In 1863, Union and Confederate troops clashed on a battlefield at Cravens House on the northern slope of Lookout Mountain. The encounter would become known as the “Battle Above the Clouds.” The site of the battle is preserved by the National Park Service, but it’s only one small portion to explore of the 10,000-acre Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.
Spread across six areas throughout Chattanooga and Fort Oglethorpe, the national military park is an intriguing walk through Civil War history in a natural setting surrounded by wildlife and towering trees. It’s easy to explore the park with auto touring routes and plenty of parking.
But sometimes, you’ll want to go for a little walk. Sunset Rock is one of the most spectacular sunset overlooks in Tennessee. And the view of the Tennessee River and downtown Chattanooga from the Ochs Memorial Museum is unmatched.
Learn what you can do with a visit to Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park – the country’s first national military park.
- NPS App
- Brief History of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
- Top 10 Things to Do at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
- Chickamauga Battlefield
- Signal Point
- Orchard Knob
- Lookout Mountain Battlefield
- Missionary Ridge
- Moccasin Bend National Archeological District
- Where to Stay
The NPS App is the official app of the National Park Service. The app takes all the information available online – park information, interactive maps, videos, travel alerts, and things to do – and puts it at your fingertips on a smartphone.
Brief History of Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
In 1889, twenty-six years after the Battle of Chickamauga, ten thousand Union and Confederate veterans returned to the battlefield in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. During the “Blue and Gray BBQ” event, the idea was formed to preserve the battlefield for future generations to explore.
In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed a law authorizing the country’s first national military park. Predating the National Park Service by 26 years, the historic site was administered by a park commission under the War Department. In 1933, President Dwight D. Eisenhower transferred Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park control to the National Park Service.
Did You Know? Gettysburg, the country’s most popular national military park, wasn’t established until 1895. However, the first efforts to preserve the historic site began with the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association in 1864, just one year after the pivotal battle.
Top 10 Things to Do at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
Spread across six locations surrounding Chattanooga, Tennessee and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is a big place to explore. It’s easy to miss something and sometimes difficult to get where you want.
Here are the things to do and places to go if you’re short on time and want to make sure you get the best experience:
- Visit the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center and explore the Fuller Gun Collection
- Drive the 7-mile Chickamauga Battlefield Auto Touring Route
- Climb the steps inside the 85-foot-tall Wilder Brigade Monument
- Go for a drive to Signal Point
- Explore Orchard Knob
- Go for a walk through Point Park on Lookout Mountain
- Visit Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain
- Visit the Cravens House on the northern slope of Lookout Mountain
- Drive the 7.4-mile Missionary Ridge Auto Touring Route
- Go for a Hike at Moccasin Bend National Archeological District
Pro Travel Tip How long will it take to explore Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park? Plan to spend 3-4 hours each at the Chickamauga Battlefield and Lookout Mountain Battlefield. It will take about 2 hours to explore Missionary Ridge. If you want to see and do everything, plan to spend two days.
In mid-1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland, under the command of General William Rosecrans, moved south from middle Tennessee to capture Chattanooga. Rosecrans encountered the Confederate Army of Tennessee under the command of General Braxton Bragg near LaFayette, Georgia, about ten miles southeast of Chattanooga.
On September 18, 1863, the Confederate army attempted to cross several small bridges and creeks but faced opposition from Union cavalry. What started out as several minor skirmishes evolved into a full-scale battle. The Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of General James Longstreet, reinforced the Confederate army as the battle ebbed and flowed across the hills.
On the evening of September 20, 1863, the Union army withdrew from the Chickamauga Battlefield toward Chattanooga. The army suffered 35,000 killed, wounded, missing, or captured soldiers. The Confederate army was victorious, and they quickly marched toward Chattanooga to surround the remaining Union troops.
Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center
Begin exploring the national military park with a visit to the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center. It’s conveniently located on Lafayette Road, just beyond the commercialization of Fort Oglethorpe at the boundary where the park’s nature begins.
The original visitor center is a colonial-style house facing the road. Connecting to the rear of the house, a modern visitor center with a glass atrium guides visitors today. Inside, a circular desk is typically manned by a few people eager to help you discover the national military park.
Start with the 26-minute orientation film, The Campaign for Chattanooga. Then, browse the exhibits inside the museum that interprets the Battle of Chickamauga. Finally, stop at the gift shop for clothing, collectibles, and books.
Fuller Gun Collection
When Claud Fuller was a child, he bought a small pistol at a hardware store in Kansas. He became fascinated with the mechanics of the firearm – and that grew into a lifelong obsession.
Throughout his engineering career, Fuller collected every type of firearm he could find. Revolutionary War-era muskets, Smith & Wesson “wild west” pistols, and modern firearms of the times. Even his wife, Zenada, would brose the auction sites looking for new firearms for the collection.
In 1933, the Fullers retired and bought a 50-acre ranch near Chattanooga. Their gun collection became a local attraction. 5,000 people per year would visit their home to admire the collection.
In 1949, the Fullers approached Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park officials about donating a large portion of their collection. A new wing to the museum was built, and Claud designed the display cases. After five years of meticulously placing each piece of the collection, the Fuller Gun Collection opened to the public.
The firearms are displayed behind solid panes of glass and lit on all sides by hidden lighting. The collection wraps around three sides of short hallways with nearly a dozen throughout the museum. The firearms are displayed chronologically, creating a fascinating walk through the history of guns.
Chickamauga Battlefield Auto Touring Route
The best way to explore this history is to drive along the Chickamauga Battlefield Auto Touring Route. From the visitor center, the 7-mile route winds along the hills on two-lane roads and occasional one-way detours. Canons, monuments, and memorials spring out of pockets in the forest much the same way as the soldiers did during the battle. Parking spaces are plentiful, but you can enjoy a great view from the comfort of the car.
Wilder Brigade Monument
Almost hidden away in a small corner of the Chickamauga Battlefield, the Wilder Brigade Monument is an 85-foot-tall stone tower open for visitors to climb seasonally. From the top, guests are treated to a spectacular view of the battlefield above the treetops.
If you prefer to stretch your legs, five hiking trails explore the Chickamauga Battlefield. All trails are easy to hike with little elevation change and plenty of shading from trees. The 5-mile General Bragg Trail is the shortest in the national military park and starts at the visitor center. The 11-mile Historical Trail is the longest, looping throughout the entire Chickamauga Battlefield.
When the Union Army of the Cumberland retreated into Chattanooga, they lost the high ground. Confederate troops took position on Missionary Ridge to the east and Lookout Mountain to the south, each with significant vantage points overlooking the city. The only high ground the Union troops secured was Signal Point.
The Tennessee River cuts through the Cumberland Plateau in Chattanooga. On the north side of the river is Signal Mountain, and on the south side is Racoon Mountain – the location of the city’s reservoir.
When Union troops secured Signal Point on the south edge of the mountain, they created a complex system of signals to communicate with the besieged city below. The communications were then relayed to Birmingham, Alabama.
A walk along a paved path and across a few stairs leads from the parking lot to a stunning overlook high above the Tennessee River. The public park is open during daylight hours.
Chattanooga was besieged. The Union Army of the Cumberland was trapped. But not all hope was lost. After receiving reinforcements – 20,000 Union troops landed at Brown’s Ferry in late October – General George Thomas was ready to break the siege.
On November 23, 1863, Thomas ordered General Thomas Wood to move east with 14,000 troops and secure Orchard Hill – a muddy elevated point halfway between Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge. Only 634 Confederate soldiers were stationed on the ridge.
The battle lasted less than two hours before the Confederates retreated to the base of Missionary Ridge. Wood rode his horse to the hill’s summit and signaled his victory. It foreshadowed the coming Battle of Missionary Ridge in the next two days.
Two-hour streetside parking is permitted on Ivy Street and East 4th Street surrounding Orchard Knob. The reservation is open during daylight hours – look for small cast-iron gates at the park’s corners for access.
Lookout Mountain Battlefield
After their victory at the Battle of Chickamauga, Confederate General Bragg’s Army of Tennessee marched toward Chattanooga and besieged the city. Union Major General William Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland was surrounded and cut off.
Bragg sent forces to Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, both excellent viewpoints of the city. Lookout Mountain’s 380-foot prominence provided a spectacular view of the city, Tennessee River, and Union supply lines from the west. For two months, artillery on Lookout Mountain shelled the city and supply lines.
In late October, the Union army in Chattanooga was reinforced with 20,000 troops traveling on the Tennessee River. But it would take another month for General Grant to finally be ready to push back against Bragg’s siege.
On November 24, 1863, Grant ordered Major General Joseph Hooker to attack the Confederate forces on Lookout Mountain. The battle became known as the “Battle Above the Clouds” and was an easy victory for the Union troops. With Lookout Mountain secure, it was time to move toward Missionary Ridge.
Pro Travel Tip Parking is limited on Lookout Mountain, particularly at the north end near Point Park. The best way to visit Point Park and the visitor center is to ride on the historic Lookout Mountain Incline Railway. Built in 1895, the standard gauge railroad has a 72.7% maximum incline, making it one of the steepest railroads in the world. The bottom station at St. Elmo has a large parking lot with a fee of just a few dollars. From the top station, it is a quarter-mile walk with sidewalks to Point Park.
Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center
The one-story visitor at the corner of intersecting streets is an interesting building – it was originally a retail shop. The steeply sloped roof and large multi-pane windows are a unique look for a national park unit visitor center.
The Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center is a great place for information about the historic site. The visitor center has a small museum with exhibits about the Battle for Chattanooga, including the battles on Lookout Mountain. Browse the gift shop for clothing, collectibles, and a large book collection.
The museum is also home to the original painting, The Battle Above the Clouds. Artist James Walker created the painting shortly after witnessing the pivotal 1863 battle on Lookout Mountain.
The 10-acre Point Park preserves the northernmost tip of Lookout Mountain and some of the best scenic overlooks in the state. A paved path winds through the park past static displays, overlooks, and around the New York Peace Memorial.
During the siege of Chattanooga, Confederate troops set up canon emplacements overlooking the city. Today, the canons remain and offer a breathtaking view of downtown Chattanooga.
Admission to Point Park is $10 per person, and the fee is good for seven consecutive days.
At the northernmost point of Point Park is an interesting stone structure built during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Ochs Museum features a small exhibit about the Battle for Chattanooga and the Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District.
But outside the museum, visitors are treated to perhaps the second-best view from Point Park. The overlook faces north with a view of the bend in the Tennessee River and downtown Chattanooga. It’s one of my favorite scenic overlooks in Tennessee.
Before the Civil War, Robert Cravens built one of the first houses on Lookout Mountain. When the War Between the States started, his son Jesse enlisted with the Confederate army and left home. When the Civil War came to their doorstep in 1863, the Cravens fled their house for another property in Georgia.
The Confederate army used the Cravens house as a headquarters for their position on Lookout Mountain. When Major General Joseph Hooker attacked their position on November 24, much of the fighting took place on the property. After the battle, the Union army used the house for their headquarters.
After the Civil War, Robert Cravens returned to the destroyed house and rebuilt it. Completed in 1866, the house and property are now preserved by the National Park Service. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the property, visit the memorials and monuments, and learn about the battle.
Dozens of hiking trails wrap around the slopes of Lookout Mountain. Most of the trails are open for foot traffic only, but there are a few for mountain biking and one trail for horseback riding.
Clinging to the western slopes of Lookout Mountain, Sunset Rock is a popular and spectacular scenic overlook. It’s also a popular spot for rock climbers.
The small parking lot at the trailhead has room for less than a dozen vehicles, and streetside parking is prohibited on the narrow road. The parking lot is typically full throughout the day. The best way to enjoy the view is to hike along the many connecting trails around Lookout Mountain.
After their defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga, the Union Army of the Cumberland retreated into Chattanooga. The Confederate Army of Tennessee quickly moved into position to besiege the city. Troops were spread along Missionary Ridge east of the city with an excellent viewpoint of Union activities.
On November 25, 1863, over 50,000 Union troops assaulted the Confederate positions on the ridge. It was a resounding defeat for the southern army that one unnamed soldier called “The death knell of the Confederacy.”
Most of Missionary Ridge is private residential property. However, the national military park preserves eight “reservations,” or small parks, where the Battle of Missionary Ridge is interpreted. A 7.4-mile drive along West Crest Road and East Crest Road connects the reservations, monuments, and memorials.
Pro Travel Tip Most of the reservations on Missionary Ridge have parking. However, parking or stopping on the street is prohibited if parking is unavailable.
Moccasin Bend National Archeological District
The Moccasin Bend National Archeological District is one of the most unique properties in the National Park System – though there is little to explore. The district is spread across Moccasin Bend, a peninsula created by the winding Tennessee River. Artifacts on the site trace 12,000 years of human habitation in the region, going as far back as nomadic tribes in the Paleo-Indian Period.
During the Battles for Chattanooga, the area played a significant role in the Union’s victory. With Chattanooga besieged by the Confederate Army of Tennessee, the Union troops were cut off from supply lines and reinforcements. After nearly a month, the Union troops were finally able to receive reinforcements through Brown’s Ferry across the Tennessee River onto the Moccasin Bend. Called “The Cracker Line,” the supply line was instrumental just a month later when the Union defeated all Confederate forces.
The Gateway Site is the largest public area to explore at Moccasin Bend. The grassy field is directly across the river from downtown Chattanooga.
Brown’s Ferry Federal Road Trace is another spot to visit at Moccasin Bend. The 1.2-mile out-and-back trail follows the historic route where Cherokee were forced to walk the Trail of Tears in 1838 and Union army supply wagons traversed in 1863.
A final place to visit in Moccasin Bend is the Blue Blazes Trail. The two-mile loop trail is a peaceful walk through nature in a dense forest and across swampy bogs.
Pro Travel Tip Do not drive to the end of Moccasin Bend Road. If you try, you will find yourself stopped at a guard shack outside the secure entrance to the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute, where you will be promptly directed to turn around. And, yes, I’m speaking from personal experience.
Where to Stay
Chattanooga is a big area for lodging. Where you want to stay entirely depends on where you want to explore and how much congested traffic you’re willing to drive through. I suggest staying in downtown Chattanooga – it’s in the middle of the various places to explore at the national military park.
The brick-clad Red Roof Inn won’t win any design awards, but the renovated rooms are more than comfy for a night or two in the city. The motel features a shockingly nice indoor swimming pool, free on-site parking, and it’s next to a Waffle House. It’s also in an excellent location for driving to Lookout Mountain and Signal Point. Choose from rooms with two full beds or one king bed.
Wingate by Wyndham is a good budget-friendly option, but it’s inconveniently located about 20-30 minutes northwest of the Chickamauga Battlefield in a busy commercial area. The hotel features free on-site parking and comfortable guest rooms. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or one king bed.
La Quinta is also inconveniently located, but it’s the best budget hotel in Chattanooga. The hotel features free on-site parking and an outstanding indoor swimming pool. Considering rush hour traffic and general congestion, it takes about 20-30 minutes to get to the Chickamauga Battlefield and 40 minutes to Lookout Mountain. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, one king bed, or upgrade to a suite that also features a sleeper sofa.
District 3 Hotel is centrally located downtown – it practically has its own interstate on and off ramps. The hotel is only 10-15 minutes from the Chickamauga Battlefield and Lookout Mountain. The hotel features free on-site parking and an outdoor swimming pool. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, one king bed, or a suite with one king bed and a sleeper sofa.
La Quinta at East Ridge is an excellent, moderately priced hotel close to the Chickamauga Battlefield and Missionary Ridge. The hotel features free on-site parking and an outdoor swimming pool. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, one king bed, or a suite with one king bed and a sleeper sofa.
Located across the street from the La Quinta, the Hampton Inn is a significant upgrade for a comfortable stay in Chattanooga. The hotel features free on-site parking, an outdoor swimming pool, and the best complimentary hot breakfast of any hotel chain. Choose from rooms with two queen beds, one king bed, or a suite with a king bed and a sleeper sofa.
The Westin Chattanooga is the pinnacle of comfortable lodging in Chattanooga. The spectacular property features an outdoor swimming pool, spacious lobby, and a lounge with some of the best views in the city. On-site parking is available for an additional $17 per day. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or one king bed, and for a higher price you can pick a room with a city view.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo is the best hotel in Chattanooga. The hotel is located in the historic MacArthur Building and features on-site restaurants, bars, entertainment, and comfortable guest rooms. On-site parking is available for an additional $7 per day. Choose from rooms with two queen beds or one king bed.