A Week’s Worth of Family Fun
WHERE TO STAY:
Since you’ll be staying a while, consider renting a cabin for a home away from home. Most allow everyone their own bedroom so nerves don’t fray as easily. (Nothing ruins a vacation like a sibling showdown.)
WHAT TO DO:
You simply can’t spend a week in Chattanooga and not visit the Tennessee Aquarium and at least one (or all) of the Lookout Mountain attractions (Rock City, Incline Railway, and Ruby Falls).
Other top choices:
A river cruise allows you to see the city from a different angle.
The Creative Discovery Museum is a great escape for all ages up to about 12. Besides a two-story water play section and a simulated archeological dig, kids can explore the seasonally rotating exhibits upstairs.
The Chattanooga Market is held each Sunday (April-November) and named one of Frommer’s top 10 public markets.
Coolidge Park features a water play fountain, a 100-year-old carousel, and plenty of sweet treat options from Clumpies Ice Cream Co. and Julie Darling Donuts. Get there from downtown via the Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.
Hop on the Chattanooga Ducks (April-October) for an amphibious look at the Scenic City. The one-hour narrated tour is sprinkled with corny jokes and complimentary duck noisemakers.
It’s a safe bet that the Chattanooga Zoo will be a crowd pleaser with red pandas, monkeys, jaguars, a petting zoo area and camel rides (on the weekends).
Reach new heights at High Point Climbing and Fitness, a premier rock climbing facility. Climbing is available indoors and out, with climb walls up to 60 ft. tall. High Point caters to beginners as well as the advanced climbers, all right in the heart of downtown.
Looking for a unique, exciting way to spend quality time with the whole family? An escape room game will challenge everyone to work together and create new memories in an action-packed environment. It’s loads of fun, and Chattanooga has some of the best escape experiences in the Southeast with a variety of rooms offered by different companies: Escape Experience (Southside), Escape Mission (Northshore), and Time to Escape (Riverfront/City Center), and All In Adventures Escape Rooms (Hamilton Place).
Just 15 minutes from Downtown Chattanooga is a classic American amusement park loaded with fun for the whole family. Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park (open April-October) is the South's favorite amusement park and has added SOAKya water park (open memorial day weekend to labor day weekend).
INSIDER TIP: Many hotels offer package deals for local tourist attractions. If renting a cabin or home, check out Chattanooga Packages to create your own deal. If possible, time you trip with one of Chattanooga’s awesome events.
A Chattanooga Lookouts baseball game (April-September) is the perfect way to unwind on a warm spring or summer night.
Riverbend (June) is Chattanooga’s premier outdoor concert series. This riverfront festival features everyone from national headliners to local acts and everyone in between.
The National Cornbread Festival (April) in South Pittsburg is a tribute to great Southern cooking and culture. Sample the signature dish in Cornbread Alley or try food from across the country at the numerous cook-offs. A kid’s corner features free face painting, balloon animals, games and inflatables.
Treat your kids to a Day Out With Thomas at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. The springtime event includes a 25-minute ride on the little blue engine, storytelling, magic shows, a petting zoo and a chance to meet Sir Topham Hat.
History lessons abound in Chattanooga, the site of two crucial Civil War battles and origin of the Trail of Tears. Who says their brains turn to mush when not in school?
Travel back in time at Chickamauga Battlefield. A 20-minute movie, cell phone audio tour and park ranger tour are all free. Guided tours are at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (every day during spring and summer; weekends in fall and winter).
Walk the grounds of the “Battle Above the Clouds” at Lookout Mountain’s Point Park. Besides beautiful views and picnic spots, the Visitor’s Center houses a large mural by James Walker, an eyewitness to the battle in 1863.
If you can't make it to a Day Out with Thomas, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum brings history to life all year long. Everyone will love a train excursion around Chattanooga, which can range from 55 minutes to 8 hours depending on the route. Kid friendly rides include the Missionary Ridge Local (an in-town 55 minute ride), the Hiwassee River Rail Adventure (a 3 ½ hour ride from the Etowah station, located an hour north of downtown) and the North Pole Limited (a holiday themed, pajama friendly ride that includes a visit from St. Nick).
Outdoor types are drawn to Chattanooga for its world-class rock climbing, hang gliding, hiking, whitewater rafting and more. If you have an older crew, consider one of the 6 best hiking trails on Lookout Mountain.
For younger travelers, try these easy escapes:
Glen Falls Trail on Lookout Mountain is perfect for any age. It’s about 10 minutes from downtown, has very little elevation change and is less than a mile’s walk to an enchanting waterfall, rock tunnel and wading pool.
On the other side of the mountain is Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center, which offers 317 acres of dense forest to explore. You can paddle down Lookout Creek, visit the Wildlife Wanderland for a possible glimpse of a bobcat or red wolf, or ride/walk the three-mile Reflection Riding Loop.
Raccoon Mountain offers beautiful views of downtown and miles of hiking/biking trails around its breathtaking reservoir, a 1.2-mile manmade lake that powers the pumped storage plant. The Visitor’s Center offers a comprehensive history of how the Tennessee Valley Authority transformed the region shortly after the Great Depression.
For those that like to soar, Chattanooga is home to the largest hang gliding school in the world! You can fly tandem for a one-time thrill or take lessons and learn to fly like an eagle. Kids as young as 4 are welcome.
Since you’re staying a week, consider a day trip to uncover several “hidden gems” surrounding Chattanooga:
Ocoee, Tennessee is a must-see for adventurous families. Whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River is the most popular draw, offering five miles of Class III and IV rapids. Ocoee Zipz adds to the adrenaline-pumping fun with a one-mile zipline through the trees, where you can catch glimpses of local wildlife and the mighty Ocoee River.
Mentone, AL is a charming mountain community on the back of Lookout Mountain. Peruse the local shops, eat at The Wildflower Café or hike to the breathtaking Desoto Falls. Horseback trail rides are also available.
Travel just one hour north of town and you can tour the South’s largest dairy and cruise America’s largest underground lake. Mayfield Dairy Farms offers a behind-the-scenes educational tour that appropriately wraps up at the Ice Cream Parlor. The Lost Sea explores caverns that have been used since the Cherokee Indians, including a boat ride on a four-and-a-half acre underground lake.