By now, you’re most likely well aware of the upcoming solar eclipse Aug. 21. For many of us, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are numerous viewing events planned at various locations in its path. But if you’d prefer to experience the eclipse on your own, you might consider doing so from one of our region’s scenic overlooks. Here are several possibilities, all of which have enough of a south- or west-facing view to ensure an unobstructed view of the sun.
Overlooks in the zone of totality
Sequatchie Valley Overlook near Dunlap
On the right side of the road as it climbs the western edge of Walden Ridge, this spacious overlook offers a panoramic view of Sequatchie Valley.
This overlook is located about 40 miles from downtown Chattanooga. Search “scenic overlook, Dunlap, TN” on Google Maps. If coming via 111 from Soddy-Daisy, you’ll have to drive past the overlook to the foot of the mountain, turn around and come back up.
Soddy Mountain Overlook
Site of the Soddy Mountain Hawk Watch, this rather-undeveloped location on the eastern edge of Walden Ridge is at the dead end of Jones Gap Road, which no longer descends the mountain as it once did. You’ll find a very expansive view of the Tennessee Valley, with the Blue Ridge Mountains visible on the eastern horizon.
This is about 30 miles from downtown. Get directions and more information here.
There are a couple of outstanding overlooks along the road that climbs the Ocoee area’s Chilhowee Mountain.
Actually the second overlook on the left, the Sugarloaf Observation Site is a popular spot, which looks down on Parksville Lake and the anthill-shaped Sugarloaf Mountain.
Farther up the mountain on the right is Ocoee Overlook 1, with a fantastic view of Parksville Lake, and Big Frog and other mountains to the south.
For directions, type in the name of either overlook on Google Maps.
Options farther afield
If you’re up for a longer drive, I recommend North Carolina’s Fontana Dam, which, at 480 feet in height, is the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains. The visitors center’s rooftop observation deck gives great views of the dam, the Little Tennessee River below, Fontana Lake and the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail crosses the top of the dam.
Fontana Dam is about 135 miles from Chattanooga. For directions, search “Fontana Dam” on Google Maps. Note: The marker will be for an overlook at the far end of the dam. The visitors center is on the left just before crossing the dam. Learn more here.
Look Rock Observation Tower
One more option involving a bit of a drive would be the Look Rock Observation Tower on the Foothills Parkway south of Maryville. Situated atop a long ridge also known as Chilhowee Mountain (but totally different from the one listed earlier), the Look Rock Observation Tower is similar to the better-known Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, but with the ramp constructed in a rectangular shape rather than round. The tower is reached by hiking up a nearly half-mile paved trail and provides sweeping views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the east and across the Tennessee Valley to the west.
Look Rock is about 120 miles from Chattanooga. For directions, find “Foothills Parkway southwest parking No. 6” on Google Maps. Learn more here.
Local overlooks in the 90 percent zone
If you don’t happen to find any of these overlooks convenient and are willing to experience the eclipse at 90 percent totality, here are three options close to town.
Less than 10 miles from downtown, Signal Point is a unit of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and overlooks the Tennessee River Gorge. If you want a potentially less crowded location with an even better view, you might consider hiking the Cumberland Trail around to Edwards Point, a 5.6-mile round-trip hike from Signal Point, or only 4.2 miles if you hike from the nearby Rainbow Lake trailhead. Read about hiking to Edwards Point here.
For directions, search for “Signal Point, NPS” on Google Maps.
Located deep within Prentice Cooper State Forest, Snoopers Rock is the best overlook of the Tennessee River Gorge. It’s about 20 miles from downtown, but the last 6 of those are gravel road. Search on Google Maps for “Snoopers Rock parking area” on Tower Drive, AKA Game Reserve Road. From the north end of the parking area, you can hike or drive a jeep road less than a half-mile east to Snoopers Rock, or hike a trail there from the south end.
TVA’s Pumped Storage Facility on Raccoon Mountain has several overlooks. Probably the best for viewing the eclipse would be the lake overlook opposite the turnoff to the visitors center. It offers an expansive view of the 528-acre mountaintop lake.
Raccoon Mountain is about 11 miles from downtown Chattanooga. Click here for more information and directions.
Click here for more information about the eclipse, including scheduled events, times of the eclipse at various locations, maps and more.
Disclaimer: It isn’t my wish to put a damper on things, but keep in mind that Aug. 21 is predicted to be the most heavily traveled day in the history of America, and many of the scheduled events have already filled up. Thus, I have no idea how crowded any of these overlooks may be at that time. Whatever you plan to do, I recommend getting an early start in case it takes longer to get there than you expect or you need to find an alternative. And wherever you go, please put safety first.
Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog www.Nickajack-Naturalist.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.