Lookout Mountain’s trifecta of attractions heralds memories of an era that was championed by the family road trip, making it a perfect choice for our first full-day of adventures, anchored by our stay in Chattanooga. While Lookout Mountain’s appeal may be universal, just ask the question as to which of the 3 attractions is the favorite, and the answers will be as divided as the loyalties from this area during the Civil War.

Rock City, Ruby Falls, or Incline Railway- discover your favorite! 

Getting Started

The key to experiencing Lookout Mountain, in one day, is to start early.  We opted to skip the big breakfast experience to save time.  A quick stop en route, at Chattanooga Coffee Company, yielded the perfect balance of good java and a light breakfast.  From bananas and yogurt to bagels and cinnamon buns, eating inside while watching them roast the coffee beans on-site is a starter attraction all to it’s own. 

Rock City

Turning left onto Mockingbird Lane, the stone cottages of the neighboring Chanticleer Inn welcome you down the next several hundred feet to the Rock City main entrance and parking area.  To prove there is one on every corner, a stone covered Starbucks guards the entrance.

We no sooner secure a parking spot, and my mother’s eyes start glistening with a sparkle of childhood innocence as she flashed back to the trip enjoyed with her parents and grandparents.  Returning now with her daughter and grandson, it is a pilgrimage generations of families mirror that fulfills Rock City’s mission to “Create Memories Worth Repeating.”  “See Rock City” has served as a place holder of memories in the minds of multiple generations.

“Yeah!!!  Rock City!! Come on Grandpa; I can’t wait to go through Fat Man’s Squeeze with you!!” With that we are out of the car, through the turnstile, and having our family picture taken at the entrance.

Descending through the rock flanked passages, the stifling summer humidity gives over to a cool presence.  Winding pathways become speckled with carefully groomed and labeled gardens, that began in the 1920’s as Freida Carter set out to build the ultimate rock garden.

The Enchanted Trail winds through 14-acres of varying elevations and sights. From local flora and fauna to caves and amazing views, Rock City has activities to enchant the entire family.

            Don’t Miss Highlights

  • Swing-A-Long Bridge- The alternate parallel route along the rock bridge allows for a perfect photo opportunity to catch a great picture of a loved one on the Swing-A-Long bridge, with an expansive view of the Chattanooga Valley in the background.
  • Deer Park- Just past Fat Man’s Squeeze you will find the observation deck to gaze upon the resident Fallow Deer.  Keep an eye out for the rare white deer.
  • Lover’s Leap- Great views of the falls can be seen from the road leading up to Rock City, as well as off the Enchanted Trail leading up to Lover’s Leap.  Atop Lover’s Leap is the famous “See 7 States” viewing area.  On a clear day you can gaze over Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.
  • Fat Man’s Squeeze- A staircase leads down to this very narrow passage area, just past the Lover’s Leap area.  This narrow pass is only a short distance, but there is an alternate route should severe claustrophobia prevent your completion.
  • Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village-Scenes of childhood fairy tales dot the caverns leading to the expansive opening of Mother Goose Village.  Black lights create a whimsical glow, bringing to life such favorites as “Little Miss Muffet” and “Hey, diddle, diddle”.
  • Shops and Restaurants- At the end of the trail be sure and sample the Wine Slushies for a an adult treat to beat the heat.  The iconic “See Rock City” barns can be purchased in the gift shop.  These bird houses, as well as bird and hummingbird feeders are some of the most popular souvenirs.

            Tips and Tricks

  • Due to the stone covered paths, leave the flip flops in the car and opt for tennis shoes and other more secured, closed-toe foot wear.
  • If you have a wee one that is often in the stroller, then be sure to bring a back pack or sling style child carrier.
  • There is a vending machine area just prior to the Swing-a-long bridge, as well as a concession area adjacent to Lover’s Leap and the Cliff Terrace area.
  • Don’t forget the sunscreen! Although much of the park is within caves and shaded paths, the Lover’s Leap area is open to the elements. The amazing view may keep you out in the open longer than you expect.
  • This is the one attraction that four-legged, fury members of the family are allowed inside the park on a leash.



Located on S. Scenic Highway, conveniently located in between Rock City and Ruby Falls, what was once the town grocery store in the 1900’s is now a southern-style cafe serving dishes that explode with flavors of fresh locally sourced ingredients. Don’t miss their daily homemade soups, the Fried Green Tomato BLT, Mac N’ Cheese, and my favorite- a glass of Prosecco served alongside Pimento Cheese.

Café on the Corner is a ‘must eat’ for any Lookout Mountain adventure.


Ruby Falls

Winding back down the mountain from Rock City, Ruby Falls appears suddenly like a desert oasis. Parking flanks both sides of the road, so be sure to pay attention to the road side attendant who will guide you towards the closest open parking areas. 

We began our journey with an elevator ride down 260ft feet to the Ruby Falls cave.  As seems to be an unofficial law at Lookout Mountain attractions, each tour begins with a family photo at the cave entrance.

After a short video of the Ruby Falls history, and you are off on your 2/5th of a mile journey back to the 145-foot waterfall. 

Upon reaching the falls, you are now 1,120 feet underground.  As you enter the falls cavern it is kept dark to allow the entire group to enter before the grand unveiling of the falls.  The closer you approach, your eyes fight to adjust. Your senses tingle as your skin is tickled from the light mist of the falls, and the woosh of the hidden falls overtakes any conversations.

Cameras ready….  The lights come up as a literal symphony of music accompanies the bathing of the falls in rotating colors of light. Time is given for all families to get a picture by the falls, and guides are more than willing to help and take a picture of you with your own camera.

The time at the falls is short-lived and your journey back to the elevator begins to complete your 4/5th of a mile roundtrip cave experience.

            Don’t Miss Highlights

  • A playground is conveniently located as you exit the tour.  The amazing view of the Chattanooga Valley makes it a welcome breather before heading onto the next location.
  • Be prepared for add-ons.  Group pictures from the cave, concessions, gem panning, and concessions will bombard you before you exit.  Another unofficial law, that our tour guide pointed out, is that all attractions require an exit through the gift shop.
  • Climb the tour before you exit, for even better views and photo opportunities of the valley below.
  • Ruby Falls also has their ZIPstream Aerial Adventure, adjacent to the falls area.  Offering a climbing wall, ropes course, and zip lining, be sure to add several hours to your time frame should you be participating.  Ages 6 and up, with height restrictions, can participate.  This activity carries an additional cost.

            Tips and Tricks

  • Camera junkies can get some neat shots, but be prepared for the elements- low-light, high-humidity with spots of dripping water, and constant motion.
  • Similar to Rock City, wear appropriate footwear and use pack-style child carriers.  Direct-front or back child carriers, as opposed to side slings, will make traversing the narrow passages with low hanging rock formations easier. This isn ot stroller or wheelchair friendly.
  • Be sure to visit the restrooms immediately before your tour.  The tour lasts approximately and hour and twenty minutes, and there are no restrooms down in the caves.
  • Ruby Falls is perfect in the heat of the day or in inclement weather, as the entire tour is located inside. 

Point Park and Incline Railway

A quick jaunt back up the mountain puts you at the Incline Railway entrance.  A few blocks past the Incline Railway is Point Park, making it within walking distance if desired.

We elected to do Point Park first due to possible inclement weather approaching. Point Park does require an entrance fee of $3, but convenient self-pay credit machines are onsite.  Do remember though to bring change for the meters to park. The Visitors Center, open until 6pm during the summer months, has several history videos and paintings.  The actual park area is accessible until sundown.  

From Point Park, some of the most breathtaking views can be had along the paved trail running the point perimeter. These amazing views sealed this parks history in the Civil War’s “Battle Above the Clouds.”

3 blocks from Point Park is the top entrance for the Incline Railway.  Should your day not include a ride, you can still use it’s viewing decks to take in open views of the valley below. 

Due to the 72.7% grade at the top, loading the rail car requires you to walk down steps as you progress towards the front of the car.  The actual ride down takes roughly 15 minutes.  The 20 minute time between leaving cars, gives you ample time to take in the gift shop at the bottom.


The lower station, located in historic St Elmo, also has various shops and some restaurants across the street should you prefer to take a later rail car back to the top.

Just be cautious to note the time of the last leaving train back to the top, which changes depending on the time of year. 

If you have younger kiddos, like we do, the pace of the day might not leave the tolerance for a restaurant dinner.

We opted to call in an order to Lupi’s Pizza Pie in downtown Chattanooga.  Calling as you leave the Incline Railway makes for an almost perfect pick-up time for reaching Chattanooga below. Their homemade sauce and mozzarella, as well as hand made crust, made a lasting impression.  The sauce was so exceptional that I would order extra of it in the future.

We travel with a small bag that has several paper plates,utensils, and napkins in it.  The comfort of heading back to our hotel room to have dinner and relax is the perfect ending to an action packed day of adventure on the mountain.