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Chattanooga, Tenn.

Population: 167,674 Public lands: Lookout Mountain, Raccoon Mountain, Stringers Ridge, Chickamauga Battlefield Outdoor highlights: Cumberland Trail, Stone Fort, Foster Falls, Five Points, Ruby Falls, Guild-Hardy Trail

Asheville, N.C.

Population: 83,393 Public lands: Pisgah National Forest Outdoor highlights: French Broad River, Bent Creek trails, Mountains to Sea Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway

Abingdon, Va.

Population: 8,191 Public lands: Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, Virginia Creeper Trail Outdoor Highlights: Appalachian Trail, Virginia Creeper Trail, Holston River, Hidden Valley Lake