I hadn't been in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for more than an hour by the time I'd learned that miniature golf, tow trucks, and Moon Pies were all invented in this small southern Appalachian city that Outside readers voted Best Town Ever in 2011.
More recently, a patch of dirt—literally an old baseball diamond—in the city's south side has spawned another invention: a hostel you actually want to stay in.
The Crash Pad is a true hostel, in that it is communal—you will be sleeping in a bunk above or below strangers, and you'll be sharing meals and stories with them, too. But the Crash Pad is comfortable where so many hostels are uncomfortable; it is a place to linger while so many hostels are places to sleep and then vacate as soon as the sun rises.
The Crash Pad was dreamt up by college buddies Dan Rose and Max Poppel, who set out to create a place in Chattanooga where they and other climbers could stay during their frequent visits; they envisioned a kind of Yosemite Valley Camp 4. But the initial plans to build a campground in nearby Suck Creek Canyon or on Lookout Mountain began to change as the pair became more invested in the massive revitalization that Chattanooga is undergoing.
What was once a blighted city—and really, every single Chattanoogan I met referenced the city's polluted, unsavory past—is now flourishing as a great place to live and play outside. So Rose and Poppel found property in town, which in addition to a baseball field held two dilapidated housing duplexes, and started planning the Crash Pad with the help of local architects Blythe Bailey and Thomas Palmer (who has since designed the Flying Squirrel bar adjacent to the hostel).
The result is a first: a LEED-certified Platinum hostel. The Crash Pad's green cred ranges from its precast concrete walls that sandwich four inches of highly insulating foam, to its green roof and stormwater collection system. Plus, much of the brick and wood from the property’ s old duplexes was repurposed into indoor benches, bunks and shelving, as well asa spacious outdoor pavilion area, where guests relax with a beer at day's end.
The hostel also sports some thoughtful amenities, such as an individual fan on each bunk (great for fresh air and white noise), as well as reading lights and lockable storage bins.
The Crash Pad hostel opened in 2011 and has become a go-to not only for visiting climbers but also kayakers, cyclists, and runners. In fact, even weeks before arriving in Chattanooga for a journalism conference in early October, I was out of luck in securing a bunk because my visit coincided with River Rocks, a multisport and music festival.
Those not interested in bunk life ($27/night) can opt for a private room ($70/night); the super queen ($95/night) is a private room with a queen bed plus a bunk. Your stay includes breakfast, which features fresh bread from a bakery down the street and other local treats.
"A lot of people attach 'youth' in front of 'hostel' but we reject that," explains John Ying, Crash Pad’s manager. "We're trying to re-educate people that there is a different way to travel."
As if to punctuate his point, I encounter a group in the hostel's common that had traveled from the Atlanta area and booked half of the rooms to celebrate a 40th birthday. Amanda, the guest of honor, was as far from a dirtball climber as one could get—in fact she struck me as more of a sporty Southern belle. For her, the draw was not just the clean rooms and green aesthetics, but also the hostel's communal nature.
"That's what I love about this place," she told me. "It's like one big house."