If the colder, shorter days of winter have you staying close to home, but you still yearn to get outside, Chickamauga Battlefield, located just over the Georgia line and only about 10 miles south of downtown Chattanooga, might be a good option for a quiet and fairly easy hike.
The largest unit of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Chickamauga Battlefield lies on relatively flat terrain and contains over 50 miles of trail. Some are designated for hiking only, while others are open to both foot and horse traffic. Bicycles are restricted to paved and gravel roads, but there are a number of options for that as well.
On a recent cold winter day, I explored one of my favorite areas of the park, a series of trails in the southeastern corner. Driving south from the park’s visitor center for about 2.5 miles on LaFayette Road, I turned left onto Viniard-Alexander Road. Then, in about 0.6 miles, I came to a gravel parking area and a gate on the right.
These days, trails in the park don’t seem to have names but are color-coded, both on trail blazes and the trail map. For a good map, click here or request a paper copy at the visitor center.
Behind the gate, I hiked out a gravel road for about a quarter-mile, then turned right on a yellow-marked hiking trail. In a little over a tenth of a mile, I turned right again onto a narrower orange trail, which intersected with a green trail in about 0.2 miles. Here, I turned left and in a short distance, turned right onto another yellow trail.
Along the way, I came upon a concrete foundation wall for a rather large structure. It had obviously been there for many years. Later, when I inquired about it to park staff, I was told it had been a water treatment facility, possibly going back as far as when the park was used for training during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Soldiers also trained at Chickamauga Battlefield for World Wars I and II. I was told the military discontinued using the park in 1947.
A short distance past the ruins, I came to a footbridge over a stream with a beaver dam right next to the bridge. At this point, I had intended to do a loop which would have added about 0.6 miles to my hike, but the trail basically became impassable due to beaver activity. The last time I had hiked this trail, several years ago, there were places which had required a detour because of flooding by beavers. It seems the Park Service has given up on this section of trail and decided to just let the beavers have it. But I still recommend hiking as far as the bridge and turning around.
Arriving back at the green trail, this time I turned right and followed it for about 0.3 miles, partly following alongside West Chickamauga Creek, before it rejoined my original yellow trail. Here, I turned right and followed the yellow trail for about 0.6 miles, with another view of West Chickamauga Creek and skirting a large hay field, before coming to the end of a gravel road. Had I wished to shave about 0.6 miles off my hike, I could have taken this road back to the trailhead in just over a mile. Instead, I continued following the yellow trail for another 0.6 miles.
After skirting the edge of another hay field, the trail passed Hunt Cemetery, where Helm Hunt, who received 280 acres of land here for his service in the War of 1812, is buried along with several members of his family.
Eventually, the trail arrived at the end of another gravel road. Following it for about a mile of easy hiking brought me back to the parking area. Overall, I estimate a hike of about 3.8 miles.
Much of this area of the park has limestone at or near the surface, along with the resultant groves of limestone-loving cedar trees. Pines can found in areas where limestone is less prevalent. In places, I could hear a variety of woodpeckers, but they were reluctant to show themselves. Deer tracks were everywhere.
This has long been my favorite hike in the park. It’s unlikely to be crowded, and with the exception of the beaver flooded section, the trails tend to be in good condition. But if you’re going to follow a route to this complex, I highly recommend having a good trail map with you.
Get directions to the park here.
GPS coordinates for the Viniard-Alexander Road trailhead are 34.901632,-85.251721.
Learn much more about the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park here.
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.