafe, because they sell scrumptious biscuits and honey. The best dessert is at The Ice Cream Show for their “custom blended ice-cream” or at Milk and Honey for homemade gelato and craft coffee.
Chattanooga has many similarities to Richmond. On a topographical level, both cities have rivers flowing through the middle of them, which opens up special opportunities for watersports in both. Much like Chattanooga, there are many places to go hiking in and around Richmond. Chattanooga is a mountainous and more southern version of Richmond.
When planning your next vacation, I highly recommend considering Chattanooga. It may sound dull to some people to go to Scenic City and hike. However, I thought it sounded tedious at first, and I ended up enjoying it. I urge you to skip the average beach or skiing vacation and drive the eight hours from Richmond to Chattanooga. Go rent a paddle board downtown, hike a trail on Lookout Mountain, and stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. I bet it will be more interesting than going to another resort.
Featured image by Eva Whaley.