In addition to popular attractions such as Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls, people who live in or travel to Chattanooga should visit 15 nearby state parks in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.
These destinations showcase the history, natural environment, and recreational amenities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Tennessee state parks and many in Alabama may be visited without paying an admission fee. State parks in Georgia require the purchase of a daily or annual ParkPass. Camping, lodging, and some special tours or events may require additional fees.
Please note that all parks in Alabama and certain Tennessee parks west of the city (Tims Ford, Fall Creek Falls, and South Cumberland) are in the Central Time Zone. Posted hours of operation at these locations are one-hour behind the current time in Chattanooga.
State Parks near Chattanooga:
- Booker T. Washington State Park
- Harrison Bay State Park
- South Cumberland State Park
- Cloudland Canyon State Park
- Fall Creek Falls State Park
- Tims Ford State Park
- Red Clay State Historic Park
- Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park
- James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park
- Fort Mountain State Park
- Red Top Mountain State Park
- DeSoto State Park
- Buck’s Pocket State Park
- Cathedral Caverns State Park
- Lake Guntersville State Park
1. Booker T. Washington State Park
- Official Page: Booker T. Washington State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 12 miles (25 min)
- Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Biking, Picnics
Perched along Chickamauga Lake, the 353-acre Booker T. Washington State Park was created in the 1930s as one of two Tennessee state parks for African Americans during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation.
A short drive from downtown and near the Chickamauga Dam, this destination includes three biking trails, including sections perfect for mountain biking.
Born into slavery and freed from bondage during childhood, Booker T. Washington was a passionate advocate of educational opportunities for African Americans.
This park combines civil rights history, natural beauty, and great lakeside fishing. Common species caught with a rod and reel include largemouth bass and catfish.
Overnight accommodation includes cabins and the Tuskegee Airmen Group Lodge. The General Chappie James Assembly Hall offers dining and kitchen facilities.
2. Harrison Bay State Park
- Official Page: Harrison Bay State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 19 miles (35 min)
- Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Golfing, Picnics
A 1,200-acre park northeast of Chattanooga, Harrison Bay State Park opened in 1937 as water levels in the area rose.
Created as a recreation site by the Tennessee Valley Authority, the park now has almost 40 miles of shoreline along Chickamauga Lake, a body of water created when the Chickamauga Dam confined a portion of the Tennessee River.
Portions of the town of Harrison were submerged as the construction of the TVA dam allowed for the creation of the lake.
The first Tennessee State Park, this popular destination includes a large marina. The Bear Trace Golf Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, offers great greens to play upon while illustrating environmental stewardship.
Daytime guests enjoy picnicking, trails, and lakefront activities. Campsites are available for overnight visitors.
3. South Cumberland State Park
- Official Page: South Cumberland State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 48 miles (50 min)
- Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Climbing, Picnics
By driving less than an hour northwest of the city, Chattanoogans can experience the expansive preserve at South Cumberland State Park.
With nine distinct areas covering over 30,800 acres, visitors can take hikes to see more than a dozen waterfalls, lush woodlands, multiple streams, high plateaus, impressive cliffs, and incredible panoramic vistas.
Campers will enjoy the Foster Falls Campground. The park is known for the large number of primitive and backcountry campsites available for those who like to reconnect with nature rather than rest in an RV.
The size and geological diversity of the park’s grounds assure that no two visits will be identical. The Carter Natural Area occupies a sinkhole section in an enclosed valley known as Lost Cove. A natural arch known as Sewanee Natural Bridge stands above Lost Cove.
The day-use area at Grundy Lakes offers great swimming and fishing.
4. Cloudland Canyon State Park
- Official Page: Cloudland Canyon State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 27 miles (30 min)
- Activities: Fishing, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Climbing, Caving, Picnics
Located 25 miles southwest of the city, Cloudland Canyon State Park offers impressive overlooks from a section of Lookout Mountain near Trenton, Georgia.
The park’s 3,538 acres include creeks, waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus.
Visitors have a commanding view of woodlands, wildlife, and a gulch more than 800 feet below them. Keep a pair of binoculars handy and enjoy a walk along the rim trail.
Moderate and strenuous hiking and mountain biking opportunities are also possible, along with fishing and disc golf.
Georgia parks require a daily or annual ParkPass. Those wishing to stay overnight can select from a variety of campsites, as well as yurts and cottages.
5. Fall Creek Falls State Park
- Official Page: Fall Creek Falls State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 68 miles (1h 10min)
- Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Climbing, Golfing, Picnics
A popular destination between Pikeville and Spencer, Fall Creek Falls State Park is one of Tennessee’s largest and most popular state recreation destinations.
This Cumberland Plateau location 70 miles north of downtown has nearly 30,000 acres to explore.
An overlook viewing area at Fall Creek Falls allows year-round access to see the 256-foot waterfall, one of the highest in this part of the country.
Other waterfalls and cascades – along with abundant wildlife, hardwood timber forests, and a large lake – provide a scenic escape.
The park has more than 56 miles of trails, four playgrounds, a scenic loop road, an environmental education center, and a golf course.
The recently-rebuilt-and-reopened lodge offers a popular restaurant and 85 rooms, most with impressive views of Fall Creek Falls Lake. Thirty cabins, 222 campsites, and backcountry camping are also available for overnight stays.
6. Tims Ford State Park
- Official Page: Tims Ford State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 82 miles (1h 20min)
- Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Golfing, Picnics
80-mile drive west of Chattanooga, Tims Ford State Park offers recreational lake access and great bass fishing.
The 3,546-acre park is located in the extensive Tims Ford Reservoir, a perfect place to rent a kayak, canoe, or pontoon boat, or to launch watercraft from the Lake View Marina.
Away from the lake, guests often enjoy walking, hiking, and biking along the trails. Birdwatching is popular, too. And the Bear Trace at Tims Ford offers a high-quality golfing experience.
Fully-equipped cabins along the wooded areas near the reservoir and two campgrounds are available for those wishing to spend the night at Tims Ford.
Those with tents who desire a more secluded experience may camp at Turkey Creek or on the lake’s six islands.
7. Red Clay State Historic Park
- Official Page: Red Clay State Historic Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 27 miles (40 min)
- Activities: Hiking, Picnics
A 263-acre park 25 miles east of downtown, Red Clay State Historic Park sits adjacent to the Tennessee-Georgia state line.
The park recognizes the location of the last Cherokee seat of government before the U.S. military enforced the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which mandated the removal of Indians from the region.
The Red Clay Council Grounds, the beginning point of the Trail of Tears, marks the location where Cherokees learned of their loss of ancestral lands and imminent removal. An interpretive facility includes exhibits that document this history.
Added to the National Register in 1972, these lands opened as a state park in 1979. The Eternal Flame of the Cherokee Nation was lit in 1984, marking the reunion of the Eastern and Western bands of the Cherokee Nation.
Historical structures, an amphitheater, pathways along streams, and the popular Blue Hole Spring are popular features at this site.
8. Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park
- Official Page: Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 56 miles (1h 5min)
- Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Rafting, Hiking, Camping, Picnics
56 miles east of the city, Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park offers outstanding recreational opportunities along white water riverways.
Rafting, canoeing, and floating are popular summertime activities along stretches of these rivers with rapids of varying degrees of difficulty.
Those wanting to keep their feet dry will enjoy walking and hiking trails, as well as great opportunities for nature photography along the hilly landscape.
The nearby Cherokee National Forest and Cherohala Skyway that connects Tellico Plains with Robbinsville, NC offer a scenic mountain route between the Chattanooga area and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The park is home to the Gee Creek primitive campground and a section of the John Muir State Scenic Trail.
Common fish caught in the river include catfish, yellow perch, large-mouth bass, and rainbow and brown trout.
9. James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park
- Official Page: James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 49 miles (1h 5min)
- Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Camping, Picnics
Named for a longtime Georgia lawmaker from the area, James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park is 50 miles south of Chattanooga.
Adjacent to the Chattahoochee National Forest, this 561-acre north Georgia park has an old marble mine, two lakes stocked with fish, and recreational trails.
Ducks often frequent the playground, while bluebirds and other wildlife are visible throughout this serene location.
Benches and swings offer peaceful places to relax before walking near the lakes or enjoying picnics. The fishing pier is ADA-accessible.
Similar to other Georgia parks, the purchase of a ParkPass is required for access. Campsites and four cottages accommodate those wishing to stay overnight.
10. Fort Mountain State Park
- Official Page: Fort Mountain State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 52 miles (1h 5min)
- Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Horseback Riding, Picnics
Fifty miles southeast of Chattanooga, Fort Mountain State Park sits upon 4,058 acres between Chatsworth and Ellijay, Georgia.
The most notable feature in this north Georgia mountain retreat is an 855-foot rock wall that may have been built by Indians centuries ago as a protective fortification.
Another stone feature – a recently-restored fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps atop the mountain – offers memorable views of hills, mountains, and wilderness from a perch over 2,800 feet above sea level.
Strolls along the stream, hikes through hardwood forests, and visits to a beach on a 17-acre lake reconnect visitors with nature.
The park has cottages and campsites for overnight stays. Guests must purchase a Georgia ParkPass to enter Fort Mountain.
11. Red Top Mountain State Park
- Official Page: Red Top Mountain State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 81 miles (1h 15min)
- Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Picnics
Located 80 miles south on Atlanta’s outskirts, Red Top Mountain State Park is a great destination for fishing, swimming, and water skiing along the 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona.
Hiking is a popular activity at this 1,776-acre retreat. Bring a camera and prepare to see deer and other wildlife on more than 15 miles of trails at Red Top Mountain.
The park also manages the nearby Allatoona Pass Battlefield, an important Civil War site.
Although the former lodge at this park closed in 2010, a large campground and cottages are available for those wishing to stay for the evening.
A day or annual Georgia ParkPass is required for admission.
12. DeSoto State Park
- Official Page: DeSoto State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 51 miles (55 min)
- Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Horseback Riding, Picnics
Located a short distance from Fort Payne and 50 miles from Chattanooga, DeSoto State Park is a great place to experience a segment of Lookout Mountain that extends into northeastern Alabama.
The 3,502 acres of this park near the Little River Canyon National Preserve have two distinct areas.
DeSoto Falls, a 104-foot waterfall, occupies a small tract near the town of Mentone that is about 7 miles away from the rest of the park.
An overlook along the top of the waterfall offers a great view a short distance from the crest. A parking fee is required for access to the waterfall and nearby picnic area.
The main park opened in the late 1930s as a Civilian Conservation Corps project. Visitors to this section will see cabins, campsites, and a small lodge with a restaurant, motel rooms, and an adjacent smaller waterfall.
Cycling, hiking, fishing, and boulder climbing are popular pastimes. The park has more than 30 miles of trails.
13. Buck’s Pocket State Park
- Official Page: Buck’s Pocket State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 78 miles (1h 20min)
- Activities: Hiking, Biking, Camping, Picnics, ORV Trails
A little more than 70 miles southwest of downtown, Buck’s Pocket State Park offers a secluded location to enjoy views from atop Sand Mountain.
Closed in 2015 after years of neglect and poor funding, the Alabama State Parks agency reopened the park in June 2021.
The Jim Lynn Overlook Area, also known as Point Rock, provides a great view from the plateau of the pocket, a cavity that separates the higher areas of Sand Mountain from the creeks that drain into Lake Guntersville.
The restrooms were torn down years ago, and portable toilets may not be available at all times.
Access to the renovated campground involves driving along a narrow and curvy road from the higher end of Sand Mountain.
A newly established 6.2-mile off-road vehicle (ORV) trail – the first in an Alabama state park – parallels South Sauty Creek and is open during daylight hours for a small per-car use fee.
14. Cathedral Caverns State Park
- Official Page: Cathedral Caverns State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 83 miles (1h 20min)
- Activities: Hiking, Camping, Caving, Picnics, Gem Mining, Tours
Those with an interest in spelunking should consider taking an 80-mile journey southwest of Chattanooga to visit Cathedral Caverns State Park.
Located near Grant and about 30 miles east of Huntsville, this Alabama state park has one of the largest cave entrance openings among commercial caverns in the world.
Known as Bat Cave when it opened as a privately owned tourist attraction in the 1950s, the state acquired the 493-acre tract of land with the cave in 1987 and opened the caverns for tours in 2000.
The huge entrance measures 25 feet high by 126 feet wide. Tours last approximately 90 minutes and cover a round-trip distance of 1.5 miles.
Scheduled cave tours occur throughout the day. A modest admission fee is charged for the chance to see stalagmites, stalactites, and a flowstone wall that resembles a stone “waterfall.”
Guests will also experience the year-round interior cave temperature that hovers around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 Celsius).
15. Lake Guntersville State Park
- Official Page: Lake Guntersville State Park
- Distance from Chattanooga: 87 miles (1h 25min)
- Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Picnics, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, Golfing, Horseback Riding
Lake Guntersville State Park offers access to the largest lake in Alabama. Although some drive away, it’s the most versatile destination on the list and an outdoor playground like no other.
Lake Guntersville allows for water sports like kayaking, wakeboarding, and jet skiing. And the park has a designated swimming area for hot summer days. Anglers would be curious to know that it holds 4 state records – more than any other lake in the state.
On land, there are miles of trails for hiking, running, biking, and horseback riding. Spotting bald eagles is one of the main natural attractions in the park.
What’s more, Lake Guntersville State Park offers the widest selection of accommodation in the region. From primitive campsites to chalets and lodges, you can be as comfortable as you want.
A week isn’t enough to explore this outdoor gem. Multi-day stays are highly recommended.
Map of State Parks near Chattanooga:
Lakes in Tennessee:
Beaches in Tennessee: