This article will go into the benefits of hiking in general, basic preparation considerations, and point you toward a few of the best trails we’ve found around the greater Chattanooga area.
First and for most, exercise is important! This becomes truer and truer as we age. It helps keep our muscles and ligaments strong, which in turn protect us from injury. Exercise increases blood flow, and that makes it so our hearts don’t have to work as hard during everyday, non-active life. Exercise also improves short-term memory.
But what’s so great about hiking? Hiking offers an outdoor form of exercise that can be done either alone or with others. And the importance of outdoor activities in preventing social isolation is undeniable.
Clothing: Shoes are the one item that takes the most preparation, if you don’t have the right ones. It isn’t necessary to have hiking shoes unless you go regularly, but make sure to wear close-toed shoes. They should be lace-up and mostly flat-soled. Only take shoes that you’ve spent a bit of time walking around in already, to prevent blisters and sores. And don’t wear your nice, white shoes because they’ll get scoffed up. Wearing long pants is recommended to guard against scratches and possible allergens, although they’re not completely necessary if you think you’ll be too hot. Take a hat to protect yourself from the sun. The weather on hiking trails is notoriously unpredictable, so wear layers. A good example of layered clothing is to wear a shirt and bring a couple light jackets.
Daypack: Make sure to have a full water bottle. It’s also nice to have a light snack, which can be something like granola with nuts to give you complex carbohydrates and protein. Take sunscreen, and don’t be embarrassed to rub some into the top of your head where you don’t have as much hair as you used to, if you don’t like wearing a hat. You might want to bring bug spray along, although it isn’t completely necessary for your first time out.
Remember to take any medications you use regularly. And a trail map, if one is available at the trailhead (the beginning of the trail at the parking lot). There may be a few things not on this list, so please think about what you might need.
* Chattanooga’s Riverwalk *
Although this isn’t technically a hike, we think it’s a good place to start if you’ve been living a mostly sedentary lifestyle for the past few years. It’s smack-dab in the middle of town, and runs adjacent to the Tennessee River. The total length is 13 miles, but don’t worry because nobody hikes the whole thing at once.
* Rainbow Lake Wilderness Trailhead *
Located on Single Mountain, this 2 mile hike is just a 20 minute drive from Chattanooga. If you finish it without any problems, there are more trails to explore in the area.
* Big Soddy Creek Gulf Trailhead *
Another short, easy trail, this hike is only a 30 minute drive from town. Its paths are maintained very well, like a gravel road, for ease of use.
* Harrison Bay State Park’s Bay Point Loop Trail *
For those who are a little more adventurous, this hike is pretty long (4.5 miles). Since the trail is used by both hikers and mountain bikers, you can go into it knowing there aren’t any inclines or declines that are too daunting. It provides nice views of several lakes.
* Sitton’s Gulch Trail to Hemlock Falls at Cloudland Canyon *
Located just past the Georgian border, east of town. This hike offers several routes. We recommend the one up to the 90 foot waterfalls, which is about 4.5 miles long.
* Fiery Gizzard Trail starting at Foster Falls *
Here's a hike that’s a bit more challenging. It starts out at the falls, which is great because it means you’re already at a cool destination before you even start hiking. The main path splinters off, giving you several options. We recommend going for Laurel Gorge. This trail’s about a 45 minute drive from town.
* Cloudland Canyon’s West Rim Loop Trail *
40 minutes away, this 5 mile hike gives access to two waterfall as well as several lookout points. The views are what encourage so many people to traverse this intermediate trail.