Home to one of the world’s largest freshwater aquariums, the steepest incline railway in the world and the country’s largest underground waterfall, Chattanooga has a lot to offer, especially for outdoor enthusiasts. A vibrant landscape of natural scenery, you’ll find a charming riverfront, leafy parks and plenty of outdoor adventures to partake in, while this laid-back city in Tennessee also showcases a collection of historic attractions and excellent museums. Read on to discover some of the best things to do in Chattanooga.
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Learn about aquatic life at Tennessee Aquarium
Home to the most diverse gathering of freshwater animals in the country, the Tennessee Aquarium features river otters, frogs, turtles and a colorful variety of unique fish that will delight visitors of all ages. This impressive aquarium boasts a lemur, penguin and alligator presentation, while the Appalachian Cove Forest is a realistic replica of chirping birds and cascading waterfalls and the Discovery Hall is home to the nation’s largest salamander.
See the rock formations at Ruby Falls
Ruby Falls is the world’s highest underground waterfall, located 1,120 feet under Lookout Mountain. The 145-foot high underground waterfall sits along the Tennessee River Gorge, where you can take an elevator down into the cavern as a guide points out the fascinating rock formations, including geological formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. There’s also a lookout tower, a playground and ziplining adventure on-site.
Soak up the scenery at Coolidge Park
A popular waterfront park with expansive greenery, Coolidge Park features pleasant views of the Tennessee River and is home to the Walnut Street Bridge, the largest pedestrian bridge in the world. Part of the Tennessee Riverwalk, its 15-mile long greenway runs along the river and boasts a historic, 100-year-old carousel. Soak up the sights while the kids play in the interactive water fountain and rock climbing area.
Hike the trails at Rock City
You’ll want to pack a pair of comfy walking shoes to hike the trails at Rock City, where a 4,100-foot trail meanders along natural sandstone formations and past a 90-foot waterfall. Cross the 180-foot suspension bridge for a bird’s-eye view of Chattanooga Valley, while its possible to see up to seven states at the summit of Lover’s Leap.
Take the kids to Creative Discovery Museum
Perfect for a family day out, visit the Creative Discovery Museum to spend an afternoon creating, learning and innovating through play. One of the top children’s museums in the country, the entire family will delight in exploring the kid-friendly Buzz Alley and Bee Garden, Culinary Corner and Discovery Library exhibits. There is a range of fun programs to participate in, from art lessons and story time to science demonstrations.
Ride the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
While you can certainly reach Lookout Mountain with a car, the more exciting way to reach its summit is via the Incline Railway. It’s been billed “America’s Most Amazing Mile”, transporting passengers up the steep part of the mountain on a 73 percent grade track, considered the steepest in the world. Visit the observation deck at the upper station to see magnificent views of the surrounding area, while the famous Point Park and Battles for Chattanooga Museum are less than a mile north of the railway station.
Admire artwork at Hunter Museum of American Art
Located in the Bluff View Art District, the Hunter Museum of American Art is the perfect place to get a dose of culture. You’ll discover a collection of American art from the colonial period to the present day, with exhibits showcasing paintings, sculptures, furniture and contemporary studio glass. Set in a 1904 classic revival mansion, you can come here to see a wide array of collections, from decorative art pieces to mixed media masterpieces.
Browse the attractions in Bluff View Art District
Speaking of the Bluff View Art District, this tiny neighborhood is a must-see on a visit to Chattanooga. You’ll find art institutions and public works of art along the waterfront, in addition to small coffee shops and eateries. While this tiny neighborhood only stretches across 1 and 1/2 blocks, it packs a lot of punch for its size and offers incredible views overlooking the Tennessee River and downtown Chattanooga.
Visit the historic Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
A combination history and natural attraction, the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is well-known for being part of a Civil War battleground. The oldest and largest Civil War park, here you can visit historic landmarks such as Orchard Knob, the Chattanooga National Cemetery and Signal Point. It was the nation’s first National Military Park, and on a sunny day you can take a self-guided tour of the area and see the notable monuments for yourself.
Explore the Raccoon Mountain Caverns
The perfect destination for those who love an adventure, the Raccoon Mountain Caverns include a fascinating cave system with more than 5.5 miles of passageways carved from limestone by nature. Popular with campers, you can also pan for gemstones, play on go-karts and hike the scenic trails. Take a Crystal Palace Walking Tour or a Wild Cave Expedition Tour, where you can get an up-close look at the undeveloped sections of the cave.
Smell the roses at Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center
A beautiful 317-acre slice of natural beauty, the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center is home to lush foliage and diverse wildlife that is great throughout the year, but particularly pretty in autumn. It’s a pleasant area to get out and stretch your legs, featuring 14 miles of hiking trails that wind through picturesque meadows and mountains, a blue heron boardwalk and butterfly garden. There are a variety of educational programs and tours available, in addition to canoes and an Arboretum.
Go to a Tasting at Chattanooga Whiskey
Perfect for an adult’s night out, head to Chattanooga Whiskey to sample some of their tasty libations on-site. Located in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, it is the oldest registered distillery in the United States. Come here to see the craft process and taste the current products on a guided tour, which ends with a full tasting of Chattanooga Whiskey and the locally-produced Dr. Thacher’s Cocktail Syrup.
Shop at Chattanooga Market
Showcasing over 50 farms, the Chattanooga Market is a local gem that brings a variety of produce, meats and cheeses to the market each week in an open-air pavilion. There are over 130 artisans offering locally made specialties, including handmade crafts, artwork and farm-fresh goods. Sample the market’s array of regional delicacies on offer and soak up the lively atmosphere, as local musicians are often seen jamming out.