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Chattanooga, Tennessee is a playground—for both kids and adults. Its natural landscape makes it a great destination for hiking, climbing, paddling, swimming, and waterfall-watching. Its man-made attractions, from that world-famous train station to an antique carousel and world-famous dessert, guarantee good times for all. We’ve rounded up 11 of our must-stop places in the Scenic City for having fun with the family.
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Reimagine train travel at the Chattanooga Choo Choo and Tennessee Valley Railway
If you only have time to take your kids to see one thing in Chattanooga, make it the world-famous train station that launched a song and forever cemented the city in musical history. While no longer in operation, the station’s lobby space has been re-imagined as an inviting public space, featuring shops, restaurants, and exhibits about what railroad life way like. Actual trains are parked outback, and you can even stay in one overnight (book it here). Afterward, head to the Tennessee Valley Railway, where you can take an hour-long excursion on a train through the countryside (reserve your advance tickets here).
Catch a waterfall deep inside a cave at Ruby Falls
Inside Lookout Mountain (145 feet deep, in fact) flows Ruby Falls, the tallest underground waterfall in the country. Sign the family up for a 1.5-hour tour where you’ll wind your way through the cavern, hear cheesy cave jokes, and see the signature falls lit by colored lights. Fun fact: The name comes from the wife of the man who made these falls a tourist attraction, not from their color.
See Rock City and seven states
If you’ve driven on the interstate, you’ve see barn roofs and sides imploring you to See Rock City. And you should. Set atop Lookout Mountain, Rock City has been a tourist attraction since 1932. You’ll wander through rock formations, get to a high point where you can see seven states at once, and walk over a swinging bridge. Young kids will delight in the Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village.
Let the Incline Railway climb you to the top of Lookout Mountain
Built in 1895, the steepest passenger rail in the country inches its way up Lookout Mountain. You can take this train up tracks dubbed “America’s Most Amazing Mile” just for the joy of the ride or you can use it to get to the top of the mountain to see the attractions there, including Rock City.
Get fishy at the Tennessee Aquarium
Families come from all over, not just Tennessee, to check out this remarkable aquarium on the banks of the Tennessee River. It has all the ocean-loving exhibits you might expect, with mammoth glass windows and saltwater tanks. But the real gems are the exhibits about the marine life you’d see in freshwater rivers, including the one right in front of you. The music playing inside is the same music you’d hear in the region of the world where you’d find the fish you see. Out front, find a splash fountain and other ways to run off energy.
Appreciate the finer things at Hunter Museum of American Art
This museum in the Bluff View Arts District houses an impressive private collection of American art. If you’re worried that will make your kids’ eyes glaze over, don’t. There are tons of fun artifacts, like face mugs and money banks, that kids will find interesting. The museum offers tours and programming for kids and offers special resources for visitors on the autism spectrum.
Meet the animals at the Chattanooga Zoo
This small zoo is a reliable, affordable outing, particularly for families with small kids. The entirety of the zoo takes about 90 minutes to explore, and crowds typically aren’t overwhelming (as they can be at the Tennessee Aquarium), so kids get great views of the animals. Exhibits include cougars, snow leopards, chimpanzees, and more. Check the daily schedule of educational programming.
Engage in some hands-on play at the Creative Discovery Museum
Excavate dinosaur bones, invent new tools, build a fort, ad pilot a riverboat. These are just some of the hands-on simulated activities kids can experience at the Creative Discovery Museum. The rooftop exhibit allows you to take in all of Chattanooga’s scenic charms from above. The downtown location is just blocks from the aquarium.
Take a nostalgic ride on the Coolidge Park Carousel
For just $1 per person you and your kids can take a ride on one of 52 restored wood animals in the glass-enclosed 1894 Dentzel carousel. The calliope band organ plays as the merry-go-round does its thing. Coolidge Park is on the north side of the Tennessee River; just stroll across the Walnut Street Bridge to get there from the Tennessee Aquarium.
Indulge in a sweet treat at the MoonPie General Store
Chattanooga Bakery has been making the state’s famous cookie cakes since 1917. These snacks, with graham cracker cookies, marshmallows, and chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, or other flavors, are a favorite dessert of kids everywhere. Visit this shop to grab some to-go, plus MoonPie-themed treats and other goodies.
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