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History of Chattanooga, TN’s surrounding mountains

Hiya NOOGA, Intern Brianna here. When I moved to Chattanooga for my freshman year of college, the only knowledge I had of the surrounding mountains was that Rocky City — a place I vaguely remembered visiting as a child — was on one of them.

As it turns out, there’s a lot of interesting history to learn about Chattanooga’s mountains. Whether you just moved here and want to know a bit more about the surrounding landmarks, or you’ve heard the stories about these mountains for years, you can keep reading to delve into some history, attractions, and unique features of the mountains around us.

Raccoon, Elder & Aetna Mountains


  • The mountain that we commonly call Raccoon Mountain actually consists of three — Raccoon, Elder, and Aetna.
  • Elder Mountain is the peak seen in the northeastern section. In 1921, George Elder purchased this 4,500-acre area of land and renamed it “Elder Mountain.” It’s now known for the Elder Mansion that has only been owned four times since 1923.
  • The official Raccoon Mountain is the middle section of the three. In 1970, TVA purchased this area to create its pumped-storage plant that was completed in 1978, for which the mountain is now well known.
  • Aetna Mountain is probably the least well-known, found in the western section. This mountain was part of the Cherokee Nation until the Cherokee removal in 1838. According to historians, the mountain protected the home of a Cherokee warrior and leader of the Chickamaugas named Dragging Canoe.

Top attractions:


  • Raccoon Mountain Reservoir Loop | 13.5 mile loop hike
  • TVA Visitor Center | The visitor center features maps, videos, and displays explaining Raccoon Mountain, TVA’s history and its activities today + a view of the River Gorge.
  • Raccoon Mountain Caverns + Campground | Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Campgrounds offers a nationally recognized cave systempanning for gemstones, and RV park and campgrounds, campfires + spectacular views of both Lookout Mountain and Raccoon Mountain.

Unique buildings:

  • Elder House | The nearly 100-year old mansion on Elder Mountain was built by George S. Elder, the man who purchased + renamed the mountain. The current owner of the home is only the fourth person to own it since it was built.
  • Beasley’s Castle | This castle — created by self-proclaimed “nerd” Christopher Beasley who also owns the collectible sword store Jalic Blades — on Raccoon Mountain is like one out of a movie. Beasley lives in the home with his wife and children, so if you’d like to check it out, remember to respect their privacy.

TVA Pumped Storage Plant | The storage plant is TVA’s largest hydroelectric facility. Water is pumped to the reservoir on top of the mountain and later used to generate electricity.

Lookout Mountain


  • Lookout Mountain is packed with history after serving as the location of the Civil War’s “battle above the clouds,” otherwise known as the Battle of Lookout Mountain.
  • The battle began on Nov. 24, 1863, when Union soldiers marched up the mountain and captured an entire Confederate picket post without firing a shot.
  • The Battle of Lookout Mountain was over by 2 p.m. that same day.
  • Part of the mountain began as a Cherokee village called Ross’s Landing after its founder, John Ross — yes, the Ross’s Landing you know and love downtown was named after him, too.

Top attractions:

Outdoor/recreation: (besides the obvious Rock City, Ruby Falls, etc.)

  • Point Park | If you’re into the history of Lookout Mountain, Point Park is definitely worth a visit. Point Park is a 10-acre memorial park that overlooks the Civil War Battlefield + the city. There’s also a paved walking path around the park that will take you by historic tablets and monuments.
  • Sunset Rock | This 2.9-mile hike is best taken in the evening, as it leads you to what is well known as “Sunset Rock,” one of Chattanooga’s best places to check out the setting sun.
  • Glen Falls Trail | This 2.1-mile trail will lead you to a waterfall, streams + rocks and is great for a family hike.
  • Cafe on the Corner | If you’re in need of good food while on top of the mountain, check out this former town grocery-turned restaurant that prepares meals with seasonal, locally sourced food.
  • McLemore Club | Although this golf club is in Georgia, we’d say it’s worth the drive. With mountaintop golfinghiking, mountain bikingclimbing opportunities + more, it’s a pretty cool place.

Unique buildings:

Castle on the Clouds” | Formerly known as the Lookout Mountain Hotel built in 1928, this Castle on the Clouds is now known as Carter Hall of Covenant College. The hotel was previously decked out with red velvet carpet, candelabras, fainting couches + the largest ballroom in the south.

Signal Mountain


The physical mountain that we know as Signal Mountain shares its name with the town located on top. The Town of Signal Mountain was started by C.E. James in the late 19th century when cholera and yellow fever epidemics caused Chattanooga residents to flee to surrounding mountains. Years before the town came, however, Signal Point (located atop the mountain) was used by Native Americans to send smoke signals across the valley. Signal Point was also used by Union troops to communicate by sending and receiving messages from the city to the North via a complex signaling system.

Top Attractions:


  • Signal Point | This historic area at the top of Signal Mountain with views of the Tennessee River is also a popular hiking destination, providing an access point to the Cumberland Trail.
  • Rainbow Lake Trail | 2.3 mile looped hike with the option of taking a quick detour to view Rainbow Lake itself.
  • Pumpkin Patch Playground | This themed playground will make you feel like you stepped into the middle of autumn even on the hottest of days.
  • Falling Water Falls | This 0.3 mile “trail” will take you straight to the top of a waterfall, with gorgeous views across the way. (Pro Tip: Don’t stand too close to the edge, there’s no railing and a long way down).

Unique Buildings:

  • Flying Saucer House | If you’ve been up Signal Mountain Road, you’ve definitely noticed the Flying Saucer House. If you’re like me and have always wanted to see the inside, you can check it out via Zillow.
by Intern Brianna Williams

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