From the Mountain to the River, Fun Awaits Families in the Scenic City
Yes, there's really a Chattanooga Choo Choo. These days it's a hotel (1400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN) that makes a great place to stay when in town, especially if you're traveling with kids. Guests can reserve one of the train cars, but regular hotel rooms are also available. A free trolley service carts you around downtown, but you'll have to get in the car to head to Lookout Mountain looming over the city, home to some attractions the kids will love.
See Rock City
Rock City (1400 Patten Rd., Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga,TN) is the classic to-do thing when in Chattanooga. The slogan, See Rock City, has been advertised on roadside barns throughout the South for generations. When perched atop Lookout Mountain overlooking the city, legend has it that one can see seven states from one vantage point. Realistically, it's unlikely that anyone has ever seen Kentucky or Virginia from the spot, but the legend has persisted since the Civil War. No matter, the view still thrills. Kids will be just as interested in the attraction itself—a natural stone landscape on a mountaintop decorated with a fairyland theme.
See Ruby Falls
Another famous longtime slogan seen on barns in the South is: See Ruby Falls. Ruby Falls (1720 South Scenic Hwy., Chattanooga, TN) has long competed with Rock City as the top attraction on Lookout Mountain. Both are worthy of a visit because they're so different from one another. Whereas Rock City stands on top of the mountain, Ruby Falls is inside of it. Visitors descend into a cave system to see the surreal sight of a 145-foot underground waterfall. Above ground, there's a zip-line course, a 21st-century addition to Ruby Falls that provides an extra adrenaline rush beyond walking through a cave to see a giant waterfall.
You'll see Lookout Mountain from no matter where you are in town. You can scale it on the Incline Railway (3917 St Elmo Ave., Chattanooga, TN). This steep railway, billed as America's Most Amazing Mile, has been in operation since 1895. It's the type of attraction that will have younger kids wide-eyed and slack-jawed as they sit in a rail car shaped like a staircase and chug up the mountainside gawking at the view along the way.
Creative Discovery Museum
The Creative Discovery Museum (321 Chestnut St., Chattanooga, TN) takes up an entire city block. The building itself is impressive, but the hands-on exhibits, workshops, education programs and adventure activities inside keep kids busy for hours. If you'll be in town for a while, there are extended spring and summer camp programs as well.
While Rock City may be the granddaddy of Chattanooga tourist attractions, the Tennessee Aquarium (1 Broad St., Chattanooga, TN) is the one that helped spark a downtown renaissance in the early 1990s. Located on the banks of the Tennessee River, the aquarium boasts two facilities offering an array of freshwater and saltwater marine life. The public areas outside are also enticing, featuring a waterfall staircase that flows into the river.
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Blake Guthrie covers travel, entertainment and outdoor recreation for many outlets, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he is a regular contributor. With years of experience as a professional cook, Guthrie also relishes writing about food and beverage topics. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications from Auburn University.