Tennessee is blessed to have so many wonderful family destinations. I hope to be able to visit Nashville, Memphis, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Lynchburg when this crazy pandemic is over. Actually, it’s not a bad idea to take 2 weeks and just drive around Tennessee seeing all of these places. Hmmmmm, I’m going to look into that.
Where I have been is Chattanooga. I have been to Ruby Falls, Tennessee Aquarium, and Rock City/Look Out Mountain a few times in my life. I have visited them as a child and now with my children. Both times really fun, just from different perspectives. Well, it was a little better when I was kid. I didn’t have to buy the souvenirs! At that time I was a kid the internet was non-existent which made a big difference. Especially with Ruby Falls. It wasn’t so commercialized and crowded.
We visited Ruby Falls and the Tennessee Aquarium when my boys were about 5 years old, so it’s been a few years but I remember it like it was just a few weeks ago. We started the adventure at the Tennessee Aquarium. We have been to several aquariums, Georgia, Miami, SeaWorld, and Tennessee. Tennessee is unique from the others as it’s a fresh water aquarium and focuses on the critters and fishies of the Mississippi River. I really enjoy this museum as did my kids and husband. You start by walking through a butterfly garden where you become basically a moving tree for all of the butterflies. They made me a little jealous because they were all over my husband while we were in there. They thought they could just flutter their pretty wings and take him over. You are aloud to linger in these area for a long as you want; they have a really nice set up and they also show the different style of cocoons for each of the species that flutter there.
When you walk out, you begin your journey through the aquarium on the top floor and as you walk you wined down back down to the bottom. There is a lot of space so it doesn’t feel crowded and little ones can go at their own pace and see all the cool fish. There are a lot of interactive stations and things to see and do here. This is a must do when in Chattanooga and won’t be disappointed. Unless you are expecting dolphins and orca shows, then you might be. My husband was expecting it to be more salt water and it took him a few to get into it, my bad for not warning him.
Ruby Falls is beautiful and unique and something that I feel should be experienced once in your life. If you didn’t get to experience it before the internet then you won’t feel as disappointed as I did when you visit now. I will explain why.
In the 90’s was the first time I went to Ruby Falls and all of the other attractions of Chattanooga. The tour starts by getting in an elevator and descending 26 stories or 1,120 feet into the Earth. When you get down there you are guided through some pretty awesome caverns until you eventually reach the very beautiful and amazing underground waterfall, Ruby Falls. That part hasn’t changed at all. The difference is the amount of people and it feels very commercialized now and no where near as personable. Yes they have cheesy tour guides still, but there is section of the tour where the cavern opens up and everyone can gather around, in the 90’s the tour guide would tell you the story of Ruby Falls and how it came to be. Today they use televisions all over and pre-recorded movies.
But that’s not my biggest disappointment. There isn’t much space 26 stories down inside the Earth. Before there was a small group of people 20-30 at most at scheduled intervals. These tours (back then) were scheduled so 1 group had enough time to get to the end and start working back before the second group came down. This way you really go to enjoy the different structures, ask questions, kind of take your time. Plus, when you got to Ruby Falls, you were able to spend 10 minutes just walking around it. We were able to go behind the waterfall and had plenty of time to get amazing pictures. No, they still do about 20 people in a group, but the groups descend every 15-20 minutes. There are so many people down in the caverns that you are constantly having to stop and move to the side so previous groups can get out. You can’t stop and enjoy the stalactites, and stalagmites because there is an army behind you and another army trying to pass you. When we reached the falls, they closed off the walk ways that went around the waterfalls and you are only allowed 5 minutes. You have to contend with 20-40 other people for the perfect picture and soak in the moment and beauty of what you are trying to get a picture of before the tour guide takes off. Because there are so many groups down there, it’s not just yours at the waterfall. Then you make the rushed journey back squeezing around people.
Like I said, if you didn’t know it then, you will probably be more impressed than I am with Ruby Falls. I still think you should see it, it’s still interesting and beautiful. I just don’t think it’s worth another visit. Unless they start limiting how many tours happen simultaneously.
Rock City Gardens and Look Out Mountain
The best for last. This is my favorite place in Chattanooga. We recently went back this past January. We were there January 1st, 2020. I thought that by spending the first day of the year having fun and traveling as a family, meant that’s how I would spend the year. Guess 2020 didn’t get the memo.
It’s magical. More magical than Disney World. I’m probably one of the few who have that opinion, but Disney has a lot of people and long lines and is overpriced and usually super hot. Anyway, that is a different post. Rock City Gardens has a fairy tale theme to it. As you walk the path to Look Out Mountain and then back around to the beginning you will see sneaky gnomes, Rainbow Hall, and story book characters hiding in the walls. When you reach the top of Look Out Mountain you will see seven different states and have all of the time in the world to take in the moment. It’s not over crowded or maybe it’s just open enough it doesn’t feel that way. My whole family agrees that this is the best place in Chattanooga. I will let the pictures do my talking for this one. Save this one for last if you go and see these 3 family fun places. Also before you go, check and see if they have any special events. I would really really like to go back and see their winter fantasy of lights. Being there at night though makes me nervous because it’s on a mountain. Driving down a mountain at night sounds deadly for this South Florida momma. Hotel arrangements and uber with be necessary if we ever do that.
Oh, also all of these places are near each other so driving is very minimal and they are easy to find.