19 Miles / 2000 Feet of Climbing
Experience the Tennessee River Gorge from the water's edge and from a mountain-top vista on this unique ride that includes a lap around a mountain-top lake!
Potential Route Modifications: You can shorten the route and avoid riding on Cummings Highway by starting at the Raccoon Mountain River Trailhead parking lot, which reduces the route to 12.3 miles but still includes the climb. You can also skip the climb and start at the Raccoon Mountain Visitors Center on top of the mountain and do laps around the lake. Each lap is roughly 4.5 miles. (Doing extra laps around the lake is also a fun way to lengthen the ride beyond 19 miles.)
This is a great ride that offers the truly unique experience of riding around a mountaintop lake with some amazing views! While it is relatively short, it packs a punch with a challenging 3-mile climb. And once you're on top of the mountain, you can expand your mileage by doing multiple laps around the lake.
(The lake at the top is actually a reservoir managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). During periods of low electrical demand, water is pumped from the Tennessee River to the reservoir on top of the mountain. When demand is high, water is released via a tunnel drilled through the center of the mountain to drive generators in the mountain’s underground power plant.)
As noted above, there are a couple of different starting points that make the ride shorter, but our recommended starting point is the parking lot of Browns Ferry Road and Kelly's Ferry Road, which puts you in prime position to enjoy Hillbilly Willy's BBQ when you're done!
Turn right out of the parking lot onto Kelly's Ferry Road and follow it 1.8 miles under I-24 and all the way until it ends at Cummings Highway (Hwy 41) where you'll turn right. The first half-mile on Cummings Highway may be uncomfortable due to traffic and the lack of a shoulder, but after this first section you'll be able to slide onto a shoulder which you can use to make your way up a climb that lasts almost a mile.
As you crest the climb you'll lose the shoulder but you'll be going downhill and can quickly blow through the next third of a mile before turning right on Raccoon Mountain Road. (You'll see the big TVA sign here.)
Once you're on Raccoon Mountain Road, you should be free of traffic and can enjoy this beautiful wooded road. After a mile, the road will start to tilt downhill and soon you'll be hurtling at high speed down to the Tennessee River. This is a particularly nice section as the Tennessee River Gorge comes into view as you come down the hill.
The views continue as you roll alongside the Tennessee River past the intake/discharge TVA facility. This short scenic section is the calm before the storm, as the road tilts up sharply soon after passing the TVA facility with the grade hitting double digits in the early part of the climb. After the first mile, the grade starts to come down and you'll actually get a fun downhill after climbing for a little over a mile and a half. Sadly, the downhill is only a quarter-mile, and you'll quickly return to climbing. Fortunately, this second part of the climb has a more reasonable grade and you can churn out the last mile at a steady pace.
The climb ends at a stop sign, where you'll turn right and ride a fun rolling road for about a mile before the lake comes into view and you start to head uphill again. Though tough, this hill is much shorter, only lasting for about half a mile.
On the other side of the hill is a fast descent. Keep your speed in check, as you'll want to take a right turn at the bottom of the hill into the Raccoon Mountain Visitors Center. The Visitors Center is a great stop not only for all the information about the power plant and the Tennessee River, but also for the incredible view overlooking the Tennessee River Gorge! Definitely worth a photo. The visitors center also has restrooms.
After checking out the visitors center, head back to the main road and turn right. At this point the road becomes a narrow one-way lane with the lake on one side and the Tennessee River Gorge on the other. It's a special part of the ride and can feel pretty magical in the early morning hours.
As you bend around the lake, you'll see a sign pointing to Laurel Point on your right. Laurel Point is a nice trailhead for mountain bike trails, with changing rooms, bathrooms, and picnic tables. However, there's no view and nothing special about the road, so we don't recommend going down to it, as you'll just have to turn around and slog back up to the main road.
After passing by the Laurel Point turnoff, you'll go up a small hill which will bring you back to where the big climb ended. At this point, you can decide if you'd like to get another lap in by going straight or head back down the mountain by turning right. Either way, you should check out the view from the Chattanooga Overlook, which you can reach by turning right and then immediately right again. This will take you to another mountain bike trailhead and some amazing views of the city and Lookout Mountain!
After taking in the view, roll back out the driveway and turn right to head down the hill. This is a relatively fast descent, but the curves aren't too bad. As the road starts to bottom out and turn up again, you'll veer to the right and then turn right onto Elder Mountain Road to continue heading downhill.
Elder Mountain Road is a pretty fast descent as well, and it has some rough spots, so use caution as you bomb down the hill. You'll also want to keep your speed in check because you'll need to take your first right onto Isbill Road. This will come up fast as you're descending at speed, so keep an eye out for it.
Isbill is a curvy, rolling road and makes for a fun finish. Just watch out for rough pavement and stay to the right on the blind corners. After a little over a mile and a half on Isbill, you'll come to a "T" intersection with Kelly's Ferry Road where you'll turn left and roll half a mile back to where you started at Hillbilly Willy's BBQ.