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Chattanooga was once just a place to stop for gas between Atlanta and Nashville, or pass through on the way to Rock City or Ruby Falls, two iconic road trip attractions on nearby Lookout Mountain. But massive revitalization has turned this city of nearly 200,000 into an outdoor recreation hub and model of sustainability.
The Tennessee River hugs downtown Chattanooga, now a green-leaning living space with waterfront trails, electric buses and pedestrian bridges. Below these bridges, the city-run Outdoor Chattanooga agency hosts hiking, kayaking and biking trips. For culture and cuisine, the Bluff View Art District, just off the Tennessee Riverwalk downtown, is a nucleus of upscale shops and river-view restaurants. The gorgeous Hunter Museum of American Art sits nearby, and the Tennessee Aquarium is a big family draw.
All around the city are plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure. Hike past waterfalls and lush gorges on the Cumberland Trail. For white-knuckle fun, try rafting on the Ococee River, with Class III and IV rapids.