Chattanooga, TN, has undergone a serious reinvention of itself. Once a railroad town with not much more than its nature areas to offer, Chattanooga has become a fun destination for hip travelers and families alike. The downtown area has made a complete turnaround in the last several years, offering a multitude of trendy restaurants, shops, and activities. There are also plenty of things to do to keep kids happy and occupied. Located just a short two hour drive from Nashville, it is a great destination for a weekend away. Here are the best things to do in Chattanooga with kids.
1. The Tennessee Aquarium
The Tennessee Aquarium is so large that it occupies two separate buildings: The River Journey and The Ocean Journey. Together they house more than 12,000 animals from 800 different species. A visit here could easily fill the better part of the day. For more information you can visit their site.
River Journey Building
The River Journey building is home to freshwater fish, otters, alligators, electric eels, frogs, and other creatures from all over the world. The exhibit is divided up by geographic location, with each section highlighting the unique habitats and freshwater animals in that area. The exhibit follows the storyline of a river forming from a raindrop in the Appalachian Mountains and continues all the way out to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. As you follow the water, you move from region to region. It is interesting enough for the adults, while easily entertaining the kids.
Ocean Journey Building
The Ocean Journey building contains penguins, a jellyfish exhibit, sharks, and plenty of beautiful saltwater fish. If you’re lucky the penguins will be putting on a show while you’re there! There was one that was running his own little obstacle course while all the kids laughed hysterically. There is also a touch tank where kids can touch small sharks and stingrays. Located on the top floor is a butterfly garden with multiple species that aren’t too shy to land on your hand.
2. Creative Discovery Museum
The Creative Discovery Museum is one of our favorite children’s museums we’ve been to. There are multiple areas catering to all ages with a wide variety of interactive play activities. There is a riverboat area, where kids can pretend to cook for their crew, while others steer the ship. It is built like a playground so they can climb to the top and crawl through tunnels to move aboard the boat. There is also a water table area where kids can make dams and watch mini boats float through the water channels. One of our favorites was the area where kids can put on their own puppet show.
There is a dedicated area for toddlers with plenty of pretend and dress up options. Another area, filled with unique musical instruments from all over the world, allows children to make their own musical recording. Kids can also put on their discovery hats and dig in the sand to look for dinosaur fossils. There is an arts and crafts station where little ones can let their imaginations run wild to create any masterpiece they like. Multiple other exhibits will easily give you a half day’s worth or more of entertainment. There is also a rotating exhibit. While we were there it was all about Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
3. High Point Climbing
Anyone from age three and up can have fun scaling the walls at this indoor/outdoor climbing facility. There is a dedicated kid zone where kids can climb and have fun without being trampled by adults and older kids.
4. Rock City and Lookout Mountain
Rock City is essentially a large natural area atop Lookout Mountain that has been transformed into a unique garden. The original owners of the property, Garnet and Frieda Carter, decided to build a garden around the unusual rock formations on their property. Frieda, extremely interested in European folklore, wanted to include a fairy aspect into the planning, and it became what is now known as Fairyland. As you wind your way through the beautiful landscape, you are occasionally greeted by kitcshy decor and German statues and fairytale characters. Fairyland Caverns is the culmination of her love of all things related to German folklore. It is essentially a walk-through building with scenes from various fairytales and folklore. Although it all seems a little odd- and creepy-, the kids enjoy it, and you can respect the amount of time they spent putting into the intricate designs and layout. Check their website for more information.
The other major attraction within Rock City is standing on Lookout Mountain. From here it is said you can see seven states. I think this may be a bit of a stretch, but on a clear day you can see for several miles. You can also get a view few of The High Falls. This beautiful waterfall is actually man made (a bit of a letdown when you find this out), but eye-catching, nonetheless. Make sure to leave the stroller in the car. You won’t be able to maneuver it through the rock formations.
5. Ruby Falls
Discovered in 1928 by Leo Lambert, the waterfall located 1,120 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain, has fascinated millions of visitors. After descending into the cave via elevator, your guide will take you through the tunnels to the famous waterfall, named for Mr. Lambert’s wife. While the walk is not extremely far, you are required to stop at various spots for bits of information and to let other groups squeeze by on their way out. After finally making it to the 145 foot falls, you’ll be given a 10 minute or so window to enjoy and take pictures.
While our kids enjoyed this, I’d make sure to do this in the morning before the crowds get too bad. Also, this will hopefully avoid those late afternoon tantrums brought on by exhaustion. By the end, our kids were definitely over it, making the walk out seem to take forever. **Once you are down there, it obviously isn’t a quick exit, so make sure everyone makes a bathroom stop immediately before starting your tour.
6. Incline Railroad
Starting in the St. Elmo neighborhood, this railroad takes visitors up Lookout Mountain to Point Park at the summit. Unfortunately, once you reach the top you still have to drive to the other attractions nearby. We chose not to ride this, as we’d then need to ride back down to retrieve our car then drive back up to get to the sights. If you have more than a few days and your child is extremely into trains then you might consider this.
7. Walk the Famous Bridge
Walk across the picturesque Walnut Street Bridge and spend some time at Coolidge Park. There is plenty of open green space, an interactive fountain, and a restored carousel. This will also put you in the Northshore area, full of lots of great restaurants and shops.
If you go to the east side of Coolidge Park, you’ll notice a large hill. On a sunny day you’ll see kids sliding down the hill on cardboard box pieces. It is so fun, the kids can’t get enough of it. It’s the southern version of sledding without the snow.
Looking for hikes and waterfalls in the Chattanooga area? Check out this post that takes you to Greeter Falls and Foster Falls.
What are your favorite things to do in Chattanooga with kids?