Of all the trails just outside Chattanooga on Lookout Mountain, Glen Falls stands out as one of the most beautiful and scenic in the area. This short 2 mile out and back trail packs everything you could want on a hike filled with wildflower strewn meadows, interesting rock formations, and three high mountain waterfalls rolled into one. As part of a larger network of trails within the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Park, this trail can be mixed in with the Shingle and Guild Trail, to create a 5 mile day hike all the way to Ruby Falls Cave. Located just off Ochs Highway, most visitors tackle this trail to visit its namesake gem, Glen Falls.
Glen Falls Trail | National Park Service
Heading north on Ochs Highway from Downtown Chattanooga, we found the trailhead for Glen Falls at a pull off just past Sanders Rd. Despite being a tiny parking area right on a major road, it can easily fit 6-8 cars if everyone follows the customary policy of parking at an angle. While the short 0.5 mile path to the falls from the lot is considered nothing more than an easy stroll through the woods, it does offer some challenging rock scrambles for those interested in taking a closer look at the separate falls.
Beginning our hike, the first thing that caught my eye was the beauty of the vast woodland meadow spread out beneath this mature forest. Leaning over to catch a whiff of a heavenly scented bush of blooming honeysuckle, I caught myself as I was about to step into a thick stand of poison ivy. The closer I looked the more I realized that the plant was everywhere. In fact, it turns out the entire Glen Falls Trail is bordered by a duo of Americas most allergy inducing plants; poison ivy and poison oak. While wearing pants or long socks should alleviate any concerns of catching the painful rash most commonly associated with these plants, theres more to them than meets the eye.
The chemical compounds known to create terrible rashes and oozing sores had uses in folk medicine employed by early settlers and Native Chickamauga Cherokees that once inhabited this mountain. Studied over hundreds of years, poison ivy has a place in the homeopathic toolbox as a cure for musculoskeletal injuries such as chronic pains, aches and arthritic conditions. The Chickamauga, a branch of the Cherokee Nation, initially called the mountain Chat-a-nu-ga, before it was given the name Lookout Mountain. After several conflicts broke out between Chickamaugas led by chief Dragging Canoe and American militia forces shortly after the Revolutionary War, the Native American population of the mountain was forcibly removed along the infamous Trail of Tears.
A hundred yards down the trail and we finally start to run into some of the more interesting rock formations found all over Lookout Mountain from its southern tip in Alabama, all the way to the three mile stretch located here in Tennessee. As the trail begins to gain some elevation, we round a bend to find the middle falls just ahead of us in a deep gorge. The trail is very narrow in certain sections here as it hugs the side of a cliff. We walk through a small corridor carved between the high bluffs, marking the entrance to the upper falls. Its like a scene straight out of The Hobbit.
Once inside, its like stepping through a magical gate into a secret garden. The upper falls of Glen Falls cascade down from the high bluffs into a circular wading pool often filled with hikers enjoying an afternoon dip. Despite being only several inches deep, the water level can quickly rise to a foot in height during periods of heavy precipitation. A wooden bridge spans over the edge of the wading pool as it tumbles over the middle falls into another natural pool.
Not only is this stream a beautiful natural feature of the area, it was at one point a coveted source of drinking water for troops during the Civil War. A series of skirmishes and full scale battles were fought for control of this strategically vital area in October and November of 1863 known as the Chattanooga Campaign. Of these bloody encounters, non is more romanticized than the one fought right here on Lookout Mountain, remembered as the "Battle Above The Clouds.”
The mountains unique shape and location can often create a peculiar weather phenomenon whereby early morning fog will descend from the summit and stop halfway down the mountain. This effect gives the appearance that those standing on the upper half of the mountain are literally standing above the
If you were to continue along the trail at this point, you would reach another famous rock formation just above the upper falls known as the natural tunnel. This cave like passage leads from Glen Falls to the trailhead located on the north end of Ochs Highway. Turning our attention to Glen Falls we head back through the bluffs to a small trail leading down into the gorge. Our first stop is to get a closer look at the middle falls.
The dirt path is slick and if that was not enough to keep you attentive, theres still that issue with poison ivy growing all over the place. I cut across several large boulders to another dirt trail going down to the lower falls. The lower falls is deep in the heart of this boulder strewn gorge and requires a decent amount of scrambling to reach. With a little patience maneuvering over, under, and around countless massive boulders, you’ll be able to work your way down to the best vantage point to see all three tiers of Glen Falls. Its like a tiny slice of the Great Smoky Mountains without the hassle of traveling all the way to Gatlinburg. This little creek traveling from the summit of Lookout Mountain descends the entire mountainside until merging with Chattanooga Creek, before emptying into the Tennessee River.
With so much to do and see on Lookout Mountain, a quick hike to see Glen Falls would fit perfectly within an itinerary to visit Rock City, Ruby Falls, and the rest of the Battlefield Park. Most people outside of the outdoor community may not realize that the area surrounding Chattanooga is known as the rock climbing capitol of the Southeast. There are several popular climbing areas on the north side of the mountain including Sunset Rock and Eagles Nest Rock, but some of the best known spots are located just a short drive north of the city amidst the steep cliffs of South Cumberland State Park.
Stay tuned as we visit one of Tennessee's most unique State Parks to marvel at its tallest waterfall, Foster Falls. Until next time, see y’all on the trails!