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Chattanooga on Two Wheels

The Tennessee River city, at the base of Lookout Mountain, has become an impressive destination for mountain biking and cycling.

Things used to be different here. Over 10 years ago, when my college buddy moved to Chattanooga, and I began visiting regularly, we didn’t have many options. Boberts picked up a foreclosed home on the edge of town. The interior had been trashed during the Great Recession. On that first visit, we all camped indoors on hardwood floors while lamp fixtures hung by wires from the ceiling.

During daytime, we mountain biked laps at Enterprise, which was always great fun. At night, it felt like high school. We walked through a quiet neighborhood to an empty grocery store and returned to the bare house, wondering what to do. There were mostly chain restaurants then, and maybe a few brewpubs, using generous math.

Yet each year, when I passed through, there was something new to check out. Boberts proudly took me around to the latest new trail or microbrewery. Then, last summer, we were mountain biking with our wives at Big South Fork, when Boberts tossed out an invite. A new ride-access downhill park was opening on the northside of Chattanooga. 

“Did you say ride bikes and drink beer?” I asked. 

“Yes,” said Boberts. “Yes, I did.”

This was basically the equivalent of our own shared Bat-Signal. So naturally we had to answer the call.

Walden’s Ridge Park

The ride up Escalator began fairly steady, steepening near the top with a series of switchbacks and rocky sections. Like other riders, a few times we hopped off and pushed through boulder gardens that we figured out on later ascents. After an 800-foot climb, we took a break with other folks at the upper trailhead. The grand opening had just happened, and everyone was buzzing with excitement to get their first laps on a new system. 

Walden’s Ridge is a 200-acre outdoor playground, 10 minutes from downtown, on the eastern slope of Signal Mountain. The highlight is a 10-mile grid of singletrack trails. The downhill trails are bike-only, while the ascending and connector trails are also open to hikers and trail runners. Throughout the park, there are nine bouldering areas for climbers. Over the past few years, a slew of volunteers and sponsors came together to develop the park as a destination for downhill riding.  

Our day was a happy blur. Bouncing across the rocky W Trail, I stopped to air down my tires a few PSI. Then we bombed Thrasher, which was aptly named due to the steep, technical descent. On one rocky drop, Boberts nearly went over the bars but yanked up his wheel and made it through. 

We caught our breath before continuing onto the smoother Ollie. Then we went up Lower Lift Ticket and across Middle Traverse. We watched some young dudes launch 20 feet off a groomed lip. Another rider walked away from an even bigger drop. Then we rode back up Escalator. Across Upper Traverse. Down bumpy Biscuits and Gravy and onto what became our favorite of all: Bread and Butter. We learned how the upper trails are harder and more technical, while the lower trails offer more flow. 

Full disclosure, Boberts and I are more about trail riding than chunky downhill. We like long adventures in the saddle, with a mix of terrains. Flow trails. Downhills bursts. Scenic grinds. Occasional technical challenges. While we do ride at Pisgah, we often prefer a big day at Dupont.

Walden’s Ridge

Our biggest takeaway was that Walden’s Ridge is trickier than we expected. The rocky downhill sections definitely pushed our skills. It’s the type of park that makes you a better rider with every lap. We had planned to explore the blue trails before graduating to the blacks. But our legs were burning after just 12 miles, so we happily saved those for another day. 

On the drive home, we hit up the nearby Monkey Town Brewery. Please understand that Boberts is a sports doctor who believes in creative treatments. While I usually end a ride with a sparkling water or sports drink, Boberts prefers a double IPA. Who am I to argue with a professional?

“No doubles for you,” I said, in an extra sad voice, as we read the on-tap menu. “Can you rehydrate with just a regular IPA?”

“It’s medically possible,” muttered Boberts.

So we started with the single hop hazy before trying a solid West Coast IPA. Meanwhile, we filled the gaping hole in our stomachs with intriguing Irish nachos. The chef smartly skipped all veggies for a pile of pub chips, melted cheese, and lots of corned beef. If we’d had the legs for it, we might have gone back to Walden’s and re-rode everything just to earn another plate of Irish nachos.

Chattanooga Riverwalk: Museums and Breweries

Over the years, we’ve developed a pattern for my weekend visits. After burning out our legs on day one, we pivot the next day to an easier ride on the Chattanooga Riverwalk. Boberts’ wife Bridget joined in, and off we pedaled from the northern trailhead at Chickamauga Dam. 

Chattanooga Riverwalk

Over its 16-mile length, the Riverwalk is a mostly paved multiuse path that’s popular for walking, running, and cycling. We usually take mountain bikes, but any style of bike will work, including the rental cruisers found around town. This is a very customizable ride. There are 16 trailheads with parking lots, and you can go for as long or short as you want. Moderation is clearly not our strong suit, so we always do the entire path plus detours, which typically yields a 35- to 40-mile day. 

From Chickamauga Dam, heading south, the first few miles are along the Tennessee River. After the Mike Howard Memorial Bridge, the path cuts across a greenway. Just off the route is Tenasi Brewing, with a nice beer garden out back. A few miles farther along the river leads to downtown. 

Atop the Bluff View district, you’ll find the Hunter Museum of American Art. In addition to galleries, the centerpiece is walking through a Neoclassical mansion built in 1905. Upstairs, there are several fascinating landscape paintings that depict the earliest days of Chattanooga. 

Nearby, the Tennessee Aquarium highlights inland aquatic ecosystems in its Ridges to River exhibition. As someone who paddles waterways across the Southeast, I really enjoyed peering beneath the surface at what lurks below our boats.

Sometimes we detour onto the vehicle-free Walnut Street Bridge before rolling past Ross’s Landing riverfront park. Other times we venture a few blocks south to breweries like Odd Story or the geologically themed Hutton & Smith, where I’m particularly fond of the Rocktoberfest marzen.

Beyond downtown, we pass through the old warehouse district. Detouring a few blocks from the path leads to Finley Stadium. Next door is the paddling-themed Naked River Brewing, which has great BBQ and an excellent hazy called Sturgeon General. 

The southern end of the Riverwalk is at the base of Lookout Mountain. Sometimes we might continue riding uphill, but this time we explored the small brick district of Alton Park. One option is the Tap House, which has a wide variety of brews and snacks. Boberts and I briefly debated how many breweries could we bike to in a single day. But when Bridget began debating if it’s possible to divorce not just a husband but his bad-influence buddy, we tempered our ambitions. 

Enterprise and More

Riders at Enterprise South Nature Park.

Last October, my fieldwork schedule allowed me to swing through Chattanooga twice. So, three weeks later we were back on bikes at our old haunt. Enterprise South Nature Park has dedicated hiking trails, paved cycling paths, and about 17 miles of singletrack mountain bike trails through rolling pine forest. This mileage is divided into four loops that switch directions each day. The trails are fast and fun with constant but steady elevation changes. It’s a great place for beginner riders to grow their skills, and for experienced riders to build their legs.

Riders at Enterprise South Nature Park.

Another cool feature relates to the history of this 2,800-acre forest. During World War II, the site included a TNT plant for the U.S. Army. Explosives were stored inside concrete bunkers, which are now empty but remain intact to this day, and you can ride through one of these bunkers on the TNT trail.

And there’s much more mountain biking around Chattanooga. Raccoon Mountain is an area favorite, with 30 miles of intermediate and advanced trails—including technical lines through roots and rocks—wrapping around a reservoir. Bauxite and White Oak are two fun cross-country trails rolling through hills on the wooded campus of Southern Adventist University. And Booker T. Washington State Park has an easy trail system, one of the first built in the area, on the shores of a scenic reservoir. 

Lookout Mountain by Bike

For our final day, Boberts had a great idea: Go “full tourist” on two wheels. The goal was to link up four Chattanooga highlights that we’d never visited. Midmorning we rode over to the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway. If the space at the front of the funicular train car is free—priority understandably goes to wheelchairs and strollers—there’s just enough room for a few bikes. 

Up went the rail car, with the grade steepening to nearly 75 percent. On top, we started at Point Park, an NPS memorial site with restored cannons and great views of the river below. It’s part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, which preserves the Civil War sites from Lookout Mountain’s famous “Battle Above the Clouds.” 

Then we rode residential streets for a few miles over to Rock City. After locking our bikes, wewalked through botanical gardens and limestone cracks. Crossing a suspension bridge led to a cliff-top café. Next came a road ride down to Ruby Falls, where a cave tour led to an impressive underground waterfall. It was a fun mix of education, colorful light show, and knee-slapping spelunker puns. 

We finished the ride with a fast descent on the Guild Trail, a gravel double track that links Ruby Falls and Alton Park. Near the bottom, we detoured onto the semi-secret single track for the last mile. Another year of biking adventures was in the books. So we turned our wheels toward town for one last toast. 

Cover photo: The author in the lead at Booker T. Washington State Park. All photos by or courtesy of the author.

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