Chattanooga — I love the name of the city. It’s such a fun name for a fun city!
In Chattanooga, there are three main tourist attractions. You can save a few bucks by buying a package deal which includes all three. The attractions are Ruby Falls, Incline Railway and Rock City. Our first stop was the Incline Railway, and it is aptly named. http://www.ridetheincline.com
It is an inclined railway that goes straight up the side of Lookout Mountain and visitors end up at a 72.7 percent grade when they get to the top! The station is located in historic St. Elmo. For the best and maybe scariest ride, I recommend sitting toward the back end of the train. This way you have a clear view looking down and out as the train is going up. At the top it’s a steep walk up the stairs to get out of the train, and a little scary since you are so high up just hanging out on the side of the mountain.
Lookout Mountain Station has a gift shop and a great spot to stop for some yummy fudge. Then, you can head out for a walk down the street to Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park. This is the location of the famous “Battle Above the Clouds” fought during the Civil War.
You can go into Pioneer Park (for a small fee) and take in all of the beautiful views from the top of the mountain. Then, head over to the museum to see the Battles for Chattanooga electric map to learn more about the battles and the Civil War. The walk to the park is highlighted by all the beautiful homes of the people who live on top of Lookout Mountain. http://www.lookoutmountain.com/plan-your-visit
Our next stop was Rock City. Honestly, I wasn’t to sure this was going to be worth it, but I was really glad that we went. First, there’s a Starbucks across the street. When we were there, the store was offering buy one, get one on drinks. So, of course, we had to stop. There’s a nice fire place outside where you can sit while enjoying your coffee.
After that, we headed into Rock City. We walked down the amazing Enchanted Trail where you go through cool terrain and crevices in the mountain. There were stops to see a waterfall or look out over the magnificent views. At the top you can stand in one spot and see seven states at once. There is a restaurant and bar area where you can sit and eat and drink at the top of the mountain. Be sure to check hours to see if they’re open when you plan on stopping.
Heading back out, we came across Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. You walk into the caverns and there are scenes from nursery rhymes in little alcoves lit by black lights. When you get to the room at the end there’s a huge setup with castles and characters. Black lights are always fun because they made the scenes look cool and also made our clothes and teeth glow.
You exit through the gift shop. In fact, we’ve learned the only way places typically let you leave is through their gift shops. There you can buy the famous Rock City birdhouses.
Rock City has a lot of special events throughout the year such as Shamrock City, Fairytale Nights and Enchanted Garden of Lights. If you can time your visit around one of those, it would be worth it. http://www.seerockcity.com
Our third stop was Ruby Falls. I have a thing about waterfalls, so I was super excited to see an underground waterfall! Ruby Falls is America’s deepest commercial cave, and the 145-foot underground waterfall is America’s largest underground waterfall.
An elevator takes visitors down into the cave/mountain where a guide takes you on a tour for about 45 minutes to see the waterfall. During the tour, the guide points out different rock formations. We saw stalactites (formations hanging from the ceiling) and stalagmites (formations growing from the ground). There were other formations they’ve named themselves based on appearance such as the “bee hive” or the “dragon foot.”
Someone once kicked one of the stalagmites, broke it and wound up going to jail. They are serious about their caves, so climbing on the formations or damaging them is no joke.
Eventually, you come to the falls. It is obviously dark in the caves, but the falls are lit up with colored lights which make them a pretty cool sight. I have to say the walk in and out was a little bit long for our younger kids, and you can really look at only so many rock formations. But it was worth it to see the waterfall and be so far underground.
At the end of the tour guess where you go? That’s right, into the gift shop! Then you can go outside and climb to the top of a tower to look out over Chattanooga. http://www.rubyfalls.com
At this point, we had visited what we considered the top three attractions in Chattanooga, but we were wrong. The No. 1 place to visit in Chattanooga is Julie Darling Donuts. I really like donuts, and in my hometown we have some very good Old World Italian donut bakeries, so it takes a lot to impress me. But, WOW, these donuts were scrumptious! There were some really unique flavors, like the sea-salted caramel which was my favorite, but all the ones I tried were good. So if you’re in Chattanooga and can only visit one place, I recommend Julie Darling Donuts. Your taste buds will thank you! http://www.jddonuts.com
Across the street from the donut shop is Coolidge Park. It’s a nice large park on the river which has a fun interactive play fountain for the kids to run around in. If you decide to run with them, be prepared because the water squirts out at random times. Bring a picnic lunch, a frisbee, and some dry clothes to change into after playing in the fountain. http://www.chattanoogafun.com/members/coolidge-park-2192
For dinner, we headed to Mellow Mushroom Pizza in downtown Chattanooga. We have four kids ages 7, 5, 5 and 2, so going out to eat is always interesting. But this worked out great. When we got there, they took us down the hall and around the corner to a room at the far end of the restaurant. They knew the kids were going to be loud and not sit still, and as the restaurant started to fill up, the only people they brought back there were families with kids. We didn’t feel like we were bothering the other diners since everyone was in the same boat. The menu offered a lot of different flavored pizzas. It’s a chain restaurant, but I would still recommend it as a great place if you’ve got kids. http://mellowmushroom.com/store/chattanooga/menu/14/pizza
On the way to the restaurant, we had driven by an indoor/outdoor rock climbing facility called High Point Climbing and the kid’s area looked fun. I ran in and grabbed a flier to check out while eating. Because my parents surprised us by paying for dinner, we figured we would use the money saved to take the kids rock climbing. We had gone once before and knew the kids liked it, but the one we’d been to didn’t have such a cool kid’s area. It wasn’t cheap, but I’m glad we did it because the kids still talked about it months later.
The kid’s area had rock walls where the rocks were spread out just right for little hands and legs. They also had a wall that looked like a building. They got to pretend to be firefighters, climbing up the wall pushing buttons at each window to stop the fire. This is another hidden gem of Chattanooga, especially for families with kids. http://highpointclimbing.com
The city was immortalized by Glenn Miller’s orchestra its famous song, The Chattanooga Choo-Choo. The train terminal station in the downtown area has been converted into a hotel, and people can actually sleep in the train cars. The famous Track 29 is the site of regular concerts featuring a variety of musical tastes. http://www.choochoo.com
We stayed at Raccoon Mountain Campground tucked back up and around the corner of the foothills of Raccoon Mountain. The campsites were pull-through, which is always a bonus, and we were right by a large field, which was great for kids and dogs. Sitting out at our campsite we could see Raccoon Mountain to one side and Lookout Mountain to the other.
Lookout Mountain was really cool at night when you could see all the houses lit up at the top of the mountain. The campground also had a cave right on site that you could pay to explore. I would highly recommend the campground and, if possible, stay for a week – there is plenty to do in the area and you can get their weekly rate.
For more information about Raccoon Mountain, visit http://www.raccoonmountain.com
There are a lot of great things to do in Chattanooga, and we felt like a week wasn’t enough to time to see everything it had to offer. It’s an awesome area with an amazing, historic downtown. We definitely want to go to again.