Hiking to Lookout Mountain’s Sunset Rock
Wrapping around the northern end of Chattanooga’s most iconic natural landmark, the Lookout Mountain unit of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is home to over 30 miles of hiking trails. One of the park’s more popular hiking destinations is Sunset Rock, a scenic overlook located along Lookout Mountain’s western bluff.
Since the Sunset Rock parking area has limited space and one-hour parking, and nearby Point Park has a $7 entrance fee, a popular option for hikers is to start from the Cravens House trailhead.
The historic Cravens House is located about halfway up the northern slope of the mountain and provides free parking in front of the house and on Cravens Terrace Road below the house. A recommended moderate hike of approximately 4.5 miles begins here and follows the Cravens House Trail for a little over 0.5 miles and over 300 feet elevation gain to its junction with the Bluff Trail.
One of my favorite hiking trails in the Chattanooga area, the Bluff Trail features impressive rock walls on one side, mountainside forest with occasional scenic views of Lookout Valley on the other, and relatively cool summertime temperatures. It runs along the base of the bluff for 3.7 miles from Point Park to the junction with the Ochs Gateway Trail, which then continues for 0.6 miles to Covenant College.
Going left here for about 0.35 miles will take you to the base of the bluffs at the point of the mountain, where a metal stairway climbs to Point Park. The Point Hotel stood on this site from 1888-1910. I find this to be a good turnaround point, with a great view of Moccasin Bend and downtown Chattanooga in the winter. Though the trail continues around on the east side of the mountain, this section tends to be less traveled and more overgrown in the summer.
Retracing your route at this point and continuing south along the Bluff Trail 1.1 miles from Point Park brings you to Sunset Rock, with a strenuous but short ascent to the popular overlook. Sunset Rock is one of only two locations in the park where climbing is allowed.
Upon descending from Sunset Rock, turn left on the Bluff Trail for a very short distance, then go right on the Gum Springs Trail, which makes a relatively steep descent to the Upper Truck Trail in 0.7 miles. Turn right on the Upper Truck Trail which is, as the name implies, basically a gravel jeep road. In the final 1.5 miles or so of the hike the Upper Truck Trail joins the Guild Trail, which is an old railroad bed, and follows the right fork on to the the Cravens House. You have the option to finish the hike by either doing the last 0.7 miles on the parallel Rifle Pits Trail, or just staying on the Guild Trail.
Trail through History
This hike covers historic ground, where the Battle of Lookout Mountain took place in the fall of 1863. After being defeated by the Confederacy at the Battle of Chickamauga, here, Union forces routed the Confederate army in what has been called the Battle Above the Clouds.
Another Route Option
A slightly shorter but more strenuous option for hiking to Sunset Rock is to hike from the trailhead on Garden Road near the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center at the base of the mountain. For the first half-mile or so, the Kiddie Trail climbs steeply to the Skyuka Trail. Don’t let the name fool you. It’s so named after a Colonel Kiddie, not because it’s an easy route. Turn right on the Skyuka Trail and follow it for 0.2 miles until the Gum Spring Trail begins on the left. Be careful here not to take the first trail on the left, that isn’t named and isn’t on the map.
Follow the Gum Spring Trail for 0.4 miles to the Upper Truck Trail, then after a short jog to the right, continue left for another 0.7 miles to Sunset Rock. This section is following in reverse the descent described earlier. After taking in the view from Sunset Rock, retrace your route for a round trip hike of 3.6 miles.
For directions to this hike, simply search “Kiddie Trail Trailhead” on Google Maps.
The Lookout Mountain trails are open from 6 a.m. to sunset.
For more information, visit the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park website.
Article written by Bob Butters