About this Itinerary
The Guild-Hardy Trail is a 10-mile, round-trip hiking and bicycling route on southern Tennessee’s Lookout Mountain. This rail-trail winds up and down forested slopes to follow the route of the former Chattanooga & Lookout Mountain Railway. Along the way, you will encounter numerous Civil War-related landmarks as well as enjoy the natural beauty of Ruby Falls, an underground waterfall, lush forests and views of the Tennessee River and Chattanooga Valley.
Lookout Mountain was the scene of several critical events that took place during the 18th and 19th centuries, which would shape U.S. history, including the Last Battle of the Cherokees and the Battle of Lookout Mountain. Similarly, Chattanooga, just minutes to the east of Lookout, is a vibrant city brimming with its own rich history—and a perfect home-base for exploring the surrounding area.
Fly into Chattanooga’s Metropolitan Airport, 8 miles east of downtown. Bicycle rentals for the trail are available at the Trek Bicycle Store, and in-city riding is easy with Chattanooga’s public bicycle transit system/bike share program. To prepare for the Guild-Hardy, pack all the food and fluids you will need for the entire round-trip ride. It is possible to ride up the mountain on the Incline Railway and ride your bike down, though the number of bikes the railway can transport is limited.
The town of Chattanooga may bring to mind the 1941 “Chattanooga Choo Choo” hit song by the Glen Miller Orchestra. Get a taste by immersing yourself in the city’s rail history and visit the former Terminal Station, now the Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel. You can stay overnight in a restored Victorian train car and sleep peacefully, assured there will be no clinking of train cars throughout the night.
The rail first arrived to Chattanooga in 1850, and the town rapidly became a major rail hub. Today you can ride the rails on a moving museum, the Tennessee Railroad Valley Museum, to experience what rail travel may have been like in those days. Because the town had both a developed rail and river system, Chattanooga was a desirable and fought over during the Civil War. Before we get too far into the past, however, let’s tackle the plethora of lodging options in present-day Chattanooga. You can choose from upscale hotels to budget bunks in a hostel; here are a few conveniently situated close to downtown: the luxury Chattanoogan Hotel, the urban boutique Stone Fort Inn, and the affordable Crash Pad hostel. See the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau’s website for a more complete listing.
Don’t forget to stock up on water for the trail, and enjoy the ride!
Lookout Mountain, an extension of the Cumberland Plateau, cuts across Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. The Guild-Hardy trail travels east-west over Tennessee’s section of the mountain, beginning at the trail’s eastern terminus, approximately 3 miles southwest of downtown Chattanooga. There is a small parking area off of Ochs Highway/58. You are immediately immersed in forests as you ascend Lookout’s eastern slopes. The mountain is covered with a diverse mix of oak and pine forests with a tableau of rhododendrons, azaleas, rocky formations and grassy meadows. Though the trail is relatively secluded, anticipate encountering an occasional road and plenty of visitors at the mountain’s popular sites.
At 0.3 mile, the trail crosses under the Incline Railway, billed as the world’s steepest passenger railway (and an easier way to get to the top). The Incline has been in operation since 1895 and reaches an incline of 72.7%. The Guild-Hardy trail was once the bed of the Chattanooga & Lookout Mountain Railway, which, beginning in January of 1889, was a standard-gauge line using steam locomotives to climb the mountain from St. Elmo. This steady 5-mile grade curved from the east side to the west side, taking passengers to the historic Lookout Inn at the top of the mountain. With an eventual decline in ridership, the railroad was abandoned in 1899, and much of the right-of-way would eventually be commandeered for a streetcar line up the mountain.
Continuing on what is a gentle climb of more than 1,000 feet, you cross scenic Highway 148 at just over 1 mile from the trailhead. Here you are near the entrance to Ruby Falls, a deep cave with a spectacular 145-foot-high underground waterfall. For the intrepid, guided tours are available year-round. From here, the trail rounds at its most northerly point at Craven’s Terrace to curve southeast into the forested western slopes of the mountain. Keep in mind that the Guild-Hardy trail connects to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and its extensive network of trails, should you be interested in a longer excursion. This map illustrates the 30+ miles of trails that traverse Lookout’s slopes.
In 2.5 miles from Ruby Falls, the route passes by Cravens House, a historic home that was used as an observation post and headquarters by both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War battles of Chattanooga. From the house, several side trails take you to Point Park/Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center and the Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map & Museum (check with the Park Service office at Point Park for trail information). This is well worth the detour for views of the Tennessee River and surrounding valleys, as well as for exhibits about the Civil War, including a mural depicting the Battle above the Clouds. You’ll find restrooms, picnic tables and water at the visitor center.
From Cravens House, the trail heads south for 1.2 miles to the trail terminus. Along the way, you pass under the Incline Railway once again and end where the trail meets up with Scenic Highway 148. Return the way you came.
There is so much of interest in Chattanooga—culturally, historically, artistically—that a walking tour could be an efficient and entertaining way to see the city’s main landmarks. Chattanooga Sidewalk Tours offers a variety of 90-minute tours. If you prefer seeing the city from a slightly higher perspective, tour with Chattanooga’s Double Decker Bus (they also operate the Chattanooga Brew Choo, a pedaling-alternative for an excursion that includes local pubs and breweries).
No matter how you get around, leave time for the popular Chattanooga Market, open each Sunday and featuring local musicians, farm-fresh goods and arts and crafts. Foodies will appreciate the town’s flourishing local food scene and abundant choice in restaurants, locally-sourced and otherwise. Music-lovers never fear, Chattanooga hosts festivals and concerts year-round, including the free summer music series Nightfall (Friday evenings in Miller Park) and Riverfront Nights (Saturdays on the riverfront).
Chattanooga comprises several interesting districts, each with their cafes, galleries and shops. Check out the Bluff View Art District and trendy North Shore neighborhood. The Guild-Hardy trailhead is near the Historic St. Elmo neighborhood, where you can enjoy lunch before hitting the trail at the Purple Daisy Picnic Café (next to the Incline Railway). Ask about their picnic take-outs. Upon your return from the Guild-Hardy, consider dining at the 1885 Grill for some fine southern coastal cuisine. The have a brunch and dinner menu featuring seafood, steaks and southern sides.