17 Miles / 1500 Feet of Climbing
A fun gravel ride just south of town on Lookout Mountain that offers scenic overlooks, beautiful wooded scenery, Civil War history, and relatively easy grades as it follows a historic railroad bed.
Potential Route Modifications: Simply riding to the Cravens House and back shortens the route to 7.5 miles. Starting at Ruby Falls rather than the trailhead on Ochs Highway shaves off 2.3 miles.
We've chosen the trailhead parking lot on Ochs Highway as our starting point because that's where the gravel starts, but the route can be shortened by starting at Ruby Falls. Or if you want more mileage, you can start on paved roads farther downhill and ride through St Elmo, approaching the Ochs Highway parking lot using the paved part of Guild Trail (which connects to Alabama Avenue via 45th Street).
The Guild Trail parking lot at Ochs Highway has a pedestrian crossing light and you should definitely use it to cross the highway. On the other side, you'll find double-track gravel that follows the old abandoned railroad bed up to Ruby Falls. Because it's a railroad bed, the grade is easy, no more than 4%. This is in striking contrast to the Incline Railway that goes straight up the side of the mountain from St Elmo. You'll pass under the incline railway less than half a mile from the start. You'll also cross over a couple of short bridges on this section, and you'll want to be careful as you enter and exit them as the lips can be rough in places.
After a little over a mile, the gravel will turn into pavement as you enter the overflow parking area for Ruby Falls. Take your time through here, as it can be quite congested with vehicles during tourist season. Proceed carefully straight across Scenic Highway. On the other side you'll see a sign warning you that it's a one-way only, but it's okay for bikes to go the wrong way. So keep going straight. Just be careful as you may encounter vehicles coming the other direction as they exit Ruby Falls.
Soon after crossing Scenic Highway, the Guild Trail returns to gravel and the woods get even more dense. About a mile and a half after Ruby Falls, you'll come to an intersection with a sharp left turn. This is the road to Cravens House. Keep going straight for now. You can take that road on the way back.
After passing the Cravens House intersection, you'll ride another three and a half miles in a beautiful wooded setting. The "road" can be rough in places so watch your lines carefully, especially when crossing the drainageways. At the end of this three and a half mile stretch, you'll reach a point where the road becomes single track and the grade becomes considerably steeper. This is your cue to turn around and head back the way you came. (There's also a sign here for the Jackson Gap Trailhead.)
When you get back to the intersection (3.5 miles back the way you came), veer right and head up to Cravens House. From the intersection, it's just over a mile to Cravens House. You'll know you're getting close when the road turns to pavement. You'll also see a civil war monument off to your left just before you see Cravens House on your right.
During the battle of Chattanooga, both the Union and Confederate armies used Cravens House as an observation post and headquarters, and the heaviest fighting during the "Battle Above the Clouds" occurred around the house as the Union troops forced the Confederates off of Lookout Mountain. The house is now managed by the National Park Service as part of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park.
Just past the Cravens House you'll see a doubletrack gravel road in front of you. This is the Hardy Trail, which is another abandoned railroad bed that was part of the same railway system that served Lookout Mountain. Proceed onto the Hardy Trail and you'll soon be passing under the Incline Railway and riding parallel to Scenic Highway. There are some nice views off to your left along this section, especially in winter when the leaves are down.
A little over a mile after leaving Cravens House, the trail comes to an end as it intersects with Scenic Highway. From here, retrace your path back down to Cravens House, Ruby Falls and the Guild Trail Parking lot where you started. If you want to get home faster, you can roll down Scenic Highway to Ruby Falls and pick up the Guild Trail from there. The Scenic Highway descent may have some cars, but it's really fast and a lot of fun!
If you want a little more challenge, you can take Scenic Highway the other direction at the end of the Hardy Trail and go up the mountain less than a quarter mile to where it intersects Brow Road. From there you can ride Brow Road all the way up to Point Park. This is all paved and very steep (double-digit grades in several places), so think twice before setting off for the top. But if you're up for the challenge, it's a rewarding add-on with great views from the top of the Incline Railway and from Point Park.