10 Family-Friendly Activities in Chattanooga
A monster fish is waiting for you in Chattanooga. So is a carousel ticket (for a dollar a ride) and a day of kite-flying in a beautiful park. This family-friendly town on the Tennessee River can entertain kids and adults for for a day, a week or longer. Here are ten don’t-miss activities for your visit.
Tennessee Aquarium & River Gorge Explorer
Allow at least two hours to explore the Tennessee Aquarium, on the downtown riverfront. It’s home to creatures that live in freshwater habitats from the mountains to the sea, including otters, turtles, alligators and giant catfish. In the Ocean Journey building, look for sharks, stingrays in a touch pool, penguins and an enclosure filled with fluttering butterflies.
While you're there, catch the National Geographic exhibit, Monster Fish: In Search of River Giants. It’s currently free with aquarium membership or general admission. Call or visit the aquarium website before you visit to confirm the dates of this temporary exhibit.
Coolidge Park and the Great Outdoors
Put the kids in bathing suits and let them splash in the animal-themed fountains at Coolidge Park. From downtown Chattanooga, you can drive to the park, located on the city’s North Shore, or walk across the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. Bring a blanket to picnic while you watch boaters float by on the river.
Later, choose a hand-carved steed on the antique carousel, throw a football across the grass or check out the area’s shops, restaurants and art galleries.
More outdoor fun is a short drive away. Hike or bike a mountain trail, go whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River (about 45 minutes from downtown), kayak, or ride horses.
Get some wind in your hair with a ride on the sleek, blue-and-white River Gorge Explorer. This high-tech vessel transports you from the downtown pier into the Tennessee River Gorge. Naturalists point out wildlife and share tales of the Civil War and other local history during each two-hour cruise.
Only six miles from downtown Chattanooga, Rock City Gardens, of "See Rock City" fame, gives visitors a view of seven states. Hike the 4,100 foot-long Enchanted Trail past fantastic rock formations, colorful flowers, and venture into caves. At Fairyland Caverns, the kids can pick out their favorite storybook character or gnome sculpture. Mother Goose Village, in the same area, is home to scenes from Humpty Dumpty, the Three Little Pigs, and other nursery rhymes. Depending on the season, the kids can also pan for gemstones, scale a 25-foot climbing wall, or get a “fairyland” makeover.
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
Chattanooga calls the Incline’s route “America’s Most Amazing Mile,” and it is amazing. The trolley-like cars you'll ride in have a glass top and sides, so you'll get breathtaking views as you climb a 72.7 percent grade—that’s almost straight up Lookout Mountain. Disembark at the observation deck on top of the mountain and explore Point Park, the site of the Civil War Battle Above the Clouds. A Civil War museum is just a five minute walk away. When you’re ready to ride back down, you’ll find hand-dipped ice cream, a microbrewery (for the adults), an indoor climbing wall and more to see and do.
The Riverwalk is a paved, 13-mile greenway through downtown Chattanooga, and it’s great for biking, walking, skating and jogging. Here you'll also find Ross’s Landing, a popular venue for boat races, music festivals and other live events. Let the kids see The Passage, a walkway from downtown to the river. It marks the beginning of the Cherokee’s long walk on the Trail of Tears and includes a “weeping wall,” with symbols of the seven clans of the Cherokee Nation, and other displays that tell the stories of Native peoples.
Creative Discovery Museum
Don’t keep your hands to yourself at the Creative Discovery Museum. Ranked one of the top children’s museums in the U.S., it invites visitors to touch, learn and play. Kids can dress up as lords and ladies (or jesters) in the new Amazing Castle exhibit; try basic woodworking or sewing; draw and sculpt; dig in a big sand pit or just kick back with a book. There’s a special area devoted just to family activities. The museum is in walking distance of the riverfront, aquarium and many other downtown attractions.
High Point Climbing & Fitness
Let the kids play Spiderman -- or you can -- when you climb at one of two High Point Climbing and Fitness locations in Chattanooga. The downtown gym has 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor climbing, while the riverside location has 10,000 square feet. A special Kid Zone features beginner walls; experienced climbers can get a grip in the bouldering areas and on an adjustable wall, or cross-train in aerobic, weight and yoga rooms.
Southern Belle Riverboat
Set sail with the Southern Belle Riverboat for a lunch, dinner, or daytime sightseeing cruise on the Tennessee River. Ask for a tour of the pilot house, or just sit back and listen as live narrators chat about the area’s history and natural features. If the kids aren’t into the scenery, let them escape to the 3rd Deck Burger Bar, where they can relax in a “living room” with couches, flat-screen TVs, arcade games and, of course—hamburgers, veggie burgers, or chicken sandwiches.
Ruby Falls, atop Lookout Mountain, is getting a makeover, with the addition of a new outdoor viewing area, more shops, and other improvements. Tour Ruby Falls Cave to see an amazing 145-foot waterfall, the country’s largest underground waterfall open to the public. After you surface, take a Zip Stream Aerial Adventure complete with a suspended obstacle course of ladders, tunnels, zip lines, nets and walkways. A three-sided, 40-foot tower lets you test your climbing skills.
Christmas in Chattanooga
Lots of attractions decorate for the holidays and offer special events at Christmastime. Check out Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s North Pole Limited Adventures, Ruby Falls Christmas Underground and the holiday cruises aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat. Click here for more details.
From annual events including the Cherry Blossom Festival to some events that only the locals know about, such as the Bethesda Literary Festival, here are my 5 picks for family-friendly things to do this spring in Washington, DC.