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Top Attractions and Hidden Gems Around Chattanooga, TN

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.

Thanks again to Geiger & Associates and Visit Chattanooga for hosting my visit. This article contains affiliate links.

Ruby Falls waterfall

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 Cave with colored lights

Ruby falls is the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States.

Ruby Falls guided cave tour

Temperatures in the cave are around 60 degrees year-round so you might want to pack a jacket depending on when you visit.

Ruby Falls Cave

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.

Donkey cave formation at Ruby Falls Cave

Inside the Ruby Falls Cave you’ll see stalagmite, column, stalactite, flowstone, and drapery natural rock formations.

Steak and potatoes formation at Ruby Falls Cave

One of the wonderful things about this tour is the sense of humor found in many of the rock formation’s names.

Ruby Falls in colored lights

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.

Ruby Falls Cave with colored lights

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.

Ruby Falls Cave with lights

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.

Color Blind Viewer at Ruby Falls

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.

Rock City Gardens

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.

Rock City Gardens

This natural attraction with beautiful scenery is definitely worth visiting as it’s often described as “created by God, enhanced by men.”

see rock city sign at American Sign Museum in Cincinnati Ohio

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.

tight squeeze at Rock City Gardens

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 bridge at Rock City Gardens

Rock City Gardens is truly one-of-a-kind and unlike anywhere else with scenic views at every angle.

trail at Rock City Gardens

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.

giant door at Rock City Gardens

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.

swinging bridge at Rock City Gardens

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.

swinging bridge at Rock City Gardens

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.

High Falls at Rock City Gardens

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.

High Falls at Rock City Gardens
High Falls at Rock City Gardens

You also have opportunities to appreciate the 140-foot waterfall up-close and from afar.

Adventure Mom Nedra McDaniel at Rock city Gardens

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.

Rock City Gardens

Each turn on the trail leads to one surprise after another. The uniqueness of this outdoor attraction exceeded my expectations in every way.

red door at Rock City Gardens

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 at Rock City Gardens

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 sits1,700 ft above sea level.

See seven states at Rock City Gardens

We obviously didn’t visit on a clear day, but it was still a great place to visit even with the fog.

Christmas lights at Rock City Gardens

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.

 Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village at Rock City Gardens

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.

Mother Goose Village at Rock City Gardens

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.

Lookout Mountain Incline Rail Line

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.

Lookout Mountain Incline Rail Line

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.

Lookout Mountain Incline Rail Line

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.

Lookout Mountain Incline Rail Line

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.

view from Lookout Mountain

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.

old photographs of Lookout Mountain Incline Rail Line

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.

Bike Rental from Bike Chattanooga

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.

Tennessee River Park downtown Chattanooga

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.

bicycle transit station for Bike Chattanooga

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.

bike rentals from Bike Chattanooga

Pricing options include a daily pass, 3 day pass, or annual pass. You can look on the System Map or check one of the mobile apps for bike availability.

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.

scenic bike ride with rentals from Bike Chattanooga

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.

sculpture by bike rental from Bike Chattanooga

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.

bike lane in downtown 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.

The Hunter Museum of American Art

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.

sculpture at The Hunter Museum of American Art

paintings at The Hunter Museum of American Art

Inside the museum, you’ll discover art in an assortment of mediums including sculpture, paintings, prints, video, mixed media, and prints.

paintings at The Hunter Museum of American Art

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.

wax sculpture at The Hunter Museum of American Art

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.

glass art at The Hunter Museum of American Art

Kids area Hunter Museum of American art

There are open spaces within the museum, but also a special section where kids can create art.

quilt at The Hunter Museum of American Art

The Hunter Museum of American Art houses both permanent collections and special exhibits throughout the year.

view from inside The Hunter Museum of American Art

From various exhibit rooms in the museum, you’ll see scenic views of the Tennessee River.

view from inside The Hunter Museum of American Art

view from The Hunter Museum of American Art

view from The Hunter Museum of American Art

The museum is also a very popular venue for weddings and special events because of its prime location and views.

View of Walnut Street Bridge at night fromThe Hunter Museum of American Art

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.

Walnut Street Bridge at night

walkway near the Hunter Museum of American Art

There is easy access to the Walnut Street Bridge from the walkway near the Hunter Museum of American Art.

View of Walnut Street Bridge at night fromThe Hunter Museum of American Art

I especially loved the view of the zig zag walkway from both the museum and bridge at night.

zig zag walkway in downtown Chattanooga 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.

Walnut Street Bridge at night

This is one of the best places for both locals and tourists alike to take a walk during the day and at night.

River Gallery Sculpture Garden

Wander Around theRiver 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.

River Gallery Sculpture Garden

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.

River Gallery Sculpture Garden

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.

River Gallery Sculpture Garden

Guests can visit River Gallery Sculpture Garden free of charge from dusk to dawn everyday, excluding major holidays.

Umbrella Alley Chattanooga TN

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.

Umbrella Alley Chattanooga TN

If you experience the Umbrella Alley art installation at night, it’s really magical with strings of icicles and white lights.

Chattanooga Wings by Kelsey Montague

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.

Chattanooga Wings by Kelsey Montague

You simply stand in the middle of wings and strike a pose. Check out the hashtag #MarketSouth on Instagram for additional pose ideas.

Chattanooga Choo Choo preserved railroad facility

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 onNational 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.

near Chattanooga Choo Choo at night

If you want to stay overnight, the Choo Choo has both traditional hotel rooms and unique Pullman Train Cars to sleep in.

ceiling at Chattanooga Choo Choo preserved railroad facility

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.

ceiling at Chattanooga Choo Choo preserved railroad facility

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.

YouTube video

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.

 Tennessee Aquarium

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.

unique bridge walkway near Tennessee Aquarium

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.

exhibits at Tennessee Aquarium

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.

exhibit at Tennessee Aquarium

The mission of the Tennessee Aquarium is to connect people with nature and empower them to make informed decisions about water and wildlife.

alligator at Tennessee Aquarium

colorful lizard at Tennessee Aquarium

It’s recommended that you plan for at least 2 hours for your visit to the aquarium because there is so much to see!

butterfly exhibit at Tennessee Aquarium

turtle nursery at Tennessee Aquarium

Animal highlights include amphibians, birds, butterflies, fish, and invertebrates.

exhibit at Tennessee Aquarium

exhibit at Tennessee Aquarium

The two buildings encompass everything from the mountains to the sea, but focus on rivers and oceans.  

butterfly exhibit at Tennessee Aquarium

Tickets to the aquarium are time-entry and can be purchased online in advance.

Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery

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.

whiskey barrels at Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery

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.

Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery

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.

whiskey tasting at Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery

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.

front entrance for The Read House

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.

lobby of The Read House

If its walls could talk, there would be a LOT to share as it is the longest continuously operating hotel in the southeast.

chandelier at The Read House

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.

chandelier at The Read House

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!

lobby at The Read House

There is ample seating on both the lower and upper levels of the lobby.

art in hallway at The Read House

The art in the hallway and inside each room is also notable and in line with the overall theme.

bar at The Read House

Three dining options at The Read House include Bridgeman’s Chophouse, Bar and Billiards and Starbucks.

billiard room at The Read House

Be on the lookout for the entry to the hidden billiard room located near the side of the bar.

key for room 311 at The Read House

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. 

bathroom in room 311 at The Read House

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.

bedroom in room 311 at The Read House

Al Capone picture in room 311 at the Read hotel

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.

room 311 at the Read hotel

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.

antique phone in room 311 at The Read House

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.

room at The Read House

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. You can save on your stay at the Reed House here. 

man biking in Chattanooga

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.

Save on Your Hotel in Chattanooga

You can save on your hotel in Chattanooga by clicking on the interactive link above.

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2 thoughts on “Top Attractions and Hidden Gems Around Chattanooga, TN”

  1. This Chattanooga, TN guide is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!

  2. Hi Nendra,

    Your article really spoke to my inner traveler. Although I haven’t been traveling much after the pandemic, reading your article is really making me excited about doing it again. I never knew Chattanooga could be this amazing. Thanks to your post, I have added it to my list of destinations, and I will be visiting very soon. The Ruby falls look amazing, I can’t wait to go there and experience the beauty myself. Thanks for curating this article and giving me a gem to visit someday.

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