Chattanooga is just a two and a half hour drive from Atlanta, Georgia and sits in the southeast corner Tennessee. Lookout Mountain is only a few minutes from downtown and one of the most fascinating things about it is that it combines a man-made tourist attraction with nature. It’s a mountain and a town with three main attractions: Ruby Falls, Rock City and the Incline Railway. All three are located on the mountain, are very easy to get to and are family friendly.
The falls and caves for Ruby
The discount combo ticket package can be purchased online or when you arrive, and it includes all three sites. Ruby Falls should be your first stop. There’s a guided tour that will take you down into the caves, eventually leading to the underground falls. The most fascinating thing about Ruby Falls for me was that it has been open as a tourist attraction for almost one hundred years. Sometimes a place ends up as a tourist attraction, but wasn’t necessarily envisioned to be that from the beginning. Ruby Falls is just that. Leo Lambert, a cave enthusiast who lived in the 1920s, envisioned reopening the closed caves as a tourist attraction. He discovered the hidden cave and waterfall, naming them both after his wife.
The tour begins with an elevator ride over 250 feet down into the entrance of the caves. This tour is very family friendly and good for all ages. This is a proper cave system, but the rough edges have been smoothed out for tourists, so to speak. It kind of has a Disneyland feel to it with all of the colorful lights, so it will definitely appeal to children. The tour is about an hour and weaves through the underground cave system with the tour guide giving you the history of the mountain, caves and the falls.
The falls are at the end of the tour, where you can stop to take pictures before heading back through the caves to the elevator. Though it’s a bit anticlimactic because of the light show and the rush of the groups to get pictures, it’s definitely worth the trip to see the largest underground waterfall in America and deepest commercial cave.
The next stop is Rock City, which you reach after continuing up the mountain for about 15 minutes. The path is very well marked with signs along the street pointing the way. Rock City is almost like a rock garden with paths carved through the rocks. You can take your time wandering around the gardens and small caves. During the Christmas holiday season, the gardens are decorated in holiday lights and are a whimsically delightful treat. The paths winding through the gardens are numbered and end at Lover’s Leap, 1700 feet above the city below, at the top of Lookout Mountain. Once there, you can see the Seven States Flag Court. There are seven telescopes where you can reportedly see seven states, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s fun to try.
The Incline Railway
The last stop on the trip is the Incline Railway, which is deemed the steepest passenger railway in the world. At an incline of almost 73%, it’s a good thing the ride to the bottom is only a short one mile. It was originally built to take residents and visitors up and down the mountain. The twist is that the trolley style cars go down the hill in the forward position, to get back up the hill the cars are pulled up in reverse. So you’re facing forward as the car is pulled backwards up the hill. A real nail biter!
Interesting family fun
Ruby Falls, Rock City, and the Incline Railway make a fun family outing whether you’re staying in Chattanooga or just there for the day. It’s filled with fun history, quirky activities and there’s something for everyone in the family.
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