The great thing about Chattanooga for backpacking and camping enthusiasts is that it’s basically located right at the epicenter for many of the Southeast’s best wilderness areas and parks. Within a 3 hour radius, weekend warriors can find everything from towering waterfalls in Central Tennessee, to dense forests in North Georgia and Alabama, to unmatched scenery and biodiversity in the nearby Smokies.
And even closer to home, Chattanooga is quite blessed in terms of overnighting opportunities in the woods. Only 10 miles west of downtown, with over 6,000 acres of protected land and 35 miles of hiking trails, Prentice Cooper State Forest is an outdoor mecca right in Chattanooga's backyard. The forest is situated above the Tennessee River Gorge—a 26 mile canyon referred to by locals as the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee, with bluffs rising over 1,000 feet from the undulating river below.
Just 45 minutes from downtown, on the backside of Lookout Mountain, is one of Georgia’s most beautiful state parks: the one and only, Cloudland Canyon. Offering spectacular views and exceptional, rugged hiking—not to mention large waterfalls and gurgling creeks—Cloudland makes for an idyllic weekend getaway, to say the least.
Just over an hour east of Chattanooga, backpackers and campers can find the Big Frog Wilderness—one of the largest wilderness areas east of the Mississippi, as well as an area home to some of the oldest mountains in the world. The primitive camping along these rhododendron-lined mountain brooks is exceptional.