Chattanooga: Your Ultimate Guide To Exploring The Scenic City

Chattanooga Tennessee is a great walking town and there is so much to do for every age and interest.  From attractions and museums to mountains and rivers, there is much to explore. Everyone knows about the top places, like the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Tennessee River. Go for the day, or book a room at one of their super hotels….but whatever you do, don’t miss Chattanooga!

chattanooga

 

Adventures | Museums | Attractions | Natural Wonders | Tours | Restaurants

Chattanooga Adventure Vacation

Hang Gliding. We went hang gliding through Great American Days at Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding just outside of town. Beginners start on the ground and are pulled into the air by plane.

Wild Cave Tour . If flying isn’t your thing, head underground for a Wild Cave Tour of Sitton’s Cave at Cloudland Canyon through the Georgia Girl Guides. You’ll get quite muddy, but it is a true adventure.

Outdoor Adventure Rafting. My boys were disappointed that we couldn’t go rafting with Outdoor Adventure Rafting, but you have to be at least 12 years-old and my youngest doesn’t make the cut – yet.

Rock Climbing. Rock climbing is also popular. Chattanooga boasts some of the best climbing in the region. Tennessee Boulder Authority teaches kids how to boulder, which is climbing without ropes. Urban Rocks is the place to go if you want to belay.

Disc Golf. our family isn’t really into traditional golf, but do love to ham it up on a disc golf course. There are several places to throw the disc in Chattanooga…from The Sinks (the signature course of Chattanooga) to the short course at Portland Park.

Horseback Riding. Want to take in the trails with a little help? Try a trail ride with Trails End Ranch. Here, kids younger than 6 can still ride, with an adult. Don’t miss the Ranch and Ride Day Programs at Tennessee Guest Ranch, or a family trail ride at Blanche Manor.

Mountain Biking. Bring your bike for some awesome trails. Try the beginner trails at Raccoon Mountain, or 5-Points which is the newest trail (20 miles!) Find directions, maps and more at SORBA Chattanooga.

Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center. When we hit up Chattanooga, we always make time to explore these 317 acres. Take the Driving Loop first, to acclimate yourself. Then, hike one of the 14 miles of trails. My boys also love the animals and the extra large “eagle’s nest” that you can climb in.

Nearby state parks and historic sites. Don’t miss exploring these state parks near Chattanooga: Booker T Washington, Harrison Bay, Cloudland Canyon, Red Clay and South Cumberland.

 

Chattanooga Downtown Vacation

From our home base at the Chattanoogan, we were able to walk to a host of great attractions in Downtown Chattanooga. We visited five different attractions and didn’t even scratch the surface of what’s available in Chattanooga. There are so many downtown activities in fact, that we’ve broken them up into museums and attractions.

Chattanooga Museums

Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX Theatre. This is a must do for any Chattanooga visit. The website says this is a two hour experience, but we ended up spending most of the day. Read about our adventure and what you can see in our post about the Tennessee Aquarium.

Creative Discovery Museum. This is Chattanooga’s children’s museum. It has won a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for five consecutive years. This is a place where kids are encouraged to touch and play with the exhibits, so it’s a great place to get the wiggles out, have fun and learn a little bit.

Hunter Museum of American Art. Before you head to this museum in Chattanooga, download the Hunter Family Guide for a kid-friendly way to approach the museum. The museum showcases everything from traditional art to modern art and an outdoor sculpture garden. Some of the Hunter Museum sculptures can be found around the city as well. Here is a PDF guide.

Tennessee Train Museum. If your kids love trains, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum ( TVA or TVRM for short) has regularly scheduled rides, but also special events like A Day Out with Thomas and special holiday trains. Take the Missionary Ridge Local and you’ll cross four bridges and pass through the Missionary Ridge Tunnel.

International Towing Museum. If your kids are into trucks, they would love a trip to the International Towing Museum in Chattanooga. You probably didn’t know this, but Chattanooga is credited with being the birthplace of the tow truck.

The Battles for Chattanooga Museum. A visit here is great in combination with a visit to the actual nearby battlefields from the Civil War. A large map and movie give a good overview of the history of the surrounding area.  This museum is right across from Point Park, where the Battle Above the Clouds was fought during the Civil War.

Coker Tire Museum. This free museum has more than just tires. They also have vintage cars, bicycles and motorcycles.


Tennessee Attractions

Walnut Street Bridge. Take a walk across the half-mile pedestrian only bridge. It’s one of the longest in the world, and has lots of fun on both sides.

Coolidge Park. A walk across Walnut Street Bridge from Downtown Chattanooga to the North Shore brings you to Coolidge Park. Bring a few dollars for the old fashioned carousel, which originally resided in Atlanta’s Grant Park. Pack a bathing suit and towel during warm weather to splash in the fountains outside or a Frisbee for the wide lawn.

Chattanooga Carousel. The Carousel is a central feature of Coolidge Park, and adds old fashion charm to the area. Kids can choose to ride one of 52 whimsical hand carved animals.

Stop at the Ice Cream Show. On the Downtown side of Walnut Street Bridge is a locally owned ice cream parlor called the Ice Cream Show. Stop here for a tasty cone or cup with mixed in treats.

Chattanooga Ducks. This is a tour of Chattanooga in an authentic 1940’s land/sea DUCK.  The vehicle has an interesting history, which is one of the reasons I chose this tour. Rosie the Riviter built it in a GMC plant during WWII, while the men were off fighting. There were 20,000 built, but only about 250 left today. The tour is informative, but a little slow for younger children. They did let the kids drive, which was fun and it was fun to see a piece of history first hand, but if you have limited time or younger kids, maybe choose the Children’s Discovery Museum instead.

The Chattanooga Lookouts Baseball. The Chattanooga Lookouts are a Double A minor league baseball team that is affiliated with the Minnesota Twins. The stadium is located in Chattanooga. If you plan to attend a game with a child under 12, consider purchasing a Little Lookouts Club membership for them. It includes tickets to Sunday games, autograph sessions, t-shirt and more.

The Chattanooga Zoo. Although this zoo is small, it packs a lot in, and is easy to get around. In addition to animals like a snow leopard, puma, and chimpanzees (a giraffe exhibit is coming in 2018), they also have a carousel, train and even camel rides (for an additional fee). Be sure to bring some quarters to feed the animals in the petting zoo.

Historic Battlefields. If you are into history, Chattanooga has a lot to offer. The Chickamauga and Chattahoochee National Military Park gives the history of a turning point in the American Civil War.  If you have kids, be sure to ask about a Junior Ranger booklet. Complete the book and kids get a special badge. You can also pick up free trading cards unique to the site. Time things just right and you can see the re-enactment for the nearby Battle of Resaca. If you have never been to a Civil War re-enactment, it is an amazing experience. You can feel the guns go off and smell the smoke.

River Gallery Sculpture Garden. Mix in a fabulous free activity into your Chattanooga visit with a trip to the River Gallery and Sculpture Garden located in the River Bluff Arts District (where the Hunter Museum of Art is located). When you are done looking at the sculptures, take a break in the many café’s. We even enjoyed a relaxing game of bocce at the Bluff View Inn.

The Chattanooga Market. The Chattanooga Farmer’s Market is open on Sundays from late April and goes through November. This is another great free event that will give you a taste for the local community. All vendors are local producers. Can’t get enough? Try the Chattanooga River Market on Saturdays near the Aquarium, the Collegedale Market on Wednesday and Saturday and the Cambridge Square Market in Ooltewah. There is a special Holiday Market held at the Chattanooga Convention Center too.

Bike Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System. A great way to see Chattanooga is to get bike rental. There are several bike rentals in the city, but if you are 16-years or older, you can take advantage of the city’s bike transit system. Simple purchase a 24-hour, 3-day or annual membership. Find a docking station, borrow a bike, then return it to the same or another docking station around the city. I did this in Birmingham and it was easy and a fun way to explore. There are over 33 bike stations throughout Chattanooga.

Moon Pie General Store. It’s a soft marshmallow between two round graham crackers that is then dipped in chocolate. This classic treat was invented in Chattanooga.  If you are a fan (or even if you aren’t) you need to stop at the Moon Pie General Store for a fresh Moon Pie and RC cola – a true Southern treat. You’ll also find vintage candy and other fun treats here.

Chattanooga Choo Choo.  While personally not my favorite place for an over-night, we do love visiting during the day. Walk the gardens (beautiful in spring,) ride the trolley around the grounds and hear the story of this famous railroad, examine the trains, and check out the miniature railroad and museum.

 

rock city

Photo courtesy of Rock City Gardens

Chattanooga Natural Wonders

People have been vacationing in Chattanooga for decades. Here are some vintage attractions that have stood the test of time and still entertaining visitors.

See Rock CitySee Rock City has graced the roofs of barns since the 30’s drawing people to this natural wonder. The amazing rock formations are still a highlight even after 80 years.

Ruby FallsRuby Falls is the perfect introduction to caving. It’s a guided tour that is fun for all ages and the Falls is truly spectacular.

Lookout Mountain Incline RailwayBlogger Krystyn Hall spent a day in Chattanooga and visited Rock City first thing before it got too hot, then she took a trip down the Incline Railroad. She reported that it was steep and fun, and the kids thought it was a hoot. Make sure to get ice cream at the bottom, but take a little walk across the street and save some money! Then, drive over to Ruby Falls and enjoy the cool temps underground. Her Tips. Go early. The wait can be long. Or bring snacks or games for the lines if you have kiddos.

Chattanooga Tours You Can’t Miss

Cemetery Ghost Hunt. Join a bonafide paranormal investigator on a ghost hunt in Chattanooga, complete with high tech EMF detectors, infrared temperature guns, K-II meters, Mel Meter and more. Take the adult-only tour, or bring kids 10 and older on the downtown hunt

Pedaling Bar. It’s a pedal tour of the city; it’s a bar crawl on wheels. Pints and Pedals will take you on a tour of the coolest spots on the Southside (Downtown coming soon!) You don’t need a minimum to book, but the pedaling is easier with six people so bring your friends.

Chattanooga Riverboat. A cruise of the sights, a lunch tour or a dinner cruise…take your pick with Southern Belle. Cruises last 1.5 – 2 hours, depending on the type.

River Gorge Explorer. If you’re more interested in a yacht than a riverboat, then try the Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer. The two-hour cruise is lead by a naturalist who shares history and nature with you from the air-conditioned cabin. Great day to be outside? No worries – there is a gorgeous observation deck.

Blue Heaven River ToursThis is the way to really explore the water in Chattanooga! It’s a private tour (up to 6 people) that allows you to see the sights…but also swim, tube, fish! You can bring your own food and drinks (wink wink) or have them drop you at a restaurant on the water for lunch or dinner.

Chattanooga Cycleboats. Take the 1-hour cruise with the family. Out on the water you’ll cycle your way around river. Bring your own food, drinks…whatever you want!

Eat. Sip. Walk. If your looking for a way to take on the food scene in Chattanooga, this is it! Select from the Southside Tour on Saturdays or the Downtown Tour on Thursdays. The walking tours range from 2-3 hours and include 4-5 different eateries.

 

tupelo honey

Photo courtesy of Tupelo Honey

Awesome Chattanooga Restaurants

There are almost 700 Chattanooga restaurants according to TripAdvisor. Many of those local establishments are committed to locally sourced food, and they are delicious. Here are a few of our favorite options. You can find more in our post on 10+ Kid-Friendly Chattanooga Restaurants Parents Love

Tupelo HoneyI have not had the pleasure of eating at Tupelo Honey in Chattanooga, but I did eat at the original restaurant in Asheville and it was an experience that stayed with me. I can’t tell you wants on the menu, because it changes with the seasons. What I can tell you is it’s made from scratch, and a heralded Sunday brunch. As a bonus, they do craft cocktails too.

The Terminal BrewhouseThis brewhouse is located in a funky triangle shaped historic building and has a rooftop patio offering a great view of the iconic Chattanooga Choo Choo sign. The menu has a lot of variety from pizza to burgers, and their home brew is quite tasty.
Chattanooga is a great walking town and there is so much to do for everyone. From attractions & museums to mountains & rivers, there is much to explore.

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