Outdoor Fun at Booker T. Washington State Park
Mountain Biking – Bird Watching – Fishing – More
One of Tennessee’s smaller and lesser-known parks, the 353-acre Booker T. Washington State Park offers access for fishing and boating on scenic Chickamauga Lake, as well as opportunities for hiking and mountain biking not far from downtown Chattanooga.
Booker Taliagerro Washington, for whom the park is named, was born into slavery at Hale’s Ford, Virginia, but after achieving an education became president of Tuskegee Institute, an organization providing higher education for African-Americans.
The park was built largely by African-American units of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Its original purpose was to be one of two Tennessee State Parks for use by African-Americans (the other being T.O. Fuller State Park near Memphis) during the era of segregation. Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which banned discrimination in public accommodations, this and all other state parks have been open to anyone.
One of the park’s primary attractions is the 7.3-mile system of beginner to intermediate-level singletrack mountain bike trails, also available and great for hiking and trail running, comprised of four loops of varying lengths traversing rolling forested terrain.
SORBA Chattanooga, the local mountain bike organization, entered into a trail maintenance agreement with the park in 2004 and set out to improve the existing 3.5 miles of trail. Subsequently, SORBA has added nearly 4 miles of additional trail.
More than 2 miles of the 3.9-mile Outer Loop Trail follows close to the lakeshore, reaching an elevation of approximately 120 feet above the lake. This section provides an extensive view of the lake in winter, when the leaves are off, but has several overlooks with year round lake views, including a view of Chickamauga Dam. The Outer Loop Trail includes a 1.1-mile loop option known as the Nature Trail. There are two inner loop trails. Inner Loop 1 covers a distance of 1.2 miles, with the Inner Loop 2 coming out at 2.25 miles. This network of trails can be configured into a variety of trail length options. Riders are advised not to ride the trails during wet conditions.
Generally, the hills are neither very long or steep, but a few of the downhills, tree roots, or narrow passages between trees may slightly challenge the beginner. Overall, the park’s trail system is a great opportunity for those looking for a ride that’s not too challenging and fairly close to town.
Two parking lots provide convenient trail access, the upper lot (the first lot on the right, near the pool) or the lower lot near the pavilions and restrooms.
Booker T. Washington State Park is also known as a good location for bird watching, with a number of waterfowl species, great blue herons, bald eagles and osprey among the birds to look for. The fishing pier and the boat ramp are some of the best areas for viewing birds on or over the lake.
Birds observed between November and March include the common loon, horned grebe, and bald eagles. The red-throated loon, red-necked grebe, and oldsquaw are some of the rarer birds seen during the winter. The park is home to large fragments of hardwood forest and some significant Virginia pine stands, as well as riparian forest. The Virginia pines may host breeding brown-headed nuthatches and pine warblers, along with red-breasted nuthatches, purple finches, and pine siskins.
Fall migrant songbirds and breeding eastern kingbird and orchard oriole may be seen in brushy lake shore areas. The hilly areas along the trails are good places for viewing migratory birds in spring and fall. To learn more about birding at Booker T. Washington, visit www.tnbirding.org. Overall, 129 species have reportedly been identified here.
Its location on Chickamauga Lake makes the park a popular destination for fishing. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, fish caught here include: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, striped bass, black crappie, white crappie, channel catfish, blue catfish, and flathead catfish. TWRA has worked to enhance the fishing potential by creating fish attractors like the main fishing pier and ensuring easy waterfront access along shorelines.
In addition to trails and boating access, Booker T. Washington State Park offers amenities such as a large fishing pier with two pavilions, a group campground and lodge, an assembly hall, picnic shelters, playgrounds, and a basketball court, as well as an Olympic-size swimming pool that is open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.
The park is open daily from 7:00 a.m.-sunset.
View a park trail map here.
Find directions and contact information here.
For more information, visit the park’s website.