Trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga is in southern, Tennessee, about a five hour drive from Louisville.
Chattanooga has a LOT to offer for a family getaway.
Plan a nearby getaway trip to Chattanooga. On your drive to Chattanooga, you will pass what starts to feel like hundreds of billboards advertising Ruby Falls and Rock City on Lookout Mountain. Ruby Falls is a great first stop on your trip to Chattanooga.
Ruby Falls is one of three tourist attractions on Lookout Mountain. In 1928, Leo Lambert and his team drilled down 1,120 feet. While looking for Lookout Mountain Cave, they found a small, 18 inch high, four foot wide opening that they crawled along for hours until they accidentally discovered the 145 foot tall waterfall. The waterfall is fed by rain water and a natural spring, so there are only slight changes in the waterflow with the weather.
Above Ruby Falls, there is a good sized gift shop, a tower you can walk up to the top of that has great views, and a zipline course called High Point Zip Adventure. The zip line course also contains a 40 foot tall “rock wall” you can chose to climb if you’d like which is included in your zip line ticket price.
Tips for Ruby Falls: bring a long sleeve shirt for the cave tour – it’s 60 degrees all year round.
The second tourist attraction for your trip to Chattanooga on Lookout Mountain is The Incline Railway. The Incline Railway is a funicular railway system over a hundred years old. It’s approximately one-mile long single track system. The 72.7% grade track that goes up the mountain is amazing. You can enjoy the scenery as you ride up the mountain through the observation windows on the train as well as the panoramic views at the top station. A ride on The Incline takes about 15 minutes in each direction. Incline trains leave from each station about every 20 minutes. In addition to the ride there is an observation deck at the top, food, and gift shops available at both stations.
Rock City is also on Lookout Mountain. Rock City is known for its massive ancient rock formations, gardens with over 400 native plant species, panoramic views where you can see seven states, and Rock City is the site of the nation’s first minigolf. There are trails around the top of the mountain which include seven art installations, several shopping areas, and few dining and snack options. There is also a Birds of Prey shows for an extra fee.
Outlook Mountain attractions all require tickets bought online in advance. Ruby Falls, The Incline Railway, and Rock City all need timed entry tickets. The website states to leave two hours for each attraction, however, we spent over two hours at Ruby Falls, and friends said they spent four hours at Rock City. During the pandemic, everything takes longer. Careful with your ticket buying.
Nearby, you can also visit Cloudland Canyon State Park, which is a 3,485 acres state park in Georgia. It is on the western edge of Lookout Mountain. There are two waterfalls in this park, a canyon, and several well-marked trails. There is also a paved, wheelchair/stroller -accessible trail about 0.25 miles long overlooks the rim of the canyon.
Interesting Fact: When this Georgia Park was purchased in 1939 (during the Great Depression), you could only enter it from Tennessee or Alabama.
If you’re looking for a good park in Tennessee during your trip to Chattanooga, check out Enterprise South Nature Park. South Nature Park is located approximately 15 minutes northeast of downtown Chattanooga. Enterprise South is one of the most popular trail systems in the Chattanooga area, and is known for it’s beginner-friendly flowing trails. The paths were very well kept. Enterprise South is made up of 2,800 wooded acres that were previously a part of the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant property. The property still has the concrete magazines used to store explosives during the days TNT was manufactured on the site. The Park offers miles of walking paths, bicycle paths and off-road biking trails. It also has snacks. Big ones.
Chattanooga Zoo is a great, half day activity. Smaller than the Louisville Zoo, we were able to walk this whole zoo twice between breakfast and lunch. Chattanooga Zoo is part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), and does a lot of work with rehabilitation and conservation. Some of the great things about this zoo are the closeness of the exhibits, lots of shady areas to view the animals, and a few endangered species that aren’t at the Louisville Zoo.
Chattanooga Aquarium is located in downtown Chattanooga by the waterfront. Chattanooga Aquarium is made up of two buildings: one building is fresh water focused, one building is ocean focused. There is foot traffic in one direction through the buildings with a small gift shop in each. You are allowed to go back in each building if you’d like to go through it again.
The Hunter Museum of Art looks like an amazing museum to visit. A fantastic way to beat the heat if you visit during summer.
The Chattanooga waterfront has some great areas to shop, dine, and relax outdoors. Similar to Louisville’s waterfront, they have lots of cascading cement steps where you can sit, exercise, or have a picnic lunch.
During your trip to Chattanooga, you can drive over the Market Street Bridge (a bascule bridge that spans the Tennessee River), or you can walk over the Walnut Street Bridge. These bridges go from the waterfront area of Chattanooga to the Northshore area of Chattanooga.
The Walnut Street Bridge is a 2,376 foot long (extremely long) bridge built in 1890. On the Downtown Chattanooga side of the bridge, you can walk up a switchback sidewalk going past the site of Bluff Furnace Historical Site, toward the Hunter Museum of American Art and see several sculptures on the grounds before you cross over the bridge. Once you’ve crossed the bridge to Northshore Chattanooga, go check out the carousel, unique splash pad area, and green space at Coolidge Park and Renaissance Park. Grab an ice cream, shaved ice, or other refreshing treat at Bill’s Shaved Ice before you head back over the Walnut Street Bridge. Or wait until you walk back over the bridge and grab something at the Ice Cream Show in Downtown Chattanooga.
Chattanooga downtown tips: The parking around downtown fills up fast! Go early to the aquarium lot and pay to park in their lot all day (you pay by entering your license plate number). Visit the aquarium, walk to a nearby restaurant for lunch, walk downtown, etc and leave your car in the lot. You can eat downtown in-between visiting the separate aquarium buildings.
High Point Climbing Gym has 30,000 square feet of climbing wall inside and out, beginner to advanced. The outside climbing walls are on transparent wall material that are out above the sidewalk. You can rent everything you need from climbing shoes to helmet. They offer all day passes or punch cards for the week or month.
Creative Discovery Museum wasn’t on my radar until we got into downtown Chattanooga and saw it. It looks amazing from the outside and from the website. Unfortunately we weren’t able to visit on this trip. Check out the many fun and educational exhibits on their website. Also check out the admission prices. There is a discount if you’ve been to the aquarium, are a police officer, military, and entry is FREE for foster families for up to six tickets. I cannot wait to support this facility, and my kids can’t wait to go.
Places To Eat:
Big River Grille & Brewing Works (ask to sit outside on the benches that face the outdoor rock climbers at High Point)
City Cafe Diner (AMAZING pie and cake selection. Open 24/7)
Maple Street Biscuit Company (while not unique to Chattanooga, it’s delicious for breakfast or lunch!)
Good Dog has awesome hot dogs and hysterical decor.
Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant has one of it’s six locations right by the aquarium. Unique to Tennessee and great menu selections for all three meals.
Sticky Fingers Ribhouse-BBQ (not unique to Chattanooga, but there aren’t any in Kentucky, and they’re always good!)
(Tip: don’t bother trying the Pickle Barrel, you must be 21 to enter all the time).
Places to stay:
During the pandemic, we chose to stay in a campground cabin. There are lots of scenic cabins you can rent in the area, or do some primitive tent camping if that’s your thing. If you’re looking for campgrounds, try Raccoon Mountain or Chester Frost Park.
However, there are plenty of great hotels in Chattanooga. The first hotel option is what Chattanooga is known for: choo choos. Chattanooga Choo Choo is a 24-acre hotel and vacation complex located in Chattanooga. Rich in history, you can even choose to sleep aboard an authentic railcar.
If you’re looking to stay in a “regular” hotel for your trip to Chattanooga, the following hotels are in great locations for walking around downtown, Northshore, and waterfront without needing take your car:
The Edwin Hotel
Courtyard by Marriot Chattanooga
Residence Inn by Marriot Chattanooga
Hilton Garden Inn Chattanooga Downtown
Hampton Inn & Suites Chattanooga/Downtown
Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Chattanooga