Sometimes when guests ask about hiking Lookout Mountain, we have to explain, like a relationship status, it’s complicated. There are so many options for hiking Lookout Mountain from national park land, to Lula Lake Land Trust to Cloudland Canyon, a Georgia state park. For a 90-120 minute hike, one of our favorite versions is the closest to downtown Chattanooga.
This hike starts in historic St. Elmo, the southern suburb of Chattanooga that was founded in the 1870’s and architecturally bloomed around 1885. Of course also ending the hike in St. Elmo brings you to some great local restaurants for an after-hike meal.
There is a wonderful organization named the Lookout Mountain Conservancy (find them here – https://lookoutmountainconservancy.org/), who curates and maintains both parking and some of the wonderful trails on the north end of Lookout Mountain.
If you begin at the Guild-Hardy Trailhead, about a half mile south of the Incline Railway’s bottom station, you can park in a small lot just off Ochs Highway. Ochs Highway is the route heading south up Lookout Mountain into Georgia and towards Rock City, Sunset Rock, Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding, Cloudland Canyon, Canyon Grill, and, well the list goes on. There is a yellow signalized crosswalk leading from the parking lot to the Guild-Hardy Trail itself; however, do be super cautious crossing the road here.
The Hardy-Guild Trail is a slow and steady, wide section of graveled trail that even crosses under the Incline Railway. You may see folks walking dogs, riding bikes, trail running, or simply meandering up the mountain in this approximately 1.2 mile section. There are two really cool bridges, because this used to be the original Incline #1 tracks up to the old Lookout Hotel. After Ruby Falls (which has paved sections through their parking areas and crosses Highway 148 – please do so carefully up Lookout on the Tennessee side), the trail changes back to gravel, narrows a bit here past Ruby Falls, then is mostly shaded and wooded for the next 1.2 +/- miles.
For most folks, this will be the point at which they want to turn around. This 2.5 miles turns into five round trip, is a slight incline for the entire portion, and is downhill for the whole return.
You will have to cross two, two-lane highways, but this is easily accomplished with careful attention. For your time and hiking, you will be rewarded with some great views of the City of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. Choose your own pace, and feel accomplished after completing it. Reward yourself with a trip to 1885 Coastal Grill, Purple Daisy BBQ, or Mojo Burrito (where you hand pick all the fixins and they build the delicious burrito, tacos or nachos) at the bottom, just a half mile away from where you parked. Stay tuned for other, a bit more challenging, day long hikes.