Nicknamed the “Scenic City,” Chattanooga, TN is a beautiful destination located along the Tennessee River surrounded by mountain views, beautiful waterfalls and miles of trails.
I’m sharing more about fun things to do and iconic attractions to check out during your visit, along with lesser known hidden gems in the Chattanooga area.
Journey to Ruby Falls Located Beneath Lookout Mountain
1720 South Scenic Hwy, Chattanooga, TN
If you love chasing waterfalls, you’ll definitely want to add Ruby Falls to your list!
Ruby Falls is a very popular attraction for all ages. Multiple generations of families have come back to experience the natural beauty together with the next generation.
Ruby falls is the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States.
Temperatures in the cave are around 60 degrees year-round so you might want to pack a jacket depending on when you visit.
Guided Tour of Ruby Falls
Your adventure starts by descending 26 stories in a glass front elevator, which is the tallest elevator shaft in Chattanooga. The elevator goes really fast in case that’s a concern.
One of the guides shared that most guests who are uncomfortable in tight spaces determine if they can handle the narrow cavern trail within moments of exiting the elevator. (Everyone in our group was fine without any issues.)
All visitors at Ruby Falls must take a guided tour to the falls. Your guide will share more about the cave and point out unique formations along the way to the falls.
Inside the Ruby Falls Cave you’ll see stalagmite, column, stalactite, flowstone, and drapery natural rock formations.
One of the wonderful things about this tour is the sense of humor found in many of the rock formation’s names.
How Long is the Guided Tour at Ruby Falls?
The guided tour lasts about 1-1.5 hrs and guests walk close to a mile round trip. Guests who take the tour need to be able to walk for 1.5 hours. It’s a half mile walk to the waterfall, out and back.
During the tour, your guide will also point out lower sections of the cave so that you don’t hit your head.
The anticipation definitely builds along the way as you wait to enter the area of the cave where the waterfall is. You can see the beauty of the 145 ft waterfall through a variety of colored lights that change during your viewing.
When you reach Ruby Falls, you are 1120 ft beneath Lookout Mountain’s surface.
Cave Tours and Special Events at Ruby Falls
The cave opened for tours in 1930 and there are Cave Walk tours to the waterfall available everyday. There are also speciality tours available, including lantern tours, if you want to experience the cave in a new light like Leo Lambert did back in 1928 when he discovered the falls.
Throughout the year there are different themed events, including Christmas and Valentine’s Day, that are very popular.
Tickets for Ruby Falls are only available online in advance and tickets are for a timed entry to the cave. This is a very popular spot and tours sell out quickly so try to book your tour before your visit.
The first tour of the day tends to be the tour with the least amount of people on it. Group tours have up to 38 people in them.
Check Out the Blue Heron Overlook Color Blind View Finder at Ruby Falls
Ruby Falls is one of 12 locations in the state of Tennessee with a Color Blind Viewer at the scenic overlook.
The Color Blind Viewer allows the viewer to experience a broader range of vibrant colors while taking in the panoramic views. This is thanks to the technology of the special lenses that help alleviate red-green colorblindness.
The technology of the EnChroma special lenses alleviates red-green colorblindness in order to see a broader range of the vibrant picturesque foliage just as it appears to individuals with typical color vision.
Admission to Ruby Falls also includes access to Blue Heron Overlook which has breathtaking views.
Explore Rock City Gardens
1400 Patten Road, Lookout Mountain, GA
Don’t let the Georgia address mislead you. Lookout Mountain is only 6 miles away, within 15 minutes of downtown Chattanooga.
This natural attraction with beautiful scenery is definitely worth visiting as it’s often described as “created by God, enhanced by men.”
Unique Marketing for Rock City Gardens
Since 1935, Rock City used an iconic marketing campaign. They painted barns across the country saying, “See Rock City.” At one time there were over 900 barns across the country advertising Rock City. Now there are close to 50 that remain.
One of those barn signs is on display at my favorite museum in Cincinnati, the American Sign Museum.
Rock City Gardens Enchanted Trail
Rock City Gardens is an enchanted, 4,100-foot walking trail filled with natural scenic treasures that takes guests through the 14-acre property.
For the narrow rock formation passages, like “Fat Man’s Squeeze,” there are alternative options if you don’t like tight spaces or if you have a wheelchair or stroller.
Rock City Gardens is truly one-of-a-kind and unlike anywhere else with scenic views at every angle.
As you walk along the trail you’ll see art, interesting doors, and travel through caverns and passageways.
And you’ll have so many reasons to take pictures with more than 400 different species of wildflowers, plants, shrubs and trees, a 140-foot waterfall, caves and incredible rock formations.
How Long Does it Take to Walk Through the Enchanted Trail?
The average self-guided walking tour along the Enchanted Trail is not necessarily a short hike; it takes between 60-90 minutes. It may take longer if you like to take a lot of pictures and sit and enjoy some of the best views.
If heights aren’t an issue for you, I’d recommend walking across the 180-foot long “Swing-A-Long” suspension bridge for a great view of the valley below.
You also have an option to walk across the rock bridge instead. For the best of both worlds, walk across both bridges for two different experiences.
Throughout the trail you’ll see different perspectives of Lover’s Leap and High Falls. This is a perfect spot to see bald eagles on a clear day.
You also have opportunities to appreciate the 140-foot waterfall up-close and from afar.
Rock City Gardens was the vision of Garnet and Frieda Carter. They lived on Lookout Mountain and opened the public attraction on May 21, 1932 during the Great Depression.
Each turn on the trail leads to one surprise after another. The uniqueness of this outdoor attraction exceeded my expectations in every way.
Rock City Gardens is Pet-Friendly
If you are traveling with a pet, you’ll be happy to learn Rock City Gardens is a pet-friendly attraction. Any leashed pets are welcome to walk the Enchanted Trail or to dine in Café 7 with you.
I’ve heard several unusual pets have visited the gardens on a leash over the years including parrots, lizards, and goats.
See Seven States From Lover’s Leap
On a clear day, this is the perfect place to see up to seven states (TN, KY, NC, SC, GA, AL) from the area known as Lover’s Leap, which sits 1,700 ft above sea level.
We obviously didn’t visit on a clear day, but it was still a great place to visit even with the fog.
View the Enchanted Garden of Lights Around the Holidays
If you visit around the holidays, make sure you check out the Enchanted Garden of Lights, featuring hundreds of thousands of LED lights.
Guests are recommended to allow 90 minutes to experience the event route that’s about a mile long.
Don’t Skip Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village
Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village was definitely an unexpected surprise!
Kids will enjoy recognizing scenes from famous fairytales and folklore from around the world along the way. Be on the lookout for the famous gnomes too.
The colorful nursery rhyme scenes in Mother Goose Village date back to 1964. They are displayed in darkness under multiple black lights, but it’s not scary.
Experience “America’s Most Amazing Mile” at Lookout Mountain Incline Rail Line.
Bottom station (street level) – 3917 St Elmo Avenue, Chattanooga, TN
The Incline Railway is a 125-year old funicular railway system that takes you to the top of Lookout Mountain.
“America’s Most Amazing Mile” is on a single track system that is about one mile long.
Our journey to the top of Lookout Mountain started at street level. Inside the incline car, the seats are set up with two seats on each side. The tilted chair angle and glass ceiling makes for incredible panoramic views on your way up. There really isn’t a bad seat when it comes to viewing.
During the ride the train cars are both counter-balanced to operate at one time with the exception of the passing loop in the middle.
The ride up the mountain is very smooth, traveling at just under 10mph.
If you turn around to look back you’ll be amazed as the rail car reaches the steep 72.2 % grade toward the top section of the track.
How long is the Incline Ride?
A one-way ride on the Incline takes about 15 minutes and the trains leave the station about every 20 minutes. It’s recommended that you allow about an hour for a round-trip ride and viewing time from the observation deck.
On a clear day you can enjoy scenic views of the mountains during your ride up the mountain and from the observation tower at the Incline’s top station.
Unfortunately, it was really foggy during our visit, but it did create a mysterious vibe for our pictures.
Make sure that you check out the collection of images of the Incline over the years along the hallway near the bathrooms at the upper station.
Explore Downtown With a Bike Rental from Bike Chattanooga
You can get exercise and enjoy the scenery along the Tennessee River Park and downtown riverfront.
The 10-mile bike pathway allows cyclists and mountain bikers to experience a variety of terrain and scenic drives throughout downtown Chattanooga and along the Tennessee River Park.
Bike Chattanooga makes bike riding affordable and accessible with over 400 bikes and 42 bike stations located throughout the city.
Bike Chattanooga has 345 regular bikes and 55 e-bikes (electric bikes.) The Boost E-Bikes can reach speeds up to 16 mph with a battery life of 37 miles. The E-Fit E-bikes can reach speeds up to 20 mph with a battery life of 44 miles.
During your ride you can take unlimited 60-minute trips while your pass or membership is active. If you ride longer than 60 minutes overage fees apply.
To avoid the fees, dock your bike in any of the bike stations within the 60 minute timeframe. Then, unlock another bike to continue riding for another 60 minutes. Bike Chattanooga riders must be at least 16 years old to ride.
If you are traveling with a purse or backpack, the designated luggage area on the front of the bike is a great place to secure your items using a bungee strap.
Bike riders are encouraged to bring (and wear) their own helmet because helmets aren’t supplied by Bike Chattanooga.
If you are on the road make sure that you ride with the flow of traffic. You’ll find that the city of Chattanooga is very bike-friendly with over 300 miles of infrastructure.
One of the best things is that the bike lane areas next to the sidewalk also have a curb barrier to the left.
Appreciate Artwork in a Variety of Mediums at The Hunter Museum of American Art
10 Bluff View Ave, Chattanooga, TN
The Hunter Museum of American Art surprised me in a good way, starting with the outside of the building.
I assumed that the art museum was only held inside the modern shaped building, but discovered that the museum also included the Mansion/former home of wealthy insurance broker, Ross Faxon, dating back to 1905.
Inside the museum, you’ll discover art in an assortment of mediums including sculpture, paintings, prints, video, mixed media, and prints.
I loved the diversity reflected in both the art and the artists featured in each room to help reflect a fuller story of American art of the time periods.
I had to do a double take when I walked by this life-like wax sculpture pictured above. The detail was even more impressive when looking up-close, especially the aging of her hands.
There are open spaces within the museum, but also a special section where kids can create art.
The Hunter Museum of American Art houses both permanent collections and special exhibits throughout the year.
From various exhibit rooms in the museum, you’ll see scenic views of the Tennessee River.
The museum is also a very popular venue for weddings and special events because of its prime location and views.
Take a Walk on the Walnut Street Bridge
1 Walnut St, Chattanooga, TN
The Walnut Street pedestrian bridge is located over the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga.
There is easy access to the Walnut Street Bridge from the walkway near the Hunter Museum of American Art.
I especially loved the view of the zig zag walkway from both the museum and bridge at night.
The Walnut Street Bridge is 2,376 feet long and is one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. The bridge was built in 1890 to connect downtown Chattanooga with North Chattanooga.
This is one of the best places for both locals and tourists alike to take a walk during the day and at night.
Wander Around the River Gallery Sculpture Garden in the Bluff View Art District
400 East Second Street, Chattanooga, TN
Bluff View Art District is a historic neighborhood made up of 1.5 city blocks, including restaurants, an art gallery and garden, and bed & breakfast.
The River Gallery Sculpture Garden was designed by landscape architect, Joe Baasch. The two-acre outdoor garden features a private collection of contemporary American sculpture.
You can take a self-guided tour of the space and learn more about the works of the artists including Ernest Trova, Allan Houser, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Serra, Arnaldo Pomodoro, and Leonard Baskin.
From the gardens you can enjoy nice views of the Tennessee River.
Guests can visit River Gallery Sculpture Garden free of charge from dusk to dawn everyday, excluding major holidays.
Umbrella Alley in West Village
298-200 W 8th St, Chattanooga, TN
If you are looking for an Instagram worthy photo spot, you’ll want to visit Umbrella Alley. The Umbrella Alley has an assortment of colorful umbrellas in solid colors that make for beautiful photos during the day and at night.
If you experience the Umbrella Alley art installation at night, it’s really magical with strings of icicles and white lights.
Take a Picture With the Chattanooga Wings by Kelsey Montague
1501 Long Street, Chattanooga, TN
You may have previously seen Kelsey Montague’s What Lifts You Angel Wings mural in Nashville. Now, you can add a picture with the angel wings during your visit to Chattanooga too!
Kelsey Montague’s work is very popular and she has murals located all over the world.
You simply stand in the middle of wings and strike a pose. Check out the hashtag #MarketSouth on Instagram for additional pose ideas.
Visit the Chattanooga Choo Choo Preserved Railroad Facility
1400 Market St, Chattanooga, TN
The Chattanooga Choo Choo is the site of a former train station that includes a historic hotel, which is listed on National Register of Historic Places.
The 24-acre campus now also operates as an entertainment complex that includes restaurants, bars, music venues, a distillery, and retail shops.
If you want to stay overnight, the Choo Choo has both traditional hotel rooms and unique Pullman Train Cars to sleep in.
Chattanooga’s Terminal Station dates back to 1906 and has been graced by several presidents. Over the years, demand for train service declined as automobiles grew in popularity. That later put the building at risk for being demolished in the 1970’s.
Thankfully, local businessmen invested money to help reopen the building including the Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel. The hotel was inspired by the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” song.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra made the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” more well known with their song of the same name that became popular around the world in the late 1940’s.
Explore the Tennessee Aquarium
One Broad Street, Chattanooga, TN
Located in the heart of downtown Chattanooga along the riverfront, Tennessee Aquarium is home to 10,000 animals.
One building wasn’t enough to contain all of the aquatic life at Tennessee Aquarium. Therefore, your admission includes a visit to both the River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings.
Tennessee Aquarium is one of the world’s largest freshwater aquariums.
During your visit, you’ll learn about aquatic life and animals that are native to Tennessee as well as animals and ecosystems around the world.
The mission of the Tennessee Aquarium is to connect people with nature and empower them to make informed decisions about water and wildlife.
It’s recommended that you plan for at least 2 hours for your visit to the aquarium because there is so much to see!
Animal highlights include amphibians, birds, butterflies, fish, and invertebrates.
The two buildings encompass everything from the mountains to the sea, but focus on rivers and oceans.
Tickets to the aquarium are time-entry and can be purchased online in advance.
Enjoy a Tour and Tasting at Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery
1439 Market Street, Chattanooga, TN
The Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery is the first distillery to craft whiskey in Chattanooga in over 100 years.
There are two ways to experience their hand-crafted bourbons: the “Traditional Tour & Tasting” or the “Whiskey Flight Tasting.” Due to the popularity of these tours, it’s recommended that you make reservations in advanced because the tours often sell out.
During the tour you’ll learn about the ingredients as well as the cooking, fermenting, distilling, and aging processes.
The distillery tour lasts about an hour and includes a tasting for ages 21+ and up.
Of course, the best part of the tour is the whiskey tasting that includes a one-of-a-kind whiskey flight. You can take notes during your whiskey tasting to help determine your favorites to purchase later.
What makes Chattanooga Whiskey’s Experimental Distillery the only distillery of its kind in the country is that you can try experimental small batch whiskey that you can’t get anywhere else.
Stay at The Read House
107 W M.L.K. Blvd, Chattanooga, TN
The Read House is a fusion of the Gatsby era/ Roaring 20’s vibe mixed with modern day comforts.
If its walls could talk, there would be a LOT to share as it is the longest continuously operating hotel in the southeast.
The hotel, built in 1872, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places after enduring floods, epidemics, The Civil War and the Great Depression.
Famous overnight guests include Oprah Winfrey, Ronald Regan, Elvis, Bing Crosby, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and Winston Churchill.
As you enter the dimly lit two-story lobby, the chandeliers and decor really set the tone for your visit. This building is full of beautiful architecture and style!
There is ample seating on both the lower and upper levels of the lobby.
The art in the hallway and inside each room is also notable and in line with the overall theme.
Three dining options at The Read House include Bridgeman’s Chophouse, Bar and Billiards and Starbucks.
Be on the lookout for the entry to the hidden billiard room located near the side of the bar.
Take a Guided Tour of Room 311
If you love to learn about true crimes and the paranormal, ask to take a tour of room 311 during your stay.
The manual lock on this door is a physical key which is what hotel guests would have used back in 1927.
If you are feeling REALLY brave you can book a stay in room 311. Guests and staff have reported a lot of paranormal activity in the room as it is the site of a murder that was committed by a jealous lover.
Another noteworthy guest of room 311 is Al Capone who stayed at the Read Hotel during his federal trail in the 1930s. He couldn’t escape during his stay because of the custom bars on the hotel room windows.
Don’t worry, you can’t book this room on accident. Anyone who chooses to sleep in this room knows what they are getting into ahead of time.
The room is only open for overnight stays a few times a year and many guests have NOT been able to complete a full night in the room.
That’s a big NOPE for me. So imagine my surprise when I found out my room was on the third floor.
I’m happy to report that I didn’t have any issues and I slept great. Truth is, I even took a nap in my room (which I never do) and slept fantastically because the bed was SO COMFORTABLE.
In fact, the bed is so comfortable hotel staff have taken a picture of the mattress tag because guests often ask about the mattresses.
Which Adventure in Chattanooga Do You Want to Try First?
Chattanooga offers visitors a wide variety of things to do, ranging from art to outdoor adventures.