A Family Day-cation to Chattanooga, Tennessee | Rock City, Incline Railway and Ruby Falls


Our family needed the perfect little day-cation to get away. Nothing too far. Nothing where we had to stay overnight. After discussing with many friends (many of whom have lived in Atlanta much longer than us), we decided on a visit to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was almost exactly 2 hours from our suburban Atlanta home to Chattanooga, Tennessee which we felt was the perfect distance for a day-cation. We left at 9am and got home at 9pm after a full day of adventuring seeing Rock City, The Incline Railway and Ruby Falls before the day was done.

incline railway ruby falls rock city

Rock City

Our first stop was Rock City which ironically is actually in Georgia. (It’s confusing. Believe me, I know, but there are fabulous signs all around the city making it easy to find everything). Our neighbors actually have one of their birdhouses, which is what got it stuck in my head. We had never been before, so we were looking for a little bit of adventure, but fun with the kiddos. They have free parking at Rock City, so you don’t feel rushed.

Chattanooga Tennessee | One day trip from Atlanta

It’s got a take you back in time, easy going feel to it. You grab a map and can start on one of two paths that will circle through Rock City (the green is wheelchair friendly but you don’t see as much) or the red path. We took the red path, with map in hand and started our first journey. (Knowing that this wasn’t a stroller-friendly place, we made sure to bring our Ergo carrier and it worked out perfectly, except a couple places.)

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The full path is less than a mile making it very easy for our 6 and 4 year old to complete. Even though it was the middle of the summer, because we were so high up, it wasn’t nearly as hot as it was in the city. The walking path was full of nature and plants, as well as fun things like gnome city and a deer watching area.

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And, random places for great photo ops. (I imagine this might be one of the possible locations for a wedding.)

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While the walk is quite easy and not too long, it is definitely full of adventure, and not for a person with weak nerves. The girls just went right along on the 180 foot swinging bridge. And, my momma heart was racing. No fear!

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The ledges are all very secure, but that didn’t stop me from being nervous. There are many amazing views of the mountains along the walk and even this spot where you can see 7 states at one time (and who knows which state in which we were actually standing.) Up at the top, there is also a restaurant, a place to grab a drink, and ice cream stand. We opted to head back down as it was a little early for lunch, but the view was amazing for a nice meal.

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Many of the passages are labeled with names like “fat man’s squeeze” and “needle’s eye.” When we came up to the first one, I had to wait and get my mind straight before going in. Claustrophobia and small spaces don’t mix. If you can’t or don’t want to to do it, there is always the green path. However, I went through it. I did have to take E off my back and out of the carrier, but, fortunately, she was a trooper and just walked right through.

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On the way down, there is a ledge you can stand on with yet another amazing view. There is so much natural beauty surrounding historic Lookout Mountain.

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Which makes for a great picture with those of your family willing to hang out on it. (E is standing with me, not in the carrier dangling over the edge!)

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The walkways really are amazing and the tiniest little spaces for people to walk through, but we all had an amazing time.

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At the end of the walk is Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village which was a fun treat for the girls. They liked looking at the setups and figuring out which story was pictured.

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We stopped for a quick bite to eat at the cafe at Rock City where they had burgers and dogs. It wasn’t our favorite, but it made our tummy’s full and got us onto our next stop without anybody being hungry or upset.

The Incline Railway

The next stop on our day-cation was the Lookout Mountian Incline Railway. We figured it would be a good break to take a seat and check out the view and the ride.

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We had about a 20 minute wait once we received our boarding passes, so I thought it was a good time to break out the rock candy I purchased at Rock City. It did the trick.

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Then, I saw the railway. Yikes. The trolley style cars climb a breathtaking 72.7 grade straight down (and up). So that’s how a 72 degree angle looks (and actually the car itself is built at an angle to compensate some). Yes, almost straight down, like a roller coaster, but much slower. Make sure to check out all of the beauty surrounding historic Lookout Mountain (and in our case, we didn’t even snap pictures because we were enjoying the view).

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It is one of the steepest passenger railways in the world and is known as “America’s Most Amazing Mile” or “America Most Amazing Mile” depending on who you ask.

We started at the top, where you can also visit the many points of Civil War interest, the Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map & Museum and Point Park, part of the Chickamauga -Chattanooga National Military Park system, which are just a few short blocks from the Incline top station. There is so much to see surrounding historic lookout mountain that you could spend several hours just venturing and looking around. You can also stop and enjoy the scenic views from the observation tower at the incline before you get on the incline railway. Looking down, you can also see all of the valleys from the observation deck. Make sure to take in the panoramic views both before getting on and once you are on the railway as it has glass on almost all sides.

Keep in mind, that at the top of the incline, it’s all metered parking, so you need to be aware of your time and make sure you feed the meter accordingly. (It was suggested we pay for 2 hours. We were a quarter short, and did 1.75 hours. We arrived back to our car with 6 minutes to spare!)

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At the bottom, you can explore historic St. Elmo, where there are some unique shops; local artisan galleries, hand-blown glass stores and more. There are also several restaurants including a fresh-made burrito place, a pizza place and several places to get ice cream.

So, there was some ice cream consumed at the pizza shop (and if we hadn’t have already had lunch, we would have been eating there as well.

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It’s crazy to be in both mountains and valleys within just a couple minutes ride on the Incline Railway.

Ruby Falls

We then boarded the railway back up to the top, got in the car and headed on to the final destination of Ruby Falls.

Chattanooga Tennessee | One day trip from Atlanta | Ruby Falls

We waited only about 10 minutes to start a tour which included a very fast elevator ride down into the cave. Fortunately, we were the last ones in the group (I would estimate there were about 6 loads of people in our guided tour). The others were waiting for us at a stopping point to start the tour. Not that you can help it, but the front of the tour is much more informative than the back. There were several spots where there was a recording playing, so you could hear everything, but other times, you were just walking and reading signs.

The cave is a cool 58 degrees. Never once were we chilled as we were constantly moving and looking around on our narrow path. Although this looks like the surface of the moon, it’s two layers in the cave. And far in the back is the space where the man that discovered the cave first crawled in. Talk about claustrophobia!

Chattanooga Tennessee | One day trip from Atlanta | Ruby Falls

There are also some nice lighting effects that can be seen in several sources of water that trickle through (or rush through if there has recently been a rain storm).

Chattanooga Tennessee | One day trip from Atlanta | Ruby Falls

Many of the formations seemed to be still growing, but this one wasn’t, so we were encouraged to touch the “cactus and the candle” when walking past. The others shouldn’t be touched.

Chattanooga Tennessee | One day trip from Atlanta | Ruby Falls

Towards the end of the tour, you walk into a great opening, then the tour guide turns on the lights and you all get to see the awesome Ruby Falls. They really are beautiful and so surprising for being underground. And, they admitted, they have no idea of the source of the water. Good to know there are still some things unknown. Our daughters thought the falls were pretty cool.

Chattanooga Tennessee | One day trip from Atlanta | Ruby Falls

When the tour guide mentioned the lantern tours, the husband and I both looked at each other and thought “date night.” Every Friday at 8pm, they do guided lantern only tours of the cave, which would be a very unique experience.

For the way back out of the falls, we made sure to head to the front of the group so we could experience all the guide had to say (and he said a lot). And the way in for the most part is the way out, so we got to hear a lot of what he might have said earlier. Also, it got us on the first elevator ride up, so we didn’t have to wait with antsy kids.

We finished off our day at one of the many breweries for dinner (no beer for the girls, and a root beer for me), and headed home! But if you need ideas, check out these Chattanooga Restaurants to plan something out.

Visiting Chattanooga for the day was a great trip for us, and not a hard one at all. All of the girls had a great time, and the grown ups did, too. It was surprisingly easy going and fun time for all of us.

*We were provided complimentary attraction tickets for the purpose of reviewing it, however I wouldn’t share it with you and wouldn’t recommend it if we didn’t enjoy it.

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  1. Our family lived Chattanooga as well. Ruby Falls is still discussed here. I also loved the fowntown area. The free trolley system allows a family to enjoy exploring without moving their car. The brick “objects” all over the town were fun. There is a sofa and a canoe near the aquarium.

    1. We didn’t really see much of the trolleys. But, we were up on the mountain most of the time.

      We’ll have to hit the aquarium next time for sure.

  2. grandma pat says:

    what a great day trip. Looks like you all had a lot of fun. Rock City looks beautiful. Remember when we went in the Caverns in Georgetown.

    1. I do…these were definitely nicer with the waterfall at the end.

      But nothing compared to Carlsbad caverns from what I remember.

  3. What a great day-cation! I love going somewhere with the family that’s not too far away, but still a totally new location and view then what you’re normally doing. We’ve been on a couple this Summer and I love it. By the time we get home our kids are tuckered out and the memories last a lifetime. Love how many amazing pictures of your view you posted, just beautiful!

    1. It was very nice..and they all crashed when we got home! Winning.

      I know it was a lot of pictures, but that’s what I always want to see when looking for a place to go!

  4. looks like a gorgeous place to spend the day!!!

  5. Wow, what a great daycation. Those type of trips, mostly during vacations for us, were my favorite family trips. Being out with nature and exploring amazing places, we really bonding during those trips.

  6. Wow! That looks amazing and I can’t believe you were able to see and do so much in a day trip!

    1. It was surprised for sure. Now, we have to make a goal to see the falls that involve a hike.

  7. I really want to take my kids to do these things! We’ve been to downtown Chattanooga several times, but they’ve never seen Ruby Falls or Rock City. I can’t do the Incline Railway, lol. It’s makes me a nervous mess. 😉

    1. Rock City made me way more nervous that the incline railway!

  8. What an amazing trip. It looks gorgeous! But I have to admit, I would be going CRAZY with my kids there. That bridge with the ropes on the side? I almost threw up looking at the picture. I don’t know if I could let my kids walk across it so kudos to you. I would love to go across it myself but watching my kids do it is a whole other story. YIKES! I don’t like my kids being super high up with places they could possibly fall through or over (like that would really happen- I know- but I’m crazy).
    Still, looks like an amazing day!

    And holy moly! Your girls look so big in this post! I can’t get over it. I really can’t. They are growing up TOO FAST!

    1. It’s hard to see, but it would take skill to get off that swinging bridge. And, to be honest, they just sort of went ahead and I got all barfy…so they we had to go after them.

      I really can’t believe it, either. They were just babies, right?

  9. Rock City looks SO cool! And 7 states can be seen at once? That’s really cool! This looks like it was an amazing adventure day. Glad you all got to enjoy it, so fun!

    1. Come on over and check it out. Not a day trip, but not impossibly far:)

  10. This looks absolutely amazing! What a marvelous spot!!! I want to visit!

  11. They are MUCH braver than me! I don’t think I could walk across that bridge! At least not with anyone else on it, I’d make ever get off first.

    1. I swear my husband was trying to make it sway/rock even more! He says he wasn’t…but I’m not so sure.

  12. I’ve wanted to go there ever since I was a child. One of these days I’m going to do everything you just did and man, that looks fun!

  13. NYCSingleMom says:

    Wow, that is one fun day cation. I would love to visit, maybe on my one day I want to drive cross country trip, I will add this to my trip.

  14. I remember going there when I was a kid – and I was fearless. As a mom I would have the exact same reaction I think – this is beautiful and amazing, but OMG WE ARE HIGH UP. It sounds like a great day, I wish I lived closer now!

    1. Everything changes, right? I’m the same way with roller coasters and ferris wheels.

  15. adding this trip to our list! looks like sooo much fun!!

    love me some family vacas 🙂

  16. Is there an alternative for the swing bridge to get on the other side ? My friend is afraid of heights and bridges .

    1. Yes, you can go around the swinging bridge and bypass it.

  17. Scott Humpert says:

    Thanks for this awesome review! We are visiting these three attractions tomorrow and are looking forward to it.

  18. Chattanooga Dentist says:

    Thanks for sharing and way to conquer your fear of tight spaces on the walkways at Lookout mountain! Can’t wait to do date night with my hubby on the guided lantern only tours of the cave. What a great suggestion.

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