Lookout Mountain: Nature, Beauty, & History Meet on the TN/GA Border
The premier attraction for tourists new to the Chattanooga region is Lookout Mountain. This small mountain ridge takes up a mere 3 miles of Tennessee, compared to 50 in Alabama and 31 in Georgia, yet provides plenty of recreational and sightseeing opportunities nonetheless. The mountain also holds historical significance. The Cherokees originally inhabited the land, sometime around the early 1800’s. Also, The Battle of Lookout Mountain during the Civil War took place here on November 24, 1863.
Today, visitors from around the world come to this mountain to marvel at the largest underground waterfall in the world, take a ride on the steepest incline railway, enjoy lovely gardens, explore historical exhibits, and take in panoramic views of 7 states. Below are the 3 main attractions located on Lookout Mountain.
The Incline Railway
Highlight: The steepest incline in the world at a grade of 72.7%
One of the most popular attractions in Chattanooga is the Incline railway. The first incline ride opened back in 1887. It was powered by coal burning steam engines (electric use began in 1911). The incline which stands today opened in 1895. In 1974, the incline was declared a national historic site. Thus, this attraction is a must for both nature and history buffs.
A 1 mile ride up the steepest incline will take you to a scenic overlook of the lush Chattanooga Valley region. The ride up is a bit scary if you are afraid of heights, however, an exhilarating experience for anyone up for a thrill. While the views at the top are just average at best, it’s a cool bucket list experience to say that you rode on the steepest incline. When you arrive at the top, there is a gift shop as well as a small historical exhibit. Point Park battlefield – a short walk from the top – is a must see for history buffs.
Note: Anyone wishing to save a few bucks can opt to drive up the road and enjoy the same view for just 2 bucks.
Highlight: The tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public
While a cave tour anywhere is pretty cool, a cave tour with a mesmerizing waterfall is even better. Leo Tambert, a cave enthusiast/chemist discovered Ruby Falls back in 1929 with a dream to open it to the public. Today, it’s one of the most popular attractions in the state. Your journey begins as you descend 26 stories down a glass elevator into a 240 million year old cave. Your tour guide will point out ancient formations including stalactites which hang from the ceiling and stalagmites which rise from the floor. These formations form via minerals in the water repeatedly dripping onto the floor and ceiling. LED lights are used to enhance the natural beauty.
After a walk of roughly a half mile, you will arrive at the grand 145 foot tall waterfall. Ruby Falls is located 1120 feet under the mountain, making it the deepest underground waterfall. A LED light and sound show accompanies this dazzling natural wonder. Enjoy the show and take a few pictures of this breathtakingly unusual sight. The walk back gives you more time to explore the cave’s natural beauty. Thankfully, today the pathway is much larger than the narrow 18 inch high/4 foot wide passageway that Tambert originally discovered.
After your tour, climb the stairs up to the Lookout Tower to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Tennessee River.
Highlight: Ancient rock formations, a 140 foot man made waterfall, hidden gnomes
The tranquil beauty of landscaped gardens, scenic overlooks, waterfalls, and ancient rock formations easily make Rock City the best attraction in the region. First off, the views here are gorgeous, most notably a picturesque overlook featuring a bird’s eye view of seven states (AL, KY, VA, NC, SC, TN, GA). Second, the waterfall and legend behind Lover’s Leap is exhilarating. Third, the unique fairy like atmosphere and hidden gnomes set it apart from any other park.
A trail of roughly a mile will take you past 200+ million year old rock formations and over 400 species of plants. The trail is lovely and relaxing with fabulous views throughout. The Chattanooga area is lush and green with endless photo opps. The swinging bridge is a picture-perfect spot for those not afraid of heights. In addition to 70 gnomes hidden throughout the property, Fairyland Caverns features dioramas of famous fairytales. These displays reflect the owner’s wife’s love of German folklore and fairy tales. Read more about the history of Rock City.
Location & Pricing Details
Incline Railway – 3917 St. Elmo Avenue Chattanooga, TN. $15 adult / $7 child
Ruby Falls – 1720 South Scenic Highway Chattanooga, TN 37409. $23 adult / $13 child
Rock City – 1400 Patten Rd, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750. $22 adult / $13 child