The past year has been full of virtual learning, attending Zoom meetings, and flipping around Netflix. By now, everyone’s craving the joy of getting back to some real-world, hands-on, interactive experiences. Of course, everything’s not quite back to normal yet, but with some precautions, it’s possible to take advantage of many places once taken for granted.
A quick getaway has never sounded better, and Chattanooga is an excellent destination for families to enjoy various interactive experiences among museums, historical sites, cultural attractions, and natural wonders. Each has its own safety guidelines in place—including things like mask-wearing mandates and timed-entry passes to ensure smaller crowds—so check ahead to ensure you’re aware of restrictions that apply.
Things may not be quite back to the pre-2020 world yet, but there are still ample opportunities to enjoy family time in the Scenic City with these memorable attractions.
Creative Discovery Museum
The Creative Discovery Museum is one of the top children’s museums in the country, with an emphasis on learning through play in its impressive exhibits. From puppet theaters to digging for dinosaur bones, kids can spend hours in various play areas that also teach important concepts on science, engineering, and nature. You can create sculptures in an artist’s studio or help boats navigate through an intricate course of lock and dams in the Riverplay section. The museum is operating at 20 percent capacity—with masks required for everyone—giving visitors plenty of room to remain socially distant while still enjoying the fun.
Take an Art Tour
Chattanooga is a very walkable city, and it’s filled with art installations to enjoy. Explore them yourself by using the Experience Visual Art Map to chart a course and see more of the city. Along the way, stop by at the Hunter Museum of American Art, located in a beautiful group of buildings that sits high on the bluff above the Tennessee River. Here you’ll find art from the colonial period through today, including paintings, sculptures, glasswork, and crafts.
To create a no-touch environment, you can find exhibition guides online here. Guests over the age of 5 are required to wear a mask at all times. The limited capacity numbers for certain galleries, the museum store, and elevators can be found here in the "during my visit" section.
The top-rated aquarium in the country, the Tennessee Aquarium offers visitors the chance to get up-close-and-personal with marine life. Start with the River Journey building, which features freshwater exhibits that tell the story of how water makes its way from the mountains to the sea. At the Ocean Journey building, you’ll find a wide variety of salt-water fish and other underwater critters. Some favorites include the Arapaima giant catfish, penguins, otters, jellyfish, and turtles.
A limited number of guests are allowed to visit each day, so make sure to get your tickets ahead of time to ensure you get to experience the attraction. In addition to required masks for guests over age 12, limited capacity, and timed-entry, the Tennessee Aquarium just upgraded its HVAC system as a safeguard against COVID-19. There are 10 new units that feature ultraviolet light filters that intend to help disinfect the air. Click here to read more about the upgrade.
No family trip to Chattanooga would be complete without a visit to Ruby Falls. The tallest and deepest underground waterfall in the U.S. is an impressive natural wonder to behold, accessible from a 26-story elevator and surrounded by unworldly caverns. Take a guided tour to learn about the cave and rock formations underground. Outside the cave, you can enjoy an incredible view of the Tennessee River and the surrounding valleys from Lookout Mountain Tower and Blue Heron Overlook. Then you can have some fun by taking on the 700 feet of zip lines and a climbing tower on the property. The kids won’t want to leave.
To ensure you get to experience the greatness of Ruby Falls, tickets must be purchased in advance online. No in-person ticket sales are available. Mask up and enjoy the caves!
High Point Climbing and Fitness
If your crew is adventurous, the next stop should be High Point Climbing and Fitness, which features a 60-foot high indoor climbing wall with more than 28,000 square feet of climbing space. No matter the weather outside, it’s your chance to get some exercise and explore this unique facility. Those interested in rock climbing can take lessons and learn from some of the best climbers in the southeast. Masks are required while inside the facility.
One of the great benefits of the Chattanooga Zoo is that it’s designed to bring the animals as close to you as possible, which provides the opportunity to really study their interactions and learn about animal behavior. While you’ll find more than 500 animals exhibited, the zoo isn’t too big, making it a manageable trip for young kids and parents with strollers. For even more excitement, book a zoo tour or wildlife encounter to get an intimate look at the animals with a specialist to guide and educate you. There are even camel rides for older kids looking for an experience they’ll never forget. Don’t miss the chimpanzee, giraffes, cougars, red panda, and snow leopard, which are all part of unique habitats to explore. Younger kids will love the petting zoo. Masks are required in all indoor spaces for those older than the age of 12 and in outdoors spaces where social distancing is not possible.
National Medal of Honor Heritage Center
To learn more about American history, take advantage of Chattanooga’s newest museum, the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center (MOH), which opened its doors at its new facility in February 2020. The museum emphasizes engaging storytelling to teach lessons from the lives of Medal of Honor recipients, with life-sized exhibits and innovative technology to help you put yourself into the period that they lived. For school-aged children, it’s a wonderful way to make history come to life.
Guests must stay with their group throughout their entire visit and only 10 guests maximum are allowed in the galleries every 15 minutes. MOH staff regularly cleans the facility and you can find hand sanitizing stations throughout the museum.
Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
For a deeper dive into the area’s history, be sure to visit the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, which memorializes the Civil War battles that took place here in 1863. The park is spread out across the border of Tennessee and Georgia, with many different places to visit, including Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, Orchard Knob, and Signal Point. Those interested in military history will find much to learn, but these are also beautiful open spaces that offer kids plenty of room to run around and explore.
Ride the Rails
What trip to Chattanooga would be complete without a train ride? The Missionary Ridge Local Train Ride offers 55-minute trips on trains pulled by both diesel and steam engines. The 6-mile round trip includes a tour guide who provides commentary on the area’s history and railroad operations. Another option is to take a different kind of train almost straight up: the Incline Railway takes passengers up a 72.7 grade on Lookout Mountain, with views that can’t be matched. There’s a reason it’s known as “America’s Most Amazing Mile.”
Advance ticketing is required to ride the rails and masks are required on the ride.
Stay safe. Follow the precautions. Plan ahead. When your family is ready to start traveling, Chattanooga will be ready for you.