The 15 Best Day Trips from Chattanooga, TN

With its rich history, outdoor activities, and an abundance of restaurants, bars, and shops, the charming, southern city of Chattanooga has it all!

It also happens to be perfectly located along the borders of Alabama and Georgia, opening up a huge opportunity for day trip excursions. 

Check out these 15 nearby destinations to keep your adventure going.

Table of Contents

1. Sweetwater

Home to the largest underground lake in the United States, Sweetwater is more than just a small, historic river town in the farmlands of southeastern Tennessee. 

The one of a kind underground lake, known as The Lost Sea, is the town’s most popular attraction. Located within Craighead Caverns, tours are available daily to learn about the history of the geological formations in the 18th century cave system. End your tour with a clear-bottomed boat ride along the underground lake with some of the country’s largest Rainbow Trout. 

Try samples of freshly made cheese at Sweetwater Valley Farm, take a tour to see how the cheese is produced, and stop by the gift shop to buy a block to bring home for your friends. 

If ice cream is more your scene, stop by Mayfield Dairy Farms to taste their delicious, freshly-made recipe that they’ve used for over 100 years.  

The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum provides an interesting way to appreciate history with a 4-hour ride on a 1961 passenger train through the Hiwassee River Gorge. Guides will teach you about the importance of the railroad as you take in the views or enjoy dinner in a fine dining setting. 

On weekends, nearly 800 vendors gather together for the Sweetwater Flea Market – on a lot that is four football fields long.

2. Cloudland Canyon State Park

Originally known as Sitton’s Gulch, this Georgia Park is just a short ride away and is jam packed with outdoor activities for the whole family. 

Choose from 60 miles of hiking trails and 16 miles of horseback riding trails filled with waterfalls, canyons, caves, and abundant wildlife. The park also has a recreation center for those who are interested in fishing, golf and mountain biking.

Feeling adventurous? Take to the sky at Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding for a birds eye view of the park.

3. Nashville

No trip to Tennessee would be complete without a visit to the state’s well-renowned “music city” and, if you’re lucky, you may run into a country music superstar. 

Take a stroll down the County Music Hall of Fame and stop in at the museum to learn more about the ever growing list of country artists. 

If you are looking for a hearty dish of soul food, look no further than Loveless Café. They’ve been serving some of the most flavorful southern meals since 1951. 

Take a tour of the Ryman Auditorium, one of the world’s most famed music venues, or nab some tickets for a show while you’re in town.

4. Adairsville, GA

Cross over into Georgia to visit this quaint little town that is jam-packed with history and character. The town is named after Chief John Adair, the son of a Scottish trader and a Cherokee Princess.

The public square is filled with adorable antique shops, inviting cafes, and a train depot transformed into a museum to honor the town’s history. 

Catch up on your Civil War knowledge before your visit to fully appreciate the yearly reenactment of The Great Locomotive Chase that happened here April 12, 1862. A colorful mural that portrays the great chase is displayed in the center of the square. 

Explore the ruins of the Barnsley Mansion, built in the mid 1800s, at the Barnsley Gardens. Prince Hubertus Fugger bought the property after a horrific tornado in 1906, stabilized the remaining structures, and opened up attractions, two restaurants, and a beer garden on the grounds. 

During the holidays, the mansion and its exotic gardens are completely lit up with bright, colorful lights for a special nighttime experience. 

5. Cookeville

Start your day off right with breakfast at Poet’s Coffee; they have an extensive menu and large window perfect for people watching. 

The Market on the Square is a multi-level shopping district with a variety of knickknacks, home décor, and holiday must-haves. If that doesn’t satisfy your shopping fix, walk the streets of downtown to visit some of the local boutiques. 

Learn about the history of the Tennessee Central Railway at the Cookeville Depot Museum, and check out some outdoor activities at the City Lake Natural Area and Cummins Falls State Park.

Enjoy some of the finest southern cuisine at Seven Senses Food & Cheer but make sure to leave room to try one of the many flavors at Cream City Ice Cream & Coffee House.

6. Manchester

Peppered with vibrant murals, breweries, and tons of outdoor adventures, Manchester is the perfect combination of nature, art and recreation. 

Old Stone Fort State Park is a massive hilltop park with a ceremonial site dating back to the 5th Century, A.D. and a beautiful waterfall that cascades down the Highland Rim Plateau. 

Walk the streets of downtown Manchester and the Little Duck River Greenway to take pictures of the ever-growing collection of murals that shape the town. 

Get a taste of the country life with a trip to the downtown square of Bell Buckle with its antique shops, farm-to-table cafe, and RC-Moonpie festival.

Take the 1-mile hike to the Stone Door, a cliff overlook with stunning views, and feel free to venture off and explore some of the many slot canyons along the way. On the way back to your car, don’t forget to stop at Laurel Falls or go for a swim at the popular Greeter Falls just 15 minutes away. 

Located along the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, there is no shortage of distilleries. Check out Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. for a taste of Tennessee’s finest whiskey and rural life.

Not big on liquor? Wineries and breweries are also fan favorites. You won’t want to miss Beans Creek Winery and Ole Shed Brewing Co.

Every September, the town hosts the iconic Bonnaroo Festival filled with some of the best live entertainment around and promoting nothing but good vibes. 

7. Tellico Plains

Listen to the sounds of nature in this rustic mountain town located at the entrance to the Cherokee National Forest.

Drive to Bald River Falls to see a 100-foot cascading waterfall or hike the Bald River Gorge to view the falls from the top. 

Take your kayak out on Tellico River for a relaxing day on the water, and don’t forget to bring your fishing pole if you want to try the river’s word-class trout fishing. 

After a day of exploring, head into town to visit adorable little shops and try a pastry at Tellico Grains Bakery

8. Sewanee

Centered around The University of the South’s campus, this college town is located atop Monteagle Mountain  and is gushing with outdoor charm. The campus is a whopping 13,000 acres, and is more than just buildings filled with classrooms. 

Admire the tall archways and the sun-kissed mosaics at The All Saints’ Chapel. Avoid the church’s seal if you are an undergrad; rumor has it those who step on it will never graduate. 

The Sewanee Village sits at the end of University Avenue and boasts an adorable collection of shops filled with knickknacks, art pieces, and handmade items. 

The 19th century gothic architecture of the university has had a strong influence on the area with the latest edition to the grounds being the Sewanee Inn. The 43-room hotel was recently renovated in 2014 with construction costs reaching 12 million dollars to ensure authenticity and overall appeal. 

Hike to the 25-foot sandstone arch that has created an awe-inspiring natural bridge or walk a portion of the 20-mile Perimeter Trail that takes you around the campus.  

Foodies will want to grab a classic breakfast at The Blue Chair Café and Tavern, an Asian inspired lunch at Crossroads Café, and a seasonal dinner at IvyWild

Friday nights are usually spent listening to live music at Angel Park with the locals before heading over to Shenanigans for a couple of drinks. 

9. Huntsville, AL

Alabama is usually overlooked when it comes to planning a vacation, but the state has a surprising amount of things to do – and Huntsville is no exception. 

The Twickenham Historic District is filled with museums that revolve around the town’s historic architecture and is home to the oldest house still standing in the state. 

Walk through the Huntsville Botanical Garden and admire the themed gardens, the large butterfly house, and all the waterfalls along the way. 

Drive through the Harmony Park Safari to see endangered species like zebra, ram, and buffalo from the comfort of your own car. 

Go back in time as you enter the Alabama Constitution Village, where the 1819 Constitutional Convention was held. 

10. Lynchburg

The town of Lynchburg may be small, but it holds great value to the state for being one of the leading distributors of Tennessee’s iconic whiskey. 

Jack Daniel’s is sold far and wide, but its main distillery is right in Lynchburg and is open 7 days a week to show visitors how it’s done. Join a whiskey tour, walk through the building, learn about the process, and taste test a few variations of the famous whiskey. 

It is important to note that you have to be 18 to take a tour and only those 21 and over will have the option to try samples. 

11. Great Smokey Mountains National Park

A bit of a drive from Chattanooga, many will opt for a weekend trip to this national park. But, it is worth the commute; spanning over 500,000 acres, each trail is more beautiful than the last. 

With 150 trails totaling out at over 800 miles, there is a hike for everyone and you could easily spend a week exploring the park’s natural wonders. 

Climb to the top of Clingmans Dome for a stunning view overlooking the park, venture through the ghost town hidden away behind the Elkmont campground, and count the waterfalls for a day full of outdoor fun. 

Thousands of different species call this area home, so keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings and remember to carry along bear spray. 

12. Knoxville

Hidden in the shadow of cities like Nashville or Memphis, the city of Knoxville is full of life and oozing with Tennessee appeal. 

Make your way over to the Peter Kern Library Speakeasy, a hidden bar with some of the best cocktails in town. 

Enjoy free admission into the Knoxville Museum of Art and check out some of the state’s finest pieces of artwork like Cycle of Life Installation by Richard Jolley.

Plan to see a show at the Tennessee Theatre, built in the 1920s with architecture so gorgeous you will feel like royalty the moment you enter its grand doors. 

Visit the local boutiques, grab a bite to eat, and have a couple of drinks at the Market Square

As the sun sets, climb to the top of the 300-foot golden ball, known as the Sunsphere Tower, for a view like no other overlooking the city. 

13. Atlanta, GA

After a visit to this up and coming southern city, you’d be surprised to know that it was the area burnt to the ground during the American Civil War. Now, its streets are lined with highly acclaimed restaurants, museums to honor the city’s history, and a bustling shopping scene. 

The Center for Civil and Human Rights has three stories dedicated to the long and strenuous journey to equality. 

Choose from a variety of different international cuisines along the street of Buford Highway, including Chinese, Mexican, Malaysian, Peruvian, and more. 

Make sure to wear your walking shoes for a day of shopping at the 2.1 million square feet Ponce City Market, overflowing with local boutiques, popular brands, and over 20 restaurants. 

14. Mentone, AL

This small Alabama town sits atop Lookout Mountain and draws in visitors for its lovely scenery and historic setting. 

Desoto Falls stands tall at 104 feet, pooling into a beautiful, emerald body of water and is just a short, relatively flat hike away.

Plan for a picnic under a covered pavilion at Brow Park, one of the few places with a clear view over Lookout Mountain. 

Visit the town’s oldest known structure and unique wooden church at St. Joseph’s On the Mountain.

Mentone Springs Hotel is a sight to be seen, even if you are not staying overnight; it is one of Alabama’s oldest hotels and even made it on the list of the National Register of Historic Places.

15. Blue Ridge, GA

Located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the small town hosts tons of activities from outdoor adventures to town festivities.

Once a quiet railroad town, Blue Ridge has grown into a booming location filled with local shops, trendy restaurants, and a fair share of art galleries.

With five local breweries and two wineries within the town lines, there is something for every kind of alcohol connoisseur. 

Sit back and enjoy the view along The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway as it takes you along the Toccoa River, from Blue Ridge to McCaysville and then back again. 

Check out a few of the local hikes – with 300 miles of trails to choose from, there is something suitable for every skill levels. Grab a waterfall map in town to go on a self-guided search for the area’s 16 falls.