A beautiful city set on the Tennessee River at foot of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga is a hidden gem among Southern cities. With a state forest and a national forest within easy striking distance, a mountain with stunning views out over Southern Tennessee and a rich Civil War history, there’s a good mix of things to do in Chattanooga.
Maybe you’re on a road trip through the South or maybe you’re just looking for a new getaway over a long weekend, Chattanooga is likely to be a pleasant surprise.
1. Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls
Lookout mountain sits on the Tennessee-Georgia border and “looks out” over Chattanooga and the otherwise flat Southern Tennessee. As you might imagine, the views, especially at sunset or sunrise, are nothing short of spectacular. Going in the fall is an especially good time as you dodge the heat and catch the trees changing colors — a lookout point in the truest sense. Oh, and the hike up the mountain is beautiful to discover waterfalls and sandstone formations. This is our winner for outdoor enthusiasts.
Ruby Falls is a waterfall inside of Lookout Mountain that plunges 145 feet from an opening in the cave down to a pool below. The cave is often lit with purple lights that beam down the water, giving an appearance of an extraterrestrial happening. It’s quite a spectacular scene and a can’t-miss for all Chattanooga visitors.
If you’re not up for the hike, the Incline Railway is a tram car that takes passengers straight to the top of the mountain and makes for a fun activity for transport enthusiasts nature-lovers alike.
2. Explore the Tennessee River
We recommend two different ways to do this. The first is to get the adrenaline going with some white water rafting. Be ready for bumps along the way and maybe the occasional flip over. This is an absolute blast for those looking for the more adventurous side of the river.
The second way is to hop on a boat at sunset and cruise the river. You can have dinner and a couple of drinks as night falls over Chattanooga.
3. Creative Discovery Museum
If you’re visiting with young kids, the Creative Discovery Museum is a must-see. It’s sort of an art and science combined museum packed with interactive exhibits designed for kids to get hands-on while learning.
4. Bluff View Art District
Chattanooga has a strong arts community and the best way to experience it is on foot in the Arts District. You can hop from one handicraft store to the next and explore what local artists have to offer. The neighborhood also offers some excellent restaurants, so grabbing lunch or dinner after some art exploring is highly recommended.
If the Arts District itself isn’t enough, you can always hit the Hunter Museum of American Art and discover its featured Modernism and American Impressionism pieces. The museum itself is art, set in a 1904 classical revival mansion designed by the son of President James A. Garfield.
5. Climb at The Block
The Block is a rock climbing center located in downtown that features both indoor and outdoor rock climbing walls. You can take a beginner’s course, or, if you know your way up a wall, tackle some of the more challenging 60-foot walls the center has available.
6. Raccoon Mountains Caverns
Chattanooga can get pretty hot and sticky in the summer and one of the most interesting ways to cool down is to explore the caves at Raccoon Mountain. With over five miles of caves to wander through, you can essentially enter another world.
7. The Chattanooga National Cemetery
Chattanooga is rich with Civil War history, and no list of things to do in Chattanooga would be complete without a trip to the Chattanooga National Cemetery. Initially established as a place to bury fallen Union soldiers after the battle of Chattanooga in November 1863, the cemetery is home to multiple Medal of Honor recipients and even foreign prisoners of war from WWII.
From the cemetery itself, you can see the sites of the Civil War battles of Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga. A walk through the cemetery at sunset is a powerful experience.
8. The Walnut Street Bridge
Simple and beautiful, a stroll across the Walnut Street Bridge is a must. And for those with an eye for photography, the design of this pedestrian bridge sets up for some awesome shots.
9. Hike Audubon Acres
With miles of hiking trails and excellent kayaking and swimming spots, Audubon Acres is an excellent way to get out and get some fresh air.