Last fall, my family and I temporarily relocated to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We seized on a rare opportunity to live somewhere else for a month, while my husband now works from home and our daughters do remote school. We explored the area on evenings and weekends, and also spent some time downtown (Here are my favorite spots downtown). After our month of exploration, here are some of the best things to do around the Chattanooga area.
Tourists can easily spend two days on Lookout Mountain, with everything that the area has to offer. Stretching across two states (Tennessee and Georgia), with three tourist attractions (Incline Railway, Rock City, and Ruby Falls), home to a Civil War battlefield and a National Military Park, Lookout Mountain also is a popular neighborhood with a cohesive community. Here are a few highlights of Lookout Mountain:
Run by the National Park Service, Point Park is a ten acre battlefield memorial atop Lookout Mountain. This park encompasses the “Chattanooga” section of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, with the “Chickamauga” section thirty minutes away in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia (more information below). Not only does this area provide amazing views of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River, but it also overlooks a pivotal Civil War battlefield that took place on the mountain in 1863. While Confederate soldiers were situated atop Lookout Mountain, they were able to watch the Union soldiers in the valley below. When the two armies clashed for control of the city, what resulted is known as the “Battle Above the Clouds,” which was won by the Union.
Even if you aren’t a history buff, this is still a fantastic park with scenic views. Come on a clear day with suitable weather for an amazing glimpse of the area. Admission to the Visitor Center is free, but entrance to the park is $7 for adults 16 and older. The site is open from sunrise to sunset. Most visits last about 30-90 minutes here. I would definitely recommend a visit to Point Park for visitors.
My family and I opted not to visit the Incline Railway, Rock City, and Ruby Falls due to Covid and limited timing, but they are some of the most popular tourist attractions in the Chattanooga area. Here’s some helpful info:
A unique feature of Lookout Mountain is its Incline Railway, a 125 year old funicular railway with a 72.7% grade. If you don’t want to drive up the mountain, you can park at the bottom of the railway and experience a unique ride to the top. Once on top, enjoy panoramic views from the railway station and take a short walk to shopping and Point Park. The railway is about a mile long and offers food and gifts at both their top and bottom stations. Click here for more information.
Rock City is a popular outdoor attraction located on the Georgia side of Lookout Mountain. Here you can see ancient rock formations, scenic views that are said to span 7 states, gardens with over 400 species of plants and trees, and fairyland caverns. Opt to visit when the weather is nice since the attraction is outdoors. Purchase tickets online for timed entries at Seerockcity.com.
Ruby Falls is America’s tallest and deepest underground waterfall that is open to the public and available for tours. This site, open since the 1930’s, has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Descend to 1120 feet underground to experience a guided tour of the waterfall and surrounding caverns. Tours range $22.95 for adults, $12.95 for kids 3-12, and reservations are taken for timed entries. Note that the caves are not stroller and handicap accessible. See more at the Ruby Falls website.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is a Civil War memorial park that has two separate locations. The Chattanooga section, Point Park on Lookout Mountain, was discussed earlier. The second section is about a 30 minute drive from Point Park, located at the Chickamauga Battlefield in Georgia.
The area consisting of and surrounding Chattanooga was crucial to the Confederate Army due to its location on the Tennessee River and because 4 major railroads intersected here. Because of its pivotal location, if the Union Army could gain control here, it would cripple Confederate supply lines and gain the upper hand. In the end, the Union Army lost this battle at Chickamauga, ending its offensive move southbound. This battle claimed the second highest number of casualties for the war.
At this National Military Park, there is a small Visitor Center and a 7 mile driving tour of the grounds. Visit the key sites, monuments, and historical markers. You can even get guided commentary by dialing a phone number while touring to get helpful information at each location.
Also part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is Signal Point, a lookout area that was pivotal during the Civil War. Signal Point was a key communications station, with Union soldiers sending complex signals to others on high ground from this spot. The messages conveyed here provided quick communication to other sections of the Union Army. Now, Signal Point is a popular for hikers, runners, and outdoor enthusiasts. Here you’ll get excellent views of the Tennessee River and the surrounding valley.
Because Chattanooga is located in between the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau, there are numerous things to do in the outdoors. Whether you like to hike, rock climb, bike, kayak, boat, or explore caves, Chattanooga is definitely a great place for outdoor enthusiasts.
With 6 state parks within an hour of Chattanooga, it’s easy to escape the day-to-day grind and head outdoors. We visited South Cumberland State Park to hike Foster Falls, one of several waterfalls in the area. This one park alone has over 30,000 acres of green space that’s popular with hikers and backpackers.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, rock climber, or are just looking to spend some time in nature, the Chattanooga area is the perfect place to visit! Check out the Tennessee State Park website for more information.
In the vast distance of the Chattanooga skyline, you may catch a glimpse of the Great Smoky Mountains. Spanning across eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, the Smoky Mountains are about a 3-4 hour drive from Chattanooga, depending on what portion of the park you are visiting. We headed here for a weekend of backpacking near Fontana Dam, NC so our drive was a bit shorter.
These ancient mountains are America’s most popular national park, with an abundance of hiking trails, a rich diversity in both plant and animal life, and even has some historic buildings.
Even if you’re not interested in a multi-day backpacking trip in the Smokies, there are plenty of things to see and areas to enjoy in the Smoky Mountains. Check out Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the national park, complete with observation tower. You can also visit numerous waterfalls, fish, go horseback riding, hike, camp, visit a historic settlement and more. Check out the NPS website for more info.
There is much to see and do in Chattanooga, Tennessee!