Hike to Sunset Rock, scoring stunning views of the Tennessee River and downtown Chattanooga from Point Park and the lofty, view-packed Lookout Mountain.
LOCATION:Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, TN
Lookout Mountain’s steep-walled facade towers over the wide meanders of the Tennessee River, catching outstanding, long-range views of downtown Chattanooga in the distance. This enormous elongated mountain ridge crosses through three states (Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee) near the northwest Georgia border, rising high above the surrounding Cumberland Plateau. It’s well-loved by hikers, trail runners, climbers and cave explorers for its outstanding views, extensive trails and many arches and caves carved into the mountain’s rocky terrain. One of the mountain’s most coveted spots to catch a view lies on an enormous, steep-sided bluff aptly named Sunset Rock: it’s well-known as one of the prime places to view a stunning sunset in the Chattanooga area.
This classic hike on Lookout Mountain spans less than four miles but covers some seriously scenic terrain. The adventure begins at Point Park, a rocky precipice that offers outstanding views of the nearby Tennessee River and the city’s downtown. It drops steeply, descending to the Ochs Memorial Observatory for more take-your-breath-away views, and then follows the Bluff Trail through a rocky forest beneath towering rock outcrops. And, before flipping to return to the trailhead, the hike climbs to outstanding views and sheer drop-offs at Sunset Rock.
It’s a view-packed, scenic hike that crams a ton of outdoor beauty into a relatively short distance, making the steep sections and the stair workout well worth the effort. The hike treks through steep terrain and some tight spots, though. Hike carefully, and take your time to soak in those incredible views.
Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain: the hike
The adventure begins at the gates of Point Park (view maps, admission fees and driving directions), tunneling through the park’s grand, castle-like stone entrance. Paved paths circle the park, catching outstanding views from the park’s overlooks and passing cannons and monuments memorializing the mountain’s role in Civil War history. Once inhabited by Native Americans, the mountain was the site of a Cherokee battle and, later, the Battle of Lookout Mountain, a significant battle in the Civil War.
After looping through the park, the hike follows signs to the Ochs Observatory and Museum, descending a series of stairs and terraces through a rocky, boulder-studded terrain. The hike reaches the museum and observatory at .4 miles, catching some more outstanding views of the Tennessee River and the Chattanooga skyline from a broad rock outcrop.
Departing the Ochs Museum, the hike continues its downward climb, descending steep metal stairs, stone terraces, and tight switchbacks. Reaching a trail intersection at the base of the stairs, the route turns left to follow the Bluff Trail southwest, passing the former site of the mountain’s historic Point Hotel. The trail rolls elevation through a rocky, sunlight-dappled forest. The uppermost portion of the mountain’s ridge towers high on the left, continuously framing the trail with 50-foot-tall bluffs and rock outcrops. The hike passes a trickling spring at .7 miles.
The hike begins a shallow descent, passing a side trail leading to Cravens House at 1 mile. The Bluff Trail continues southwest, dipping elevation before starting a climb. The trail passes through a particularly steep section bordered with safety cables and crosses stone stairs at 1.2 miles, catching a trailside view to the right.
The trail briefly levels and small springs spill from the sheer rock face at 1.4 miles. The hike passes under Sunset Rock at just over 1.5 miles, a popular climbing and bouldering destination for rock climbers. The hike hangs a left on a spur trail at 1.65 miles, making a steep climb through tight switchbacks and stone stairs.
The hike reaches Sunset Rock at 1.75 miles. A broad, nearly level rock slab offers a great vantage point to catch the rock’s expansive views, from a careful distance: the 100-foot dropoff from Sunset Rock is sudden, steep and unprotected. The views are simply outstanding – and the sunsets from this lofty perch are simply sublime. (Note: Point Park closes at sunset. To score sunset views from the rock without having to sprint back to Point Park, there’s a short pathway that leads from a small parking area at West Brow Road.)
After soaking up the views, the hike descends from Sunset Rock, retracing its outbound steps in reverse. Reaching the Bluff Trail, the hike hangs a right, hiking north to return to the trailhead. The hike reaches the base of the stairs leading to the Ochs Observatory at 3 miles, beginning the hike’s major workout (why not save the best for last?) and ascending a seemingly endless series of stairs. Reaching the park’s paved, crescent-shaped trail at 3.2 miles, the hike makes another half-circle loop through the park, catching a few more of those magnificent Chattanooga views, before completing the adventure at 3.5 miles.
More adventure-worthy hikes near Chattanooga
In the area with energy and sunlight to spare? Scramble through fields of uniquely sculpted boulders on the Rocktown Trail at Pigeon Mountain. Explore two stunning waterfalls and an incredible turquoise lake at Lula Lake Land Trust. Hike an epic, waterfall-filled adventure on the Fiery Gizzard Trail, climbing to beautiful views at Raven Point in South Cumberland State Park. Hike to one of the Southeast’s most beautiful and iconic cascades at Foster Falls. Explore the waterfall-filled gorge and catch exceptional vistas at Georgia’s Cloudland Canyon State Park. And check out the full list of our favorite hiking trails near Chattanooga for even more adventure inspiration.
Photos by Matt van Swol. Written by Eric Champlin.
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$5 per adult (16 or older); open 6am - sunset.
35.009933, -85.343733 // N35 00.596 W85 20.624