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The 10 Best Things to do in Chattanooga with Kids

The 10 Best Things to do in Chattanooga with Kids

Chattanooga is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains on the banks of the Tennessee River. With natural beauty as one of its greatest assets, it’s dubbed the “Scenic City” and there are so many things to do in Chattanooga with kids indoors and outside!

From the depths of Ruby Falls to the top of Lookout Mountain, a family vacation in Chattanooga will be filled with adventure. Here are our favorite things to do in Chattanooga with kids.

Explore more of the state! Here are our favorite things to do in Tennessee with kids.

Things to do in Chattanooga with Kids

1. Tennessee Aquarium

One of the best thigns to do in Chattanooga with kids is visit the Tennessee Aquarium
River Journey at the Tennessee Aquarium, Photo by Tarlie Harris

The Tennessee Aquarium sits directly on the waterfront in downtown Chattanooga. Journey through rivers and oceans to learn about a huge variety of aquatic species local to the area and beyond.

Don’t miss the river otters (because they wrestle just like little boys!) and the penguins (because who doesn’t love a cute waddle?). 

There are plenty of interactive elements throughout the aquarium to keep the kids engaged. They will love getting hands-on in the stingray touch tank and the butterfly garden, lounging on their backs as they gaze into the tanks directly above them, and pretending to be a baby turtle hatching from its egg.

You could spend several hours in the aquarium, especially if you catch an IMAX movie and let the kids explore the play area in front of the aquarium centered around a man-made stream.

2. Ruby Falls Cave Tour

Ruby Fall in Chattanooga
Ruby Falls, Photo by Tarlie Harris

Ruby Falls is a thundering 145-foot waterfall located inside Lookout Mountain. This is a very popular attraction so we recommend booking the very first tour of the day if you are looking to minimize crowds.

The 60-minute cave tour begins with a descent via elevator to the cave entrance. From there, a walk along narrow pathways lined with beautiful cave formations leads to Ruby Falls.

Once you are at the falls, a light show plays so that you can appreciate the waterfall and the monstrous cavern it sits in from all angles before heading back to the cave entrance.

In the spring and summer, the zipline course is open. During October, there are lantern tours and spooky lantern tours for families with teenagers looking for some scary thrills.

Best of all, during the holidays the lobby is completely decked out with Christmas decorations and kids can visit with Santa and put a special wish on the Garden of Wishes wishing tree.

3. Tennessee Valley Railroad

Tennessee Valley Railroad is one of the best things to do in Chattanooga withkids
Tennessee Valley Railroad, Photo by Flickr/nigelmenzies

Attention train lovers, this is where you board! The Tennessee Valley Railroad is the only regularly scheduled, full-sized train ride in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Valley Railroad collects, restores, and operates vintage railcars from the “Golden Age” of train transportation in America. You can see several restored cars in the train yard, but the real highlight of a visit is going for a train ride.

The passenger trains run on historic routes dating back to the 1850s. The best bet for a family excursion is the Missionary Ridge Local route. This experience is only about an hour, goes across four bridges and through the Missionary Ridge Tunnel, and is narrated for the history buffs.

If your timing is right, you could go for the Day Out with Thomas ride, the North Pole Limited, or the Holiday Lights Train. Of course, any of the rides would be spectacular for seeing fall foliage as well.

4. High Point Climbing

High Point Climbing in Chattanooga
Kids Zone at High Point Climbing, Photo by Jordyn Coffin

Sometimes called the “Boulder of the East”, Chattanooga is well known for having excellent rock climbing sites like Foster Falls and Sunset Rock within close reach.

To bring that experience into downtown Chattanooga, the city welcomed a massive urban redevelopment project called The Block. It includes High Point Climbing, a coffee/wine bar, and an outdoor gear store.

High Point Climbing has over 30,000 square feet of unique indoor and outdoor climbing space. The outdoor transparent climbing wall towers over Broad Street and provides great entertainment even if you don’t want to climb.

Kids will enjoy scaling dinosaur bones and jumping off 20-foot buildings in the Kids Zone, which enables kids as young as three years old to participate in a climbing adventure.

5. Creative Discovery Museum

Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga
Creative Discovery Museum, Photo by Flickr/J. Stephen Conn

Chattanooga’s children’s museum, The Creative Discovery Museum, allows kids to fully immerse themselves in art, history, and science through play.

The whole family can climb the spiral staircase of The Tower for an expansive view of Chattanooga and get some fresh air on the rooftop garden. 

Kids will love making a human-sized bubble, buzzing around an oversize beehive, excavating dinosaur bones in a large sandpit, operating simple machines, and creating in the maker space and performing arts gallery.

6. Incline Railway

Incline Railway at Lookout Mountain
The Incline Railway on Lookout Mountain, Photo by Tarlie Harris

This turn-of-the-century Incline Railway takes riders up “America’s Most Amazing Mile” to the top of Lookout Mountain.

The train car is pulled up the 70% incline by a cable and the counterweight of the other train car descending the mountain at the same time. Little engineers may get a kick out of the huge pulley system operating the cable at the top of track.

The views from the train car and the viewing stations at the top are magnificent! There is a gift shop at the top that happens to have a very tempting selection of fudge available. 

Oh, and did we mention Clumpies Ice Cream is at the base station? Clumpies is Chattanooga’s reigning king of ice cream, adored for their handmade, micro-batched ice cream and unique flavors.

Don’t skip the five minute walk over to Point Park from the incline station. It’s a 10-acre Civil War Memorial Park where kids can learn about the 1863 “Battle Above the Clouds.” 

Memorials and strategically placed canons line the park’s pathways and the view of Moccasin Bend is unforgettable. For history buffs, The Battles for Chattanooga Museum at the entrance of the park features a digital map display telling the story of the Civil War battles in the area.

7. The Tennessee River Walk

Tennessee River Walk in Chattanooga
View of Coolidge Park from the Walnut Street Bridge, Photo by Flickr/Klobetime

The Tennessee River Walk is a 16-mile paved path along the southern bank of the Tennessee River. It’s easy to access from downtown and is the perfect place for a scenic stroll along the water, providing ample chill time outside.

Start at the Riverfront Playground, which is just north of AT&T Field (home of the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball team). From there, walk east along the water until you reach the Walnut Street Bridge.

The bridge is a pedestrian only and leads to the north bank of the river. It provides great views of the river and downtown Chattanooga. On the north bank, you will arrive at Coolidge Park, featuring a sprayground and restored 100 year old carousel. 

When it’s time for lunch, there are lots of places to grab food just outside the park. Our top pick is Edley’s BBQ.

Up for more outdoor adventure? Rent kayaks from L2 Outside. Their rental office is on the northern edge of Coolidge Park and they launch from this side of the river under the Market Street Bridge.

8. Rock City

Rock City Suspension in Chatanooga
Rock City Suspension Bridge, Photo by Tarlie Harris

While Rock City is famous for its view of seven states from Lover’s Leap, it is so much more than that! The walking trail between massive, moss-covered boulders, over little creeks, and through whimsical red doors feels like an enchanted adventure from start to finish.

Even on a foggy day, the magic of Rock City does not falter, so don’t let that deter you from a visit. With passages like “Fat Man’s Squeeze” and “Goblins Underpass”, your family will eagerly anticipate every step along the way.

Kids can test their mettle on the suspension bridge (there’s an alternate path for the cautious) and dream their way through the colorful dioramas of FairyLand Caverns.

The beauty of mother nature is on full display at every turn in Rock City, and in the winter, she gets a little help from thousands of lights for Enchanted Garden of Lights.

While there is quick service food available just inside the main entrance at Big Rock Grill, you might want to hold out for Café 7 near Lover’s Leap for some excellent Southern cuisine.

9. Southern Belle Riverboat

Southern Belle Riverboat
Photo via Flickr

To see the city from the river, book the sightseeing or sunset cruise on the Southern Belle Riverboat. Both of these cruises are an hour and a half long, with narration on the sightseeing cruise and live music on the sunset cruise. Both cruises treat passengers to fresh air, great views, and a MoonPie.

Yep, you read that right, a MoonPie. They were invented in Chattanooga in 1917 at the Chattanooga Bakery as a snack for coal miners. They then became world famous when they travelled with soldiers abroad during World War II. Today, about a million MoonPies a day are made in Chattanooga. 

If you want to spend more time on the riverboat, there are three hour fall foliage cruises and a cruise to the Chickamauga Dam where the boat actually goes through the lock system.

10. The Bluff View Arts District and the Hunter Museum of Art

Bluff View Sculpture Garden in Chatanooga
View from the Bluff View Sculpture Garden, Photo by Tarlie Harris

The Bluff View Arts District is a meticulously revitalized area on the east side of downtown. It sits directly on bluffs high above the river, affording amazing views, and is anchored by the Bluff View Sculpture Garden. It’s a small area, but could be the perfect mid-day break between visiting larger, more bustling attractions.

Grab some coffee and chocolate from Rembrandt’s Coffee House and explore the quiet streets and sculpture garden. You will love the extensively landscaped streets and architecture of the restored homes, while the kids will love the treats.

The Hunter Museum of Art is within easy walking distance. The museum has done a great job incorporating modern pieces into its exhibits, so that kids can see art reflecting the world they know alongside historical pieces. There is a small drawing gallery and an art lounge for kids if their creative juices start flowing.

Where to Stay in Chattanooga with Kids

Edwin Hotel in Chattanooga
The Edwin Hotel, Photo by Tarlie Harris

The Edwin Hotel is a luxury, boutique hotel right in the middle of all the action. It’s our top pick because the prime location will allow you to fit in as much as possible into your time in Chattanooga. It’s got a rooftop bar, a fine dining restaurant, and a spa.

However, if the price point of the Edwin is too high (or your worried your little ones will wreck the vibe), the SpringHill Suites Chattanooga Downtown/Cameron Harbor is a more affordable option.

It’s located directly on the Tennessee River. Suites include a pull out sofa, microwave, and mini fridge. On the property, Scottie’s on the River is a steak and seafood restaurant loved by the locals. Complimentary breakfast, modern rooms, and river views make this hotel an excellent choice.

For a unique stay, book a room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. The Choo Choo’s motto is “More That a Hotel” because it’s a pedestrian friendly development project home to the hotel in addition to restaurants, bars, a comedy club, an escape room, and gardens.

The hotel stands in what was Terminal Station, built in the early 1900s. It is further from the river than our other hotel picks, but the kids will have plenty of space to play with direct access to the Glen Miller Gardens from the hotel.

Where to Eat in Chattanooga with Kids

Meat and Two
The “Meat & Two” at Puckett’s, Photo by Tarlie Harris

Head to Puckett’s Grocery for the classic Southern plate people in these parts grew up on. Pick your meat and sides and await the kind of home cooking hard to come by in a restaurant. The atmosphere is big and loud, just like your family, so no best-behavior required here.

For breakfast, there is no better place in Chattanooga than the Bluegrass Grill. All they do is breakfast and boy do they do it right! Family favorites include the cheesy grits (a must try!), jalapeno bacon, and Joan Marie’s special omelet.

For some Mexican flare, head to Taco Mamacita for delicious, inventive tacos. Tacos run the gamut from a Californian Club to the Korean BBQ Taco with a little of everything in between.

Another quick lunch spot is the Chicago-style hoagie shop, Lil’ Mamas. It’s got a ’90’s graffiti thing going on and the sandwiches and homemade parmesan chips are delicious!

The Frothy Monkey is an all day café/bakery serving coffee and three meals a day. It sources its food locally as much as possible and has a fun atmosphere.

We’ve already mentioned the coffee shop in the Bluff Arts District, but Tony’s Pasta Shop and Trattoria is well worth a visit as well. Sometimes there is simply no substitute for fresh, hand-made pasta, especially after a long day of sightseeing.

Day Trips from Chattanooga with Kids

The Ocoee River Valley

Ocoee River Valley
View from Morris Vineyard, Photo by Tarlie Harris

To soak up the beautiful scenery of east Tennessee, head 30 minutes northeast of Chattanooga into the rolling hills of the Ocoee River Valley.

The Ocoee River was the site of the whitewater river rafting competition for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and is very popular with families looking to spend a day on Class II-IV rapids.

The Lake Ocoee Inn and Marina rents boats, leads whitewater rafting tours, and has cabins right on the water. The rafting guides are full time local residents, offering the best expertise around.

Not up for the adrenaline rush? The small town of Cleveland makes a great base for exploring the quieter side of the area. It’s got a cute little downtown with several restaurants and a history museum with an exhibit on the Cherokee Nation.

Just outside of town, you can visit Apple Valley Orchard for some homemade apple pie (June through October), take a ride through the woods on horseback with Ocoee Horseride, or simply enjoy the stunning view from Morris Vineyard.

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Cloud Canyon State Park
Cloudland Canyon State Park, Photo by Flickr/Jeff Gunn

Venture 30 minutes southwest of Chattanooga to spend a day in Cloudland Canyon State Park. As one of the largest state parks in Georgia, this park is a dream for families that love to hike or bike together.

The Waterfalls Trail is a steep descent into the canyon to both of the park’s waterfalls, Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls. The Overlook Trail is a short, paved trail offering a great view from above the canyon. 

Special thanks to Jordyn Coffin who authored the original version of the article.

Tarlie Harris