Attraction of the Week: Ruby Falls
Chattanooga is an ideal Southeastern vacation destination for outdoor lovers and adventurous types. There are many tourist attractions that will satisfy your desire for adventure. One of these is Ruby Falls, the deepest and tallest underground waterfall open to the public. Ruby Falls is located deep inside Lookout Mountain, a 2393 foot mountain ridge located in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. Because the temperature inside the cave is always 60 degrees, it’s the perfect place to cool down on a hot summer day, as well as the perfect indoor activity on a rainy day!
This small mountain ridge is located in northeast Alabama, northwest Georgia, and southeastern Tennessee near the state line in Chattanooga. The summit (2393 feet) is located in High Point Georgia. There are 3 great Lookout attractions in addition to Ruby Falls to add to your bucket list. From Rock City, you can see 7 states – Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North & South Carolina, Kentucky, & Virginia. An incline railway – the steepest in the world – travels a mile up the mountain to a scenic overlook. And finally, The Battle of Chattanooga museum explores the region’s Civil war history (The Battle of Lookout Mountain took place on November 24, 1863).
History of Ruby Falls
The mesmerizing Ruby Falls is located inside Lookout Mountain. In 1928, it was accidentally discovered by chemist/cave enthusiast Leo Lambert while he was exploring. While drilling an elevator shaft, he discovered a passageway that was only 18 inches high, 5 feet wide. He began exploring the cave until finally reaching the waterfall – the journey took 17 hours out-and-back. He named the waterfall after his wife Ruby and opened up tours to the public the next year. Today, almost 100 years later, this unique attraction sees visitors from around the world. Tours are so popular that they need to be booked online in advance as spots are limited.
Your journey begins as you descend 260 feet down a glass elevator to the cave walk trail. The paved cavern tour takes about an hour and a half and includes about 1 mile of walking. Your guide will provide details about sights of interest along the way. You will learn more about the cave’s history (it’s more than 30 million years old!) and see interesting formations, stalagmites, and stalactites along the way. If you are up for even more of an adventure, consider booking a nighttime lantern tour (no LED lights, just hand held lanterns).
A few pics of various formations, stalagmites, and stalactites seen via the tour. Stalactites hang from the ceiling, while stalagmites grow from the cave floor. Both form from minerals in the water dripping down. Read more about cave formations on the NPS website.
Ruby Falls is an enchanting 145 foot underground waterfall, the tallest and deepest of its’ kind. After a walk of about 30 min, you will come across the waterfall. At this point, you are 1120 feet underground. The light show will begin just minutes after you arrive. A bit cheesy and what some may call a tourist trap, although beautiful nonetheless. The bright colors give the waterfall an even more surreal look. You will have just enough time to enjoy the show and take a few quick pictures before completing the return route. Our tour guide was nice enough to take group photos.
A quick preview of the show
Pricing, Hours, and Location
Ruby Falls is located on Lookout Mountain at 1720 S Scenic Hwy, Chattanooga, TN 37409. Hours are 8am-8pm. Tickets are only available online (tours available in ten minute increments, yet they still sell out fast especially on weekends). Pricing is $23 per adult, and $13 per child. Parking is free. It is recommended to arrive about 10-15 minutes before your tour. There is a big gift shop to browse through, a snack stand, and water bottle fill station. Note: there are no bathrooms along the tour.
Lookout Observation Tower
After your tour, you will want to take a quick walk up to the 70 foot tall observing area to enjoy the panoramic view. It’s included with your admission, and thus, worthy of a quick look. From up here, you will enjoy great views of the Tennessee River. This building is pretty unique as well – it was modeled after a 15th century castle in Ireland.
What else to do in the vicinity
Rock City – Popular tourist attraction featuring a 4000 foot long fairy themed trail through ancient rock formations and gardens. Highlights include a swinging bridge and many overlooks featuring scenic views of the mountains, as well as a 100 foot man made waterfall. On a clear day, you can see 7 states.
Incline Railway – The incline travels a mile up Lookout Mountain. The 72.7% grade makes it the steepest incline in the world. While views at the top are just average at best, it’s a fun and memorable ride for history buffs.
Downtown Chattanooga – Home to numerous restaurants and attractions. Stop by the historic Choo Choo hotel (built in 1908), enjoy a coffee at Frothy Monkey, and stop by Public House for a great lunch (try the Veggie Platter!).