Adventure travel offers the possibility of whitewater rafting and hang gliding on the same day. A visit to Chattanooga makes that possible.
The whitewater is a bit of a drive from the city, but you'll be rewarded with a stern challenge on the Ocoee River, where class III and class IV rapids await. Locate Benton, Tenn. and the Cherokee National Forest and you'll find the Ocoee River.
Some kayakers take on this run without a guide and revel in the challenge. If you're not accustomed to these conditions, it is far safer to hire a guide. For all but a few experts, it's money well-spent.
There is a choice of outfitters on the river, and some will be intent on getting you out and back as quickly as possible to maximize revenue. I found Outdoor Adventure Rafting to offer both affordable rates and high-quality guiding services. They will attempt to sell you videos and photographs from the run, but some customers attach their own GoPro cameras to the provided helmets and shoot their own recordings.
Rising Fawn, Ga. is just a few miles southwest of Chattanooga and in the shadow of Lookout Mountain. It's the home of Lookout Mountain Flight Park. Weather permitting, you'll see multiple hang gliders swirling through the valley.
This type experience may not be for everyone.
But Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding has a 30-year history and claims to be the largest and most successful school of its kind in the country. Beginners are required to fly in tandem with a highly experienced instructor. You'll hear a sales pitch for taking more flights and working toward a solo flight, but time and money are required for that venture, and most travelers are content with a single flight.
How it works: Your hang gliding craft (fixed wing, constructed of steel) will be towed by a plane in much the same way you would run with a kite. At a predetermined altitude, the tow line is disconnected. Your instructor rides air currents and slowly steers you back to a safe landing on the valley floor. The instructor will turn the controls over to you for a few moments, but you won't have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.
The tandem flights are not cheap. I took the flight to 1,500 feet above the valley floor, which costs $199; flying to 3,000 feet above the ground is $299, and you can do two 1,500-foot flights for $299. That's a significant expense for a budget traveler, but it is an experience you will never forget. The view of Lookout Mountain and the absolute quiet experienced during the glide can't be replicated.
Be prepared to sign a series of legal forms, and keep in mind there is a weight limit of 250 lbs.
The photo above shows my flight. Obviously, it was taken from a fixed camera on the side of the craft. For $18, I received a package of 75 high-resolution photos taken at every stage of the flight. If you're going to invest in the flight itself, photo package ads value to the experience beyond $18. Almost no one back home will have pictures like this to show off!
It's not Colorado or Austria, but Chattanooga is extremely popular with budget travelers in the eastern United States who love rock climbing and bouldering (rock climbs without ropes or harnesses). The sandstone cliffs so common in this area make attractive destinations for the climbers.
If you're just starting out in this potentially hazardous sport, please be certain you have expert guides, state-of-the-art equipment, and realistic expectations about your abilities. Bouldering aside, most climbs require essential climbing gear such as a harness, dynamic or static climbing rope, carabiners, and a helmet.
Granite Arches Climbing Guides are located at Sunset Rock. If you bring a large group, the daily rate per person can fall below $100. Although climbers in this part of the world will boast that they go out all year, the winter months are best avoided.
If you're looking to hang out with some kindred spirits, check out the Crash Pad hostel in Chattanooga, a short distance from the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel. The proprietors and many of the guests will give you good advice about local climbs, and they offer a nice online list of rock climbing spots near Chattanooga for your consideration.
Should you encounter bad weather or run out short of time, there is an indoor climbing alternative in downtown Chattanooga. Click "next" and consider one of the region's best indoor climbing centers.
Indoor Rock Climbing
Just steps from the Tennessee Aquarium, you'll find one of the region's finest climbing facilities at High Point Climbing and Fitness. With 30,000-square-feet of space, it's billed as one of the largest of its kind in the nation.
The facility is designed to cater to a diverse group of patrons. For the young and inexperienced, there is a Kid Zone. For those who want to combine climbing with other aerobic forms of exercise, there are cross-training rooms. Chances are good that you'll find a climb that fits your abilities.
The facility is open daily, with extended 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. hours on Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays.
Day passes for children and adults are available for under $20, but gear rental is not included in that rate.
You might associate kayaking with whitewater and Olympic competitions. But it's possible to enjoy some flat water recreation as you kayak mountain lakes or the Tennessee River.
It's possible to rent a kayak or SUP board from Outdoor Chattanooga, and explore the Tennessee River downtown. Meet at Outdoor Chattanooga's Coolidge Park location on the river's north shore and enjoy a tour that includes Maclellan Sanctuary on Audubon Island. You'll also paddle past the Bluff View Art District; under three scenic bridges; and along the revitalized Chattanooga riverfront. At many times of the year, the river has little or no current to navigate.
There are at least five other paddling trips suitable for families and beginners in the Chattanooga area. River Canyon Kayak provides outfitting services, including hourly kayak rentals for single or tandem paddlers.
Just six miles from downtown Chattanooga, you can take on Big Daddy.
The hiking trail is among the most popular in the area, and is, as the name implies, a big assignment. It's a 10-mile loop along Lookout Mountain that will introduce you to some outstanding views of the valley and the city. Expect to spend 2-4 hours on the trail, which is moderately strenuous.
If you enjoy hiking to waterfalls, the area offers four trails within an hour's drive of Chattanooga. Closest to the city is Falling Water Falls State Natural Area, where you'll find a small preserve and a trail to the falls that most anyone can handle.
Those willing to drive greater distances can access the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia, or visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is about two hours northeast via I-75.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.