Looking to explore beyond Chattanooga’s historical and cultural charms? There’s a reason the River City is dubbed the “Gateway to the South.” Tackling the best day trips from Chattanooga, TN, is your portal to a multitude of adventures in Tennessee and beyond.
Tennessee and its neighboring states brim with must-see destinations. Use Chattanooga as your launching pad to discover gorgeous national parks, fascinating museums, world-renowned distilleries, and beguiling historic sites.
Take in the stunning beauty of the Smoky Mountains at Pigeon Forge, immerse yourself in the musical magic of Nashville, sample the Southern charm (and world-class whiskey!) of Lynchburg, or plug into the irresistible urban energy of Atlanta.
Ready to discover what awaits you beyond Tennessee’s fourth-largest city? Get ready for some Southern adventure with this complete guide to the top-rated Chattanooga side trips!
Looking for more vacation ideas? Check out all our other day trip guides and our Tennessee Travel Guide for more travel tips & ideas on where to go, when to visit & what to do on your vacation!
Top-rated Chattanooga side trips
Prentice Cooper State Forest, TN
Nature lovers, if you’ve been craving some green space on your Chattanooga vacation, you’re in luck: because Prentice Cooper State Forest has it by the bushel.
Set on the picturesque Tennessee River Gorge just 10 miles outside Chattanooga, this protected forest is a gem of pristine natural beauty. Sprawling over 25,000 acres, Prentice Cooper State Forest boasts over 35 miles of trails that stretch along the gorge’s ridgetop.
Outdoor enthusiasts will have a blast hiking, biking, rock climbing, trail running, or horseback riding as they take in incredible views of the valley below. Looking for some truly spectacular vistas? Head for Snooper’s Rock, Cove Overlook, and Raccoon Mountain Overlook – and prepare to be wowed.
Got your binoculars? They’ll come in handy for close-ups of the many feathered species that make their home in these pristine forests.
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Want to make it an overnight stay? Stake out a spot at the campground or one of the backcountry camping sites for a night under the stars.
Looking for a relaxing, budget-friendly getaway that offers both historic charm and loads of outdoor activities? Pack some snacks and make a run for the border to Chatsworth, GA.
Nicknamed the “Gateway to the Appalachians,” Chatsworth is nestled at the foot of Fort Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Founded in 1905 as a depot on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, this beautiful Georgia town hasn’t lost its small-town charm.
Less than an hour from Chattanooga, Chatsworth serves up a menu of attractions that will satisfy everyone from history buffs to outdoor lovers. Stroll the serene trails in Chatsworth City Park. Tee up at Spring Lakes Golf Club.
Make a 20-minute jaunt to beautiful Fort Mountain State Park, where you can hike, bike, or horseback ride through forests and along streams. This setting was home for hundreds of years to local indigenous peoples – and their presence lives on in a spectacular 855-foot-long wall.
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Want to ramble further afield? Head 40 minutes north of Fort Mountain State Park to the stunning Cohuttal Wilderness Area and drink in 37,000 acres of pristine beauty – or as much of it as you can! Hike, backpack, or camp to your heart’s content in Georgia’s largest expanse of wilderness.
Pigeon Forge, TN
On the hunt for a fun day trip that offers plenty of activities for travelers of all ages? Pack up your crew and set your GPS for Pigeon Forge, TN. Set in the foothills of the gorgeous Smoky Mountains, this little mountain town is just over two hours from Chattanooga – and it’s a top family-friendly destination.
Pigeon Forge is packed with fun activities. The top tourist attractions in Pigeon Forge offer families everything from roller coasters, interactive museums, and award-winning shows to fabulous dining and shopping.
Tee up for a game of mini-golf, or put your pedal to the metal at the go-kart track. If you’re craving some outdoor time, enjoy a stroll in one of Pigeon Forge’s lovely city parks. Feeling adventurous? Sign up for a Smoky Mountain trek – or get the adrenaline pumping with some whitewater rafting.
Step back in time at the historic Old Mill Square, home to a century-old water-powered gristmill that’s still turning. Kick back and browse specialty shops and restaurants offering goodies made by local artisans and chefs.
Make a getaway to The Island, a family-oriented entertainment and shopping complex that houses dozens of shops, restaurants, rides, and games.
And yes – there’s Dollywood, the namesake of the beloved country singer. Brimming with unique down-home charm, this fantastical 160-acre park is jam-packed with themed attractions for all ages.
Not to be missed: the Dollywood Express. Hop aboard this historic steam engine for an otherworldly journey back in time through the foothills of the Smokies, Dolly’s beautiful Tennessee mountain home.
Cloudland Canyon State Park, GA
If you like your scenery on the spectacular side, set your sights on Cloudland Canyon State Park, GA. Just 30 minutes from Chattanooga, this gorgeous parcel of land is renowned as one of the most scenic parks in Georgia. (And that’s saying a lot!)
Stretched out on Lookout Mountain’s western edge, Cloudland Canyon State Park is a paradise for nature lovers and adventurers. The park is home to over 3,500 acres of stunning natural wonders just waiting to be explored.
Discover stunning waterfalls, amazing rock formations, sandstone cliffs and caves, and 1,000-foot-deep canyons that look like they’ve been carved into the mountain.
Pack your binoculars because this park teems with wildlife, including black bears, Red Tail hawks, deer, foxes, and wild turkeys. Stake out a spot in the tower overlooking the wildlife viewing area to see who stops by. Or get your adrenaline going on over 90 miles of hiking trails.
Prefer a more leisurely pace? Tee up at the 18-hole golf course, or cast a line at the fishing pond. To top off your day, unpack your picnic hamper and sit back to take in stunning views illuminated by a brilliant sunset.
Smack-dab in the middle of the state, McMinnville, TN, is a great family-friendly day trip from Chattanooga that offers plenty of activities for everyone in your crew.
Fun fact: McMinnville is the county seat for Warren County – which enjoys the unique title of “Nursery Capital of the World.” Plant lovers, rejoice!
And underground explorers will find plenty to cheer about, too. Once you’ve finished admiring the plants above ground, head below ground into Cumberland Caverns, the largest show cave in Tennessee. Take your pick of easy, moderate, or extreme paths, then head down under. Explore over 30 miles of rocky pathways, amazing rock formations, and stunning underground waterfalls that will leave you awestruck.
Want to put a fun twist on it? Catch one of the Cumberland Caverns’ Blues Underground concerts. (At a depth of 333 feet, the acoustics are amazing!)
Ready to come up for air? Head for Rock Island State Park, just 20 minutes outside McMinnville. Spread across nearly 900 acres on Center Hill Lake, this ruggedly beautiful site is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts.
Pack your day with swimming, boating, fishing, or picnicking. And if you’re up to the challenge, hit a hiking trail that will take you to the magnificent horseshoe-shaped Great Falls. Definitely worth the trip!
It may look like a sleepy Southern town, but don’t let appearances fool you. Lynchburg, TN, is the purveyor of a form of liquid gold that draws visitors from around the world: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
Founder Jasper “Jack” Daniel discovered that the pure waters of Cave Spring Hollow in Lynchburg were ideal for whiskey-making – and in 1866, a legend was born. Little Lynchburg has been abuzz with eager samplers ever since, making it an unlikely lynchpin in the multi-billion-dollar whiskey industry. (Would-be imbibers take note: this is a dry town, so drinking is restricted to on-site sampling.)
Before you cut to the chase, take a stroll around Lynchburg’s historic downtown. Once home to Davy Crockett, it’s now designated as a National Historic Landmark. Browse charming shops and mouthwatering Southern-fried eateries. (Best do it before 6 pm because that’s when Lynchburg closes the shutters.)
You’ll want to fuel up before sampling, so snag a seat at Miss Mary Bobo’s, where meals are served “family style” in a refurbished 1908 boarding house. Or head over to Barrel House BBQ named one of Tennessee’s top five barbecue restaurants.
Ready for the main course? Book yourself into a guided tour of the Jack Daniels Distillery to learn all about the art and craft of superb whiskey-making. You’ll start at the legendary source – the pristine waters of Cave Spring Hollow – then journey through the stages of production and aging.
The grand finale: the taste test. Lightning in a bottle? Let your palate decide!
No Tennessee sweep would be complete without a pilgrimage to the one-and-only Nashville, TN. Just two hours northwest of Chattanooga, Music City has been a mecca for country music lovers for generations.
Nashville is steeped in music lore, and you’ll feel it in everything from the rockin’ honky tonks of Lower Broadway to legendary recording studios to revered concert venues like the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry.
For music lovers, a visit to the stunning 40,000-square-foot Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must on any list of what to do in Nashville. Discover a wealth of rare archival recordings and film footage, priceless musical instruments, and stage costumes worn by the stars. Among the highlights: Elvis Presley’s gold piano and Carl Perkins’s blue suede shoes.
Continue your 1-day Nashville itinerary by dropping into the Historic RCA Studio B – the originator of the “Nashville Sound” – where legends like Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, and Elvis Presley recorded world-famous hits.
Cruise on down to Lower Broadway, Nashville’s iconic Honky Tonk Highway. Here, you can put your finger on the Nashville pulse, and the live music scene runs 24/7.
But don’t stop there: Nashville is a vibrant, diverse city that offers a multitude of attractions. Explore its beautiful parks, vibrant galleries and museums, and cool boutiques. Dip into Nashville’s thriving culinary scene and sample from a fantastic range of trendy bars and restaurants.
If you’re looking for a setting that combines an old-world pastoral feel with a youthful vibe, make your way to Sewanee, TN. Less than an hour from Chattanooga, this charming town is home to the University of the South, one of the most popular liberal arts colleges in the South.
Built in 1857, Sewanee’s historic 13,000-acre campus has been called one of the most beautiful in the country. The setting is stunning: it sits on the Cumberland Plateau, a picturesque region in the Appalachian Mountains overlooking the Tennessee Valley.
Nestled in a beautiful old-growth forest, the college’s graceful Gothic-inspired architecture is truly a feast for the eyes. The All Saints’ Chapel, in particular, is a stunner, so bring along your camera to capture it all.
Take some time to enjoy a scenic ramble over the grounds. Discover some great hiking trails for all skill levels. (Goats Trail Loop, anyone?)
Head into town and browse shops brimming with artisan creations like blown glass and handmade jewelry. Hit Sewanee on a summer night, and you’ll be captured by the festive energy of live music in the park.
It’s been called everything from “the New York of the South” to “the Big Peach,” – but let’s call this dynamic, don’t-miss-it city by its proper name: Atlanta, GA.
About two hours from Chattanooga, Atlanta has it all going on. Steeped in history and rich in culture, Georgia’s capital manages to blend charismatic energy with down-home warmth.
You can explore the past, savor the arts scene, groove to live music and indulge in fabulous Southern cuisine in the space of a single day in Atlanta. (But you’ll probably want to stay longer!)
Learn about Atlanta’s key role in the Civil Rights movement at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, one of the top Atlanta tourist attractions. Visit the massive Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, commemorating the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy.
Check out the High Museum of Art, known as much for its stunning architecture as its world-class exhibits. Soak up the live music vibe at hotspots like the Tabernacle and Blind Willie’s.
Atlanta is home to the world’s largest urban canopy, so there’s plenty of green space to explore. Stroll or bike along the Atlanta Beltline, and you’ll discover Piedmont Park, a gorgeous 185-acre urban oasis that’s home to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Stop off en route to enjoy the Beltline’s trendy restaurants, serene parks, and lively markets.
Worked up an appetite? Atlanta is officially a foodie city, so don’t leave without digging into something delicious. Check out longtime favorites like Big Daddy’s Kitchen or Paschal’s Restaurant and chow down.
If you want to experience a Renaissance city, put Huntsville, AL, on your bucket list. Nearly brought to its knees by the American Civil War, Huntsville rose from the ashes to become a vibrant meeting place of history, culture, and technology.
Today, Huntsville is the most populous city in Alabama, its streets filled with terrific restaurants, fascinating museums, lively bars, and great shopping. And, as the city’s website proudly proclaims, they’ve “got space.”
Known as the “Rocket City” and the “Star of Alabama,” Huntsville is home to the largest space museum in the world: the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Alabama’s biggest tourist attraction, the Center honors Huntsville’s legacy as the birthplace of the spacecraft that put Americans on the moon. This is a hands-on showcase – which means you can get a taste of astronaut training and play “astronaut for a day” with flight simulators and other hands-on exhibits.
Come back to earth, and you’ll find there’s more to discover among the top Huntsville tourist attractions. Huntsville’s city center is dotted with historic neighborhoods; take a stroll to view an array of graceful antebellum homes. Visit the Historic Huntsville Depot, one of the oldest in the country. Look closely, and you’ll see etchings that were left by captured Confederate soldiers.
Want a breath of fresh air? Enjoy a tranquil stroll and savor the sight of butterflies flitting amongst the flowers at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. For something more strenuous, head for the hills of Monte Sano State Park. Just minutes outside Huntsville, this serene forested getaway offers 2,140 gorgeous acres that make the perfect place to hike, bike, camp – or just breathe deep and decompress.
Is a charming mountain town your idea of a perfect day trip? Then you’ll give Mentone, AL, a five-star rating. Less than a one-hour drive from Chattanooga, this lovely alpine town sits atop Lookout Mountain and overlooks downtown Chattanooga. Boasting the highest elevation in the state, this incredible destination is packed with intriguing historic structures and beautiful natural attractions.
Many of the town’s buildings are 19th–century gems. Take a ramble through The Log Cabin Village, a little community of shops housed in rustic wooden buildings where you’ll find a great selection of locally-made handicrafts.
No big-name stores or fancy restaurants here, but hit up the quaint Mentone Market, and you’ll be able to pick up everything you need for on-the-go snacks or a great picnic lunch. Fuel up because your “must-see” menu is packed!
Cruise the scenic Lookout Mountain Parkway to the spectacular three-level DeSoto Falls, the tallest waterfall in Alabama. According to legend, a piece of armor from DeSoto’s 16th-century expedition was discovered here.
On your way back to Chattanooga, stop in the town of Lookout Mountain to discover Ruby Falls. Descend 260 feet deep by glass-front elevator into historic Lookout Mountain and view the biggest underground waterfall in the country. Take a stroll through the enchanting Rock City Gardens, home to amazing rock formations and lush forests.
Want to experience “America’s Most Amazing Mile”? Hop aboard Lookout Mountain’s Incline Railway. Reaching an elevation of nearly 1,500 feet, this is one of the world’s steepest passenger railways and offers incomparable vistas as it climbs through the stunning natural beauty that envelops the mountain. Enjoy the view!