Sponsored by Visit Chattanooga
Wow, what a place! Chattanooga, Tennessee quickly jumped up to one of my favorite Southeast USA destinations and made me love Tennessee as a road trip destination even more.
I’m happy to share all the fun things to do in Chattanooga with kids. These are the top Chattanooga attractions and unique local experiences you can fit in on a short trip.
Savannah and I visited in partnership with Visit Chattanooga on a two-night getaway for our first solo Mother Daughter trip.
It checked off all the boxes: outstanding natural beauty, vibrant city life, thrilling adventures, and memories we’ll continue to laugh at forever.
Its beauty is mesmerizing, with the Tennessee River and its high jungled banks snaking through the city and the surrounding mountains covered in lush green foliage with endless viewpoints and top attractions.
It’s energy and vibe reminded me of Raleigh, and I noted Chattanooga down as the place we’ll move to if for some reason we ever have to leave our beloved city.
We visited Chattanooga briefly at the beginning of our RV trip across the USA. It was the middle of winter, so it was cold, wet, and snowy. We spent two nights at the campground
“What were we doing on that visit Craig” I said to him after our first day exploring Chattanooga. “Chattanooga is amazing. I don’t get how we didn’t experience it on that trip.”
“Ah, because it rained and snowed so we stayed in the RV.”
Well, on this family trip it was the beginning of Spring, the weather was warm and sunny, and the flowers were in bloom so we were able to fully appreciate this sophisticated and eclectic Scenic City.
Wondering about COVID safety: Masks were strictly enforced in all buildings and attractions. Social distancing and timed ticketing and reduced numbers were implemented for attractions. There are plenty of outdoor attractions and activities in Chattanooga where you can maintain your own space and feel safe.
You can also listen to Savannah and I chat about our Chattanooga road trip on this Chattanooga podcast episode.
Lookout Mountain Attractions
Rising 2,000 feet above sea level and overlooking Chattanooga is Lookout Mountain, the star feature of a visit to this region for its extraordinary natural beauty.
Lookout Mountain is where you’ll find outstanding views and Chattanooga’s top attractions: Rock City, Ruby Falls, the Incline Railway and Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.
In fact, the word Chattanooga is derived from a Creek word for Lookout Mountain meaning “rock rising to a point.”
Bot Ruby Falls and Lovers Leap Falls were featured in our Best Waterfalls in the US list.
Ride the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
Why drive up the mountain when you can take the most thrilling ride to the top on the Incline Railway with expansive views over the Tennessee Valley through the carriage’s glass windows?
We’ll forever talk about that moment halfway up “America’s most amazing mile” when we looked back and saw how we were about to incline up the steepest part of the world’s steepest railway, giggled in fear and said, “Oh this is a little scary.”
Savannah said this was our favorite Chattanooga attraction.
If you are too busy closing your eyes and clutching your seat with fear over its 72.7% grade steepness, there is an observation deck with unobstructed views at your destination.
It was just as thrilling as your favorite roller coaster ride and is not to be missed. See more here.
Tour the Underground Ruby Falls
I love experiences that help me tap into awe and wonder.
Ruby Falls in Chattanooga was that for me. We walked through the caverns, 260 feet deep inside the mountain to follow the path its discoverer, Leo Lambert, took in 1928.
He crawled for 17 hours in the dark, most of the time alone in cramped tunnels. Until he came upon a totally unexpected jewel, which he named after his beloved wife: Ruby Falls.
We walked and enjoyed the colorful lights illuminating the stalagmites, stalagmites, and unusual and beautiful rock formations.
Ruby Falls lies at the end of the trail, made even more beautiful by the colored light display surrounding it. It is the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the USA
How many other mountains around the world have waterfalls hidden in them? And would you crawl through tiny spaces in the dark to find them?
The guided tour lasts for about 90 minutes. You can see our IG Reel of the tour here.
I enjoyed the introductory video taking us back to 1928 sharing Leos’ expeditions and motivations for doing so. It helped me reconnect to the importance of persevering with a dream and traveling the lessor known (harder) path.
Ruby Falls was the first attraction in the USA to receive the international Green Globe certification for its sustainability practices which include LED lighting, solar panels, and recycling.
When you have finished with your underground tour, there is an observation deck on top of the Ruby Falls Tower (built from the excavated rocks) with yet another gorgeous views over the valley and river.
Adventurers will also want to dedicate time to the 700 feet of ziplines at the High Point Zip Adventure. We have put that down on our list of things to do in Chattanooga for our next visit to Scenic City.
Wander Rock City Gardens
Not your average view, right?
Even better is the enchanting trail you follow to get here meandering around giant rock boulders, through gardens and narrow canyons, alongside babbling brooks, into caves, and across swinging bridges.
I dare you to try and find your way around this 4,100-foot trail – I was lost after a few footsteps as it curved up and down and around. Just follow the signs as it takes you through this natural wonderland of over 400 species of plants and trees.
Rock City Gardens in Chattanooga is so unique and totally worth it for these views of the 100 ft. waterfall cascading down the mountain.
You can also see Seven States from here high atop Lookout Mountain: Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.
Savannah recommends Rock City as one of the best things to do in Chattanooga with kids. It is also one of the South’s most popular attractions.
Don’t miss the Fairyland Caverns which has scenes (sculptures) from some of the world’s most beloved fairytales. See more here.
Hike the Glen Falls Trails
If you’re looking for a family-friendly hike on Lookout Mountain, Glen Falls Trail is a short out and back walk through the forest to a small waterfall.
Be sure to walk a little further up the rock steps and through a rock tunnel to the riverbed above the pool. It’s a great spot for the kids to play.
The trail took us about 10 minutes to walk either way. We were the only ones on the trail so enjoyed the quiet serenity with each other.
Another hike on Lookout mountain that came recommended was from Cravens House to Point Park for a view of the horseshoe bend in the Tennessee River and downtown Chattanooga.
Relive History at Battles for Chattanooga + Point Park
Time for a little Civil War history with the narrated 3-D map and footage of the famous “Battle above the Clouds” in the Battles for Chattanooga theater.
You’ll learn about the confederate’s defense of Lookout Mountain and the Sherman’s final victorious assault at Missionary Ridge before his victorious March to the Sea. It was a turning point in the Civil War – the Death Knell for the Confederacy.
I recommend watching the short 30-minute production before crossing the street to Point Park, which is part of the national park service’s Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
As it looks over the Chattanooga Valley, you can easily picture in your mind how this battle took place. It’s a small, tranquil park that again, offers stunning views over the horseshoe shaped Moccasin Bend in the Tennessee River.
Eat: Tap House, St Elmo Neighborhood
The Tap House is a great lunch choice at the foot of Lookout Mountain In the nearby town historic town of St Elmo.
The front porch has great views of Lookout Mountain, and the menu features Southern favorites like mac & cheese, chili, and pimento cheese. Try the Exotic burger – a mix of bison, boar, elk, and wagyu.
To refresh your thirst, the tap house has 30 taps with rotating brews and local beers. I loved my alcohol-free CBD cider. A very unique flavor and mellow refresh.
Downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River
Downtown Chattanooga offers a lot for the family traveler. It’s walkable and vibrant with different neighborhoods to explore, great museums, and restaurants.
It’s a beautiful downtown with the spectacular Tennessee River meandering through and the lush mountains that surround the city. It’s a city that makes you sit up and pay attention.
Kayak the Tennessee River
We love to go beyond your typical museums when we visit a destination to really experience what makes it unique.
Kayaking the Tennessee River was our perfect introduction to Chattanooga and an awesome way to appreciate the natural beauty of this city. I recommend it as one of the most fun things to do in Chattanooga for kids for its unique beauty.
We rented kayaks for an hour from L2 Outside, located in Coolidge Park. (They also rent out paddle boards).
The wind was low and the current gentle, so it was an easy paddle for us north to a nearby island in the river.
If time permits, you can alight form the kayaks to explore the island. We decided to paddle past enjoying the birds flying overhead and the turtles sunning on logs.
Coming back around the other side of the island, we then paddled over the huge cliff faces to peek into small caves and kayak under the overhanging vines with beautiful views of the bridges and rivers.
Explore the Bluff View Arts District
Ready to be transported to Europe?
Perched high on the riverside Bluffs is the two-block region of the Bluff View Arts District. Buildings and alleyways look like they belong in France and Italy.
Grab a coffee, cake and homemade chocolate from Rembrandt’s and enjoy it in their garden area.
Take a walk through the River Gallery Sculpture Garden, a 2-acre outdoor art exhibit overlooking the Tennessee River. You’ll also find the impressive Hunter Museum of American Art with prime position on the very edge of the bluffs.
Tony’s Pasta Shop and Trattoria is the place to be for a delicious Sicilian dishes and Italian wine.
Get there early and aim for ta table on the deck with a view of the Tennessee River. When we dined her by 6pm the parking lot was filled with waiting groups of diners.
My low country linguine with sautéed crawfish and Cajun alfredo sauce was delicious. Savannah loved her pizza. They have an extensive gluten free menu.
Walk the Walnut Street Bridge
The Walnut Street Bridge connects downtown Chattanooga with the historic North shore District, including Coolidge Park.
Built in 1891, its known as one of the longest bridges in the world and the oldest surviving Truss Bridge of its size in the South.
It offers beautiful views, and you can get your birds eye view of the island and cliffs you kayaked to.
Picnic and Play at Coolidge Park
If you need a rest break, a picnic spot, or a place for the kids to run around, head to Coolidge Park on the North Shore banks of the river. Find a grassy spot and soak up the scenic views.
You are close to a couple of restaurants and breweries here as well. During the warmer months, the fountains offer a refreshing way to cool off.
Dance the Waltz and the Cha Cha
One of coolest things to do in Chattanooga is dance on the streets with your kids.
On the sidewalks in the North Shore District, you’ll see embedded footprints – male feet and female feet facing each other.
Each footprint is numbered so you know what order to move your feet in. Put your feet on the placeholders, grab your partner’s hand, and 1,2,3,4 dance the Waltz, the Cha Cha, and the Salsa.
They were the only ones we tried. Let us know what other ones you discover in Chattanooga!
Walk or Bike the Tennessee Riverpark
Find a section of the 16.1 miles of paved trails along the Tennessee River from Chickamauga Dam through downtown and to the foot of Lookout Mountain to bike or walk.
You’ll find sculptures, parks, picnic areas and gorgeous views. We walked a small section of the trail at Blue Goose Hollow which is a short and easy section for families.
If you don’t have your own bike, you can grab a rental from Bike Chattanooga, although there is an age-limit of 16 so not the best option for families.
There are numerous stations around the city where you can swipe and go. Day passes are available ($8) for unlimited 60 min rides. Chattanooga would be a fantastic city to explore on a bike. It’s pretty flat on the valley floor.
Hike to a Downtown View at Stringers Ridge
For a postcard worthy ridgetop view of downtown Chattanooga, walk the short Cherokee Trail at Stringer’s Ridge, a 92-acre urban wilderness in Chattanooga’s North Shore. it’s an easy family friendly activity if you want to stretch your legs in the forest.
Mountain bikers will also love riding a few of the trails through the forest here.
Ride a Vintage Train, Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
Vintage trail lovers will enjoy an hour train journey on the restored vintage trains at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum located east of Chattanooga.
We took the Missionary Ridge trip from Grand Junction Station along 3 miles of the original railroad lines in Chattanooga.
Commentary is given along the way to learn about the history of the railroad and at the turning point you get to see a demonstration of the locomotive turn table, one of the few remaining in the world.
Savannah really enjoyed this family friendly Chattanooga attraction – especially her bucket of popcorn to enjoy it with.
Explore Chattanooga’s Southside District
Over the past 20 years, the Southside District of Chattanooga has transformed from abandoned warehouses and run-down buildings to a vibrantly fresh, artistic entertainment, dining, and nightlife district.
I love this revitalized area that offered so much Southern charm and modern fun.
The area stretches from 11th to 20th streets with Main and Market Street being the main place to hang. Our hotel was within walking distance to this area and we loved exploring the murals and alleyways on our way to breakfast and dinner.
In the Southside District, there is a 33-acre public park filled with over 40 one-of-a-kind huge sculptures from some of the world’s most acclaimed artists.
We did not get time to visit but be sure to put Sculpture Fields at Montague Park on your list of things to do in Chattanooga – especially for the art-minded families.
Visit the Chattanooga Choo Choo
The infamous Chattanooga Choo Choo has been transformed into a cool entertainment space. It reminded me of Huntsville and the way they revitalized places like the Lumber yard into a fun district to hang out.
I’m sure you all know the famous Glen Miller song, “Chattanooga choo Choo” which I recommend you sing as you walk around this area that was once Chattanooga’s train station.
The terminal station now serves as a lobby to the hotel and retains its 1909 historic grandeur. Out the back you’ll find carriages converted into draft houses, escape rooms, and hotel sleeping quarters.
There are also beautiful gardens, bocce games, restaurants, distilleries, shops, and a pedestrian alley way with live music venues.
Places to Eat in Southside District
This area is known to have the highest concentration of locally owned restaurants in the city. Whatever you crave, you’ll find at a decent price and exceptional quality.
For delicious burgers, head to Urban Stack for creative and delicious handcrafted burgers- my choice was the Hamburguesa Mamacita with chorizo, pickled jalapeno, avocado, chipotle aioli and pepper jack cheese.
Book ahead for the patio seating at State of Confusion, a Peruvian –New Orleans-low-Country fusion restaurant with ample ceviche options, tacos, and handcrafted cocktails. Vegetarians will love the stuffed sweet potato.
Mean Mug has light fare and good hand-roasted coffee, and Bluegrass Grill will be your perfect sit-down Southern breakfast option. They have a ton of gluten free options, which I greatly appreciated.
Clumpies Ice Cream Co is the place to stop for your kid’s ice cream treat.
I was also recommended Stir as a great place to eat and Frothy Monkey for good coffee.
Stay at The Chattanoogan Hotel
We loved our stay at the Hilton Curio Collection, The Chattanoogan Hotel.
Located in the Southside District it gave us easy access to all places of interest in Chattanooga. We loved the ability to walk around the Southside area – our favorite. And downtown is also an easy 15-20 min walk away or a quick drive down Broad Street.
The Chattanoogan Hotel is also a block away from the city’s electric shuttle, which provides complimentary transportation in downtown Chattanooga.
The hotel was perfect for families with upscale amenities and modern rooms for an affordable price. We had beautiful views outside our window over the roof top bar and surrounding mountains.
Sunset from our room was a winner. The hotel has three restaurants, a spa, and a roof top bar.
Cocktails at the High Rail Roof Top Bar
Even if you aren’t staying at the Chattanoogan Hotel, you’ll want to visit the classy High Rail Rooftop Bar.
Kids will love the smores brownie (shareable). While they devour that, kick back with your favorite cocktail (spicy margarita for me) and rest after a hard day exploring the beautiful city of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
It’s the perfect destination for outdoor adventure loving families.
Comment: What are your favorite things to do in Chattanooga with kids?
More tips for Tennessee Travel
And don’t miss these places close to Chattanooga in Georgia and North Carolina
- Amicalola Falls State Park
- Unicoi State Park and Anna Ruby Falls
- Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa
- Bryson City, North Carolina