See seven states and visit the tallest underground waterfall in the United States on your next family vacation
Pack your bags and get ready to enjoy quality family time in Chattanooga. This bustling, friendly southern town is the perfect getaway for families that love the outdoors, epic adventures, and delicious food. So whether you are road-tripping through Middle Tennessee or taking a day trip from Atlanta, Chattanooga is a bucket list town full of must-see places and family-friendly activities everyone in your crew will love. So keep reading to plan your perfect family vacation in Chattanooga.
Things to Do in Chattanooga with Kids
Located just under two hours outside of Atlanta, Chattanooga is famous for epic views, including Rock City, where you can see seven states from one spot and Ruby Falls, home to the tallest and deepest underground waterfall in the United States. But there’s so much more this town has to offer, and we rounded up our favorites.
Start at the top of Lookout Mountain
No visit to Chattanooga is complete without a stroll through the famous Rock City. Just 6 miles from downtown, this natural wonder is a true marvel of nature, featuring massive rock formations, gardens with over 400 native plant species, and breathtaking panoramic views of seven states. Young and old alike will love the whimsical Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village, with glow-in-the-dark scenes from beloved fairytales and nursery rhymes.
Get ready for a spectacular half-mile cavern tour with a massive payoff; it ends at the tallest and deepest underground waterfall in the U.S. You’ll learn about the explorers that crawled in an 18″ space for over 12 hours to discover this awe-inspiring underground spectacle. Aside from a few stairs, the walk isn’t challenging, and the waterfall is worth the price of admission. On your way out, head up the tower stairs for one of the best views of Chattanooga.
While you need to catch the train at the bottom of the mountain, it takes you right back to the top. Near the top is a 72.7% grade, making The Incline one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. The 365-degree view makes for an epic ten-minute train ride that stops at a small shop full of historical information and the machine room viewing area where you can see how it all works. Then, ride back down to keep your adventure going in historic St. Elmo and Southside, towns with great food and cool vibes.
Take a Family-friendly Stroll Through St. Elmo and Southside
Made world famous by the early 40s hit by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, this historical spot offers a fun place to play, eat and hang out. Your crew can ice skate in the winter, run around the gardens in the Spring or get lost in an escape room any time of the year. Keep an eye out for the Harry Potter-inspired platform 9 3/4. It is a great photo op.
St. Elmo Park
When your kids need to run off some energy, this BlueCross Healthy Place park has accessible play areas for children of all ages and abilities with ramp access and a soft rubber safety surface. The ninja warrior-like course challenges even the most adventurous kid, and the picnic area makes for the perfect shady spot to enjoy delicious carryout from several local restaurants.
Take in the true beauty of Chattanooga at this super kid-friendly nature center. Visit the Discovery Forest Treehouse, take a walk with the resident Vulture as you learn about his natural habitat or let your kids explore the natural playscapes with tree stump bridges and log forts. Then, get lost on the 15 miles of hiking trails, or rent a canoe to paddle down Lookout Creek.
Explore Downtown Chattanooga with Kids
If anyone in your family has ever wanted to try indoor rock climbing, this is the perfect gym for you. After a short orientation, your kids can climb everything from vertical dinosaur bones to tall city-like towers. With the auto belay, you won’t need to worry about safety. Everyone can climb over and over while you cheer from the benches or join them on a wall. Harnesses and shoes are available for rent, too.
Ask a local about this incredible museum; they’ve probably never heard of it. Call it a hidden gem; the Chattanooga Pinball Museum is a must-see downtown. With dozens of pinball and arcade games dating back to the early 1970s, get ready for an all-you-can-play adventure for the price of admission, no quarters needed.
Named one of the top 10 children’s museums in the United States, this interactive museum will delight everyone in your family. Stop by the Tennessee River-inspired water play area under the treetop playground, or slip off your shoes and dig for fossils. Then, head upstairs to the new STEAM area where you can test a robotic arm, try your hand at woodworking or put on a puppet show. So be sure you plan to spend a few hours in this epic children’s museum.
Get Outside and Enjoy Nature
Grab one of the many street parking spots and head out to enjoy views of the Tennessee River and Walnut Street Bridge (the perfect Chattanooga sunset spot). In warm weather, this park offers a fun splash pad to cool off and lots of green space to run around. Any time of the year, anyone over two can ride the 1890s antique carousel for $1 per ride. Kids under two are free.
Wait until the morning dew dries up before you grab a sturdy cardboard box and trek to the top of Cardboard Hill. You’ll need a good push, but you can race (pretty fast) down this grassy hill overlooking the river and downtown. If you can’t pack a box, don’t worry. Locals often leave boxes near the benches at the bottom of the hill. After you slide down the hill, you can stroll through Rennaissance Park down to the river.
If you need another spot to burn off some energy, stop at this 33-acre international sculpture park with over 40 giant sculptures that are free and open to the public. While you can’t climb on the artwork, you can walk around and enjoy this 100% outdoor art museum. And fur babies are welcome on a leash.
Where to Eat in Chattanooga with Kids
If you pick a hotel near the river, Scottie’s on the River is the best dinner spot for the whole family and has one of the best views in town. This chef-owned and operated restaurant prides itself on serving the freshest seafood in the city. Try the crawfish dip for a bit of local flavor.
State of Confusion
Stop at one of the coolest restaurants around, and your kids can play shuffleboard, Jenga or giant Connect Four while you wait for your food. The patio area offers a great place to enjoy all the sights and sounds of Chattanooga. The savory Monkey Bread is the perfect way to start your delicious meal here.
River Street Deli
Get ready to eat like a local at this authentic New York delicatessen with daily specials you don’t want to miss. First, stop and talk to the man taking your order. He’s passionate about their food and will help you pick the right combo. Then, take your meal to-go and head to Coolidge Park for a riverfront picnic with your family.
The Purple Daisy Picnic Cafe
Locals say this picnic-style restaurant has some of the best BBQ in Chattanooga. And their award-winning banana pudding isn’t to be missed. In addition, kids can enjoy traditional fall-off-the-bone ribs with just the right serving size for smaller appetites. So stop here after your Incline Railway adventure.
Nothing beats the vast selection of decadent truffles and treats at this Chattanooga sweet shop. Create your box of chocolates from the case full of artisan treats. Or choose from one of the pre-packaged bags of chocolate goodness.
Clumpies Ice Cream
What vacation is complete without a stop at the best ice cream shop in town? While you wait to board the Incline Railway, stop at this Chattanooga staple and pick out your favorite flavor or two. Sit outside on the patio to watch the train go up and down Lookout Mountain.
RocketFizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop
Travel back to this nostalgic soda and candy shop full of familiar treats and new sweets. Both the shop and pinball museum are open late, so you can combine a visit when exploring downtown Chattanooga.
Where to Stay in Chattanooga with Kids
Stay in Chattanooga’s only riverfront hotel that’s family-friendly and centrally located to all the Chattanooga fun. With large rooms that offer multiple beds and sofa beds, even big families can enjoy this waterfront hotel. The daily, complimentary hot breakfast helps keep your vacation on a budget and still full of delicious food. Kids will love the make-your-own waffle bar.
Vacationing in Chattanooga on a Budget? Check this out.
Discover More Details about Chattanooga
Chattanooga is the ideal family destination with the perfect balance of outdoorsy adventures and tons of family fun. Check out the Chattanooga Tourism website for more ideas on what to do on your next weekend adventure.
Note: This trip was paid for by Visit Chattanooga, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.