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Best of Chattanooga: The Tennessee Riverwalk

Get to know this epic greenway (with over 30 photos, a trailhead map and a zoom-view map of the downtown riverfront area)

Now spanning the south bank of the Tennessee River from Moccasin Bend to the Chickamauga Dam, the 11-mile Tennessee Riverwalk is one of the finest examples in the South of a city or county developing a wonderful linear park on the edge of a waterway.

The newest 3.2 mile section was completed in 2016. The concrete trail system is one of the features that make Chattanooga a very special place. That’s saying a lot since the “Scenic City” area has so many outdoor attractions that it’s considered by many to be a Mecca for outdoor activities.

Top things to do at the Riverwalk: Walking, jogging, birdwatching, outdoor photography, sightseeing and bicycling are my personal favorites. Fishing from the river bank and from the variety of small piers is also very popular among people who use the path to get to the good spots. There are also many great places for a picnic, and you almost always see walkers and joggers with their dogs or baby strollers.

This article features brief descriptions for each of the main path trailheads along with some information about some related points of interest. 


The Riverwalk trailheads

For this article and trailhead map, I have included 12 trailheads with limited free parking that are found directly on the main Riverwalk path. These are all outside the immediate downtown/riverfront area. I also include the riverfront Ross’s Landing park which has hundreds of paid parking spaces all within a few yards of the Riverwalk. 

Click for extra-large map (PNG)

High-definition PDF

Elsewhere, you may see information that shows the Riverwalk as being 13, 16, or 19 miles in length. In thoses instances, other connecting paths, spurs or bike lanes are being included. All those kind of connectors are wonderful, but the primary path that actually parallels the river from Moccasin Bend to Chickamauga Dam is almost exactly 11 miles long. Here’s a map of the 11-mile path on ridewithgps.com

Let’s take a look at the trailheads along that 11-mile span, from west to east. 

1. Wheland Foundry Trailhead and ranger station

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with 33 spaces, restrooms, bike-sharing kiosks, rangers increase safety and enforce park rules; at least a half dozen restaurants and a Dollar General are nearby.
Recommended for those simply wanting to start at one end of the path, those wanting to explore the newest section that passes through former industrial sites, or those wanting to avoid driving into the heart of the city.

2. Chestnut Street Trailhead

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with 10 spaces.
Recommended for those looking for the closest trailhead to I-24 exit 178. In an industrial setting at the old U.S. Pipe plant site, this trailhead is close for visitors staying at one of the hotels at exit 178, and residents of the Southside Gardens neighborhood.

3. Blue Goose Hollow Trailhead

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with 18 spaces, restrooms, park-like residential setting, picnic table pavilions, bike-sharing kiosks.
Recommended for anyone wanting to enjoy a walk, jog or bike ride into the downtown riverfront area via the Riverwalk (it’s only about a mile from the Tennessee Aquarium and Walnut Street Bridge). Also ideal for accessing the 3.2 mile section that opened in 2016, it’s probably the best trailhead choice for those coming from downtown via MLK Jr. Blvd. or from U.S. Hwy. 27 exit 1B at MLK.

North of the industrial section, this trailhead is surrounded by several new apartments, condominiums and professional office buildings.

4. Ross’s Landing

Directions: Google map to riverfront paid parking lot
Amenities: About 250-280 paid parking spaces in area underneath the Hwy. 27 bridge. There’s also a parking garage between the bridge and the front of the aquarium.
Recommended for those wanting to enjoy the path at the heart of the downtown riverfront area.


A scene at Ross’s Landing
Dealing with the hill between trailheads #4 and #5

That’s right. There’s a significant hill in this area. If you open the ridewithgps.com map referred to above, you’ll see that it stands out on the map’s elevation chart. If you’re traveling east, you’ll notice the beginning of the slope at the Chief John Ross Bridge, and if you’re traveling west, the climb starts around the Manker Patton Tennis Club, which is 0.4 miles east of the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Following the Riverwalk can be a little confusing in this hilly portion, but don’t panic. I have provided the colorful map below to illustrate the choices you have for making your way through that span, along with some insight to help you choose.

 Extra large map (PNG)

Map in PDF format

The map illustrates the area between the eastern edge of Ross’s Landing and the Veterans Memorial Bridge. As you can see, that span, which is a little over a half mile in length, includes alternate paths, some zigzags, and various pedestrian walkways.

One of the city’s most loveable areas, it also includes the Tennessee Aquarium, the Passage Waterwalk, the Holmberg Bridge, the Walnut Street Bridge, the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Bluff View Art District and Bluff View Sculpture Garden.

None of the path choices allow you to avoid the hill, but there’s no extremely steep portion to worry about. Whichever route you choose, the climb or descent is gradual.

When I’m passing through on a bike workout, I usually follow the path marked with the yellow dotted line because I prefer passing the entrance of the Walnut Street Bridge rather than going under the bridge. That yellow dotted line route requires going up or down the hill on 1st Street and walking across the Holmberg Bridge, but it’s the only way that allows you to totally avoid stairs and the switchbacks.

When I’m not working out, I may prefer the lower routes and end up walking my bike through the zigzags and up and down the stairs. 

There are other choices for getting through that Riverwalk span that aren’t shown on my map, but they require using more stairs or detouring on busier streets. 

NOTE: The short span on my map marked with the pink dotted line is the only part of the Riverwalk that’s not exclusively for walking, jogging and bicycling. Here, bicyclists share the street with automobiles unless they choose to walk their bike along the narrow sidewalks in the Bluff View Art District. The span is only about 750 feet in length.


5. Rowing Center Trailhead

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with about 24-25 spaces most of which are in the shade, plus restrooms, and in a scenic setting. The small Riverwalk foot bridge at Citico Creek is only a few yards to the west.
Recommended for those wanting to park in a spot about a mile from the heart of the downtown riverfront area, or anyone looking for a trailhead that’s easy to get to from Riverside Drive/Amnicola Hwy.

6. Boathouse Rotisserie

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with 25-28 spaces. May be full when the restaurant is busy.
Recommended for someone wanting to enjoy a section of the path that’s right on the edge of the river and within 1.5 miles of the downtown riverfront area.

This restaurant parking area is connected to the Rowing Center parking area by a side street that runs parallel to the Riverwalk.

7. Curtain Pole Road Trailhead 

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with 50-52 spaces, restrooms, bike-share station.
Recommended for someone who would like to combine a walk or bike ride with watching for birds or other wildlife, or for enjoying fall colors  theres a wetland area just to the north and a wooded area to the south  or for someone wanting to ride their bike in an area with fewer path users.

This trailhead is very convenient as it sits just a few yards from Amnicola Hwy., and finding a parking space in the big lot is easy.

8. Amnicola Marsh Trailhead

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with 26 spaces.

9. Amnicola Marsh North

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with about 60 spaces, restrooms, picnic tables and barbeque grills.

Like the Curtain Pole Road Trailhead, this area has a wooded wetland area, and is a good place to enjoy fall colors. The swampy wet area found between the two Amnicola Marsh trailhead parking areas would be a great starting point for anyone hoping to photograph waterfowl or raptors.

 10. Riverpoint Trailhead

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with 24 spaces, restrooms, picnic tables. The Bug Play Walk, a 1,500-ft path to the river that features bug-themed playground equipment along the way, is also here.

This trailhead is found near the point where South Chickamauga Creek empties into the mighty Tennessee and where the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway connects to the Riverwalk. 

Recommended for families with small children, for anyone who would like to enjoy the scenery around the creek, or for accessing the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway.

11. Fishing Park at Hubert Fry Center and ranger station on west side of C.B. Robinson Bridge

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with 60-plus spaces, ranger station, restrooms, picnic tables, fishing piers, an epic playground, large grassy areas, large area of woods, memorials and sculptures. The boat launch has 27 boat trailer parking spaces and eight regular parking spaces.

No. 11 and 12 are part of the same park, but separated by the C.B. Robinson Bridge, each easily qualifies as a trailhead on its own. 

12. Fishing Park on east side of C.B. Robinson Bridge

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with 40 parking spaces, restrooms, picnic tables, fishing piers.

Recommended for anglers, or anyone who would enjoy this full-fledged county park which is one of the main Riverpark facilities. 

13. Chickamauga Dam Trailhead

Directions: Google map
Amenities: Free parking with 79 spaces in two lots plus another 45 spaces at boat launch; 15 boat trailer parking spaces; restrooms; fishing pier.
Recommended for anyone wanting to use the path at the eastern terminus, and anglers.

Outside of the 13 places described above, you can also access the Riverwalk from just about anywhere in the Chattanooga Riverfront area. One nice optional starting point is Coolidge Park on the north side of the river. From there, you can cross the river via the Walnut Street Bridge, which has a wooden deck that’s only open to walkers, joggers, cyclists and Segway riders.


Gallery: Along the Riverwalk

See more Riverwalk photos near the bottom of the page.


A note to bicycle riders

This fabulous path is an ideal place for a laid-back ride. Obviously, a path with the name RiverWALK is not the place for the faster, longer rides most road cyclists are accustomed to, or for high-speed interval training. Common sense would have you maintain a leisurely speed in many places along the path, especially when other folks are present, or on one of the stretches where the railing causes the path to be barely wide enough for those traveling in opposite directions to pass one another.

It seems perfectly okay to go 18 to 20 MPH when you’re out in some of the more open places and have a clear portion of the path to yourself. 


Bike sharing

Didn’t bring your bicycle? No problem. The city has a well-established bike-sharing infrastructure. There are currently 42 bike-sharing stations featuring over 400 bicycles strategically located throughout Chattanooga. A total of 55 e-bikes are part of the fleet. Nine of the stations are located along, or within an easy block or two of, the 11-mile Riverwalk.

Day passes are $8, and 3-day passes are only $15.

Please be aware that bike sharing is good for short trips when you need to get from point A to point B. Although you get unlimited 60-minute rides while your pass is active, you must return your bike to one of the docks and switch to another bike to start another 60-minute session to avoid a $5 late charge for each half hour you go over the 60-minutes. You could easily end up spending $40 or more if you decide to ride the same bike on one 2- or 3-hour adventure.

That may still be cheaper than renting a bike. And since it’s self-service and app-based, it’s probably more convenient.

The two-wheel transit system is known as Bike Chattanooga. Learn more at bikechattanooga.com.


Whatever mode of motion you choose, a large percentage of the 11-mile path follows the contour of the river, and is only yards from the water. There is a section of about 3.1 miles at a large industrial park that veers away from the river’s edge. Also, the new extension to St. Elmo Avenue departs from the river for about 1.26 miles. But, those sections are no less engaging as a place to enjoy a walk, jog or leisure bike ride. 

NOTE: Occasionally, the low-lying half-mile section of path between the Manker Patten Tennis Club and the Riverpark Rowing Center can be closed due to boardwalk repairs, flooding, or flood-related maintenance. When this occurs, detours can have a big impact on your plans. Walkers are pretty much out of luck. For cyclists, detour choices aren’t too bad, but the views aren’t as good as on the riverside path. I’m sure many locals who use the path frequently take advantage of the county’s closure alert system so they will know when something like that is taking place.


Don’t miss the historic Walnut Street Bridge

I can’t imagine a visit to downtown Chattanooga that doesn’t include enjoying the views from the fantastic Walnut Street Bridge — especially if the occasion is a laid-back bicycle ride. If you’re making your first visit to the heart of the city, the old bridge could easily be the highlight of your day.

Serving as a pedestrian walkway since the late 1980s, the c. 1890 bridge connects the primary downtown area to the north shore. It’s over 2,300 feet in length and a great place to get a good look at the bluffside museum, the aquarium and the many boats that may be navigating the river at the time.

It’s certainly worth the effort to make your way to the bridge from the Riverwalk. Newer condos and a new hotel are found at the bridge’s southern entrance while Coolidge Park and the Frazier Avenue entertainment district will greet you at the northern entrance.


Why not stay at a new hotel within steps of the Walnut Street Bridge and other downtown attractions?

When you stay at The Edwin, Autograph Collection, you’ll be within a few yards of the beloved Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, and a short walk to the Hunter Museum and the Tennessee Riverwalk. You’ll also be within walking distance of the Tennessee Aquarium, Ross’s Landing and downtown Chattanooga’s primary entertainment district.

The city and river views from many rooms, the pool deck, the patios, the bar, fitness center and spa are great at this hotel which opened in 2018. Check the latest prices on Tripadvisor.com.

Marriott Bonvoy members can save and earn points. Check prices at marriott.com.


Back to the topic of the Riverwalk

NOTE: You will see the name Riverwalk and Riverpark used interchangeably, and rightfully so. Operated by Hamilton County, the Fishing Park at 4301 Amnicola Highway (map), about 1.2 miles west of the dam could be considered the Tennessee Riverpark headquartered. Much of the 11-mile Riverwalk path, and many of the connecting spurs, as well as the separate trailheads, are maintained by the county under the administration of the Riverpark. The city manages the portion of the Riverwalk between Ross’s Landing and The Rowing Center.

For more information, visit the county’s Riverpark webpage.


Connecting to the Riverwalk from another path

The spurs, connecting paths and bike lanes make it easy to connect to the Riverwalk  to lengthen the distance of your adventure. The 4.6 mile long northern part of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway connects to the Riverwalk about 2.3 miles west of the dam at the Riverpoint Traihead. Once the final proposed 3-mile portion is complete, the greenway will be 12 miles long.

South Chickamauga Creek Greenway photos

As you can see, there are a few handsome boardwalks on the Chickamauga Creek Greenway. Those can be very slippery when wet. It’s the humid South, so wooden planks are wet from dew or fog practically every morning between April and October and may stay wet for days at a time any time of the year. 


As a guy who always has snapping landscape and sidewalk scene photos in mind, the south shore of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga will always be a place I look forward to visiting thanks to the views found along the Riverwalk. I’ll conclude with a few more photos from one of my 2020 trips.


See my other Chattanooga post: Best of Chattanooga: Historic places to see on your next trip.

See also my other posts featuring nearby places: