[dropcap style=”square”]P[/dropcap]icnics have surely been around since the beginning. The first time the word appeared in print was in 1692 in Origines de la Langue Francaise, where it mentions going to a pique-nique. Later, the word picnic appeared in English in a letter from Lord Chesterfield in 1748. He associated it with drinking, eating and conversing outside, after a hunt. Now we define it as “a pleasure excursion at which a meal is eaten outdoors (al fresco or en plein air), ideally taking place in a beautiful landscape such as a park, beside a lake or with an interesting view, and usually in summer.”
These are suggestions for fabulous picnics and related seasonal activities right here in Chattanooga, including convenient locations that will pack a delicious lunch on the way, in case you don’t have time to prepare the food for your crowd.
A Raccoon Mountain Picnic
For a variety of hearty sandwiches on freshly baked artisan breads and house made pastries, call Niedlov’s Breadworks ahead (24 hours) to place an order (423-756-0303).
Picnickers looking for a challenging hike will enjoy the trails atop Raccoon Mountain, less than a 10-minute drive west of Chattanooga. Get off at I-24 exit #175. Turn right onto Brown’s Ferry Road, continue one mile, then turn left on Elder Mountain Road and go two miles. Stay to the left, just past the TVA sign, entering through an open gate. It is 1.5 miles to the top of the mountain where there are over 20 miles of beginner to advanced trails, with some scenic viewing spots. The multi-use trail system encircles a 528-acre reservoir that supports the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Pumping Station at the top of the mountain.
The Visitors Center at 7854 Raccoon Mountain Road is staffed and will have answers to questions, although the web site below has an excellent map. All of the trails are maintained by the Southern Off Road Bicycle Association (SORBA), with support from Outdoor Chattanooga and the National Park Service. There are excellent restroom and picnic facilities near Laurel Point.
Visit www.outdoorchattanooga.com/RM for more information.
A Tennessee RiverPark Picnic
Rembrandt’s will prepare boxed lunches for picnickers. Choose from a variety of meats, cheeses and veggies for sandwiches. Salads and baked goods are available as well. There is ample parking in the Bluff View Art District if you come early, but call Rembrandt’s a day ahead at 423-625-5033 to place an order.
Visitors to the park may rent bicycles from the Bike Chattanooga Transit System at the High Street location in the District, riding east along the river, going up the RiverPark to a picnic table of your choice. At five dollars each, 24-hour passes are available for purchase at all bike stations and pass holders are allowed to take two bikes out on the same credit card. If you don’t need a pass, the first 60 minutes are free and after the first hour, riders are charged a usage fee (see online). All bikes are equipped with cable locks.
Aside from stunning views of the Tennessee River, the RiverPark is well maintained, with seven handicapped accessible restroom facilities and drinking fountains. There are several locations that have picnic tables (some even have grills). There are sculpture parks and open fields for Frisbee playing, boat ramps, fishing piers and mile markers.
While you are enjoying your lunch you will likely see a variety of birds including Blue Heron and Osprey. The park closes at sundown.
See www.hamiltontn.gov/tnriverpark for more information and a map.
Visit www.bikechattanooga.com for instructions on how to use the bicycle stations.
A Point Park Picnic
Call ahead to order delicious sandwiches (there are three kids’ meal choices) at the 1885 Grill in the heart of quaint St. Elmo.
Then cross the street and take the historic Lookout Mountain Incline Railway (adults $15, children $7 round-trip). The view is delightful and the 10-minute ride takes you up to the top. Walk to your right—up the street for a couple of blocks, to Point Park ($3 entrance fee, no charge for children 15 and under). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the impressive park entrance gate in 1905. Unfortunately, picnicking is not allowed inside the park, where there is a lovely view of the city and valley below, but there are picnic tables at the Visitor’s Center across the street from the entrance. After your meal, enjoy the park.
To add entertainment and fitness to the Bluff Trail west to Sunset Rock (about 1.5 miles) and watch area rock climbers (or try it yourself, if you’re equipped and with someone who knows the sport).
Visit www.ridetheincline.com for hours of operation.
A Reflection Riding Picnic
Heading down Broad Street and continue as though you are going up the mountain, but stay on Cummings Highway, skirting around the base of Lookout Mountain. Watch for signs to Reflection Riding, a left-hand turn that takes you down a road into a lovely 317-acre preserve along Lookout Creek. It is home to the Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center (CANC), a certified level-four arboretum, originally incorporated in 1956 by John and Margaret Chambliss to protect the former farmland and its watershed from industrial development. Under a Master Plan for Preservation and Development created by landscape architect Thomas Kane in 1982, it includes the three-mile Reflection Riding driving loop, open wildflower meadows, woodlands and 15 miles of walking trails. The upper trails are perfect for mountain biking.
The experience here is tranquil, and after the picnic, many visitors enjoy renting canoes for a gentle paddle down the creek and back again.
The Arboretum is open Monday-Saturday 9:00-5:00 and 1:00-5:00 on Sunday (April-October). Admission is free to members. The CANC is in the reciprocal program of the American Horticultural Society’s member arboretums and it offers an array of seasonal activities for all ages, plus a summer camp for children.
Visit www.chattanooganaturecenter.org for more information.
This article was first published in April, 2014.