3. Chattanooga, Tenn.
Chattanooga does not boast a world-class selection of hostels or a sprawling city to explore. What it does offer is adventure travel opportunities that will keep an active visitor busy for days, and without spending huge sums of money.
Rock climbers find some of the most challenging venues on this side of the Mississippi River. On bad weather days, there’s even an indoor climbing centerin the heart of downtown, next to one of the nation’s finest aquariums.
Adventure travelers also find kayaking options on the Tennessee River, Olympic-quality whitewater rafting on the nearby Ocoee River, and even hang-gliding (at a budget-challenging price) just a few miles across the Georgia state line southwest of the city.
Chattanooga’s once drab downtown now presents a nice selection of restaurants and one of the best farmer’s markets in the Southeast (late April-December). Hiking opportunities abound in nearby national forests, and Great Smoky Mountain National Park can be reached by car in about two hours.
A great hostel option — if you can get a reservation — is the Crash Pad in the heart of the city. It caters to a lot of rock climbers, but everyone is welcome. This “boutique hostel” offers free breakfast and curtained bunks starting at $35, with private rooms also available.