Enjoying Both Chattanooga’s Great Outdoors & Museums
By Jeanne Brei & Symeria Palmer
Chattanooga is known for its beautiful natural surroundings—after all, it’s very name derives from a Creek word for nearby Lookout Mtn. meaning “rock rising to a point.” It began as a river port, and grew with the arrival of the railroads in the 1840s. Outdoorsy folks will find no shortage of world-class climbing, hiking loops, kayak routes and mountain biking trails but there’s also some wonderful museums, the country’s top rated aquarium and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum—which allows you to experience the romance of the rails with its regularly scheduled, full-sized train ride tours.
Starting at the top, the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, “America’s Most Amazing Mile,” climbs the mountain at a breathtaking 72.7 percent grade near the top—which gives the Incline the distinction of being the world’s steepest passenger railway. Established in 1895, the trolley-style railcars are now fully accessible with air-conditioning as they carry you cloud-high. At Lookout Mtn. Station, the free observation deck is the highest overlook on the mountain and the Incline Centennial Exhibits feature rare photographs from the late 1800s to the present.
Located atop Lookout Mountain, just six miles from downtown Chattanooga, Rock City is a true marvel of nature featuring massive ancient rock formations, gardens with 400+ native plant species, and breathtaking “See Seven States” panoramic views. Visitors may cast their wish upon the 140-foot high falls, visit the world-famous Lover’s Leap or wind their way through massive rock boulders and caverns to Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. Or you can go inside Lookout Mountain where you’ll see the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the U.S.—Ruby Falls (pictured right). Visitors descend 26 stories by elevator and then walk 60-80 minutes during a guided tour to the breathtaking waterfall, 1,120 feet underground. Discovered in 1928, the guided tours have been operating since 1930.
Helping Chattanooga get the nickname “The Scenic City,” the Tennessee Riverpark includes more than 150 acres along the Tennessee River with playgrounds, public art, recreational areas, fishing piers, historical sites, facility rentals and more. One of its most popular amenities is the Chattanooga Riverwalk, which offers a 13-mile, family-friendly, paved multi-use greenway. Beginning at TVA’s Chickamauga Dam and stretching south along the river through downtown and extending to the base of Lookout Mountain, the landscaped and lighted concrete Riverwalk is used for bicycling, in-line skating, walking, jogging, and has several canoe and kayaking launches. Since opening in 1987, the Tennessee Riverwalk continues to be recognized as one of the region’s premier greenways. In 2016, a $16 million expansion added three miles and includes the Amphitheater at Blue Goose Hollow (site of Bessie Smith’s first home and where she began singing for coins as a young girl), Chattanooga Bike Share station, a pavilion and more.
Within walking distance of downtown Chattanooga, Bluff View Art District (pictured left) specializes in the visual, culinary and landscape arts. The historic neighborhood sits high atop a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River. If walking is more your style, the Walnut St. Bridge, erected in 1891, is one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. It connects downtown Chattanooga to the north shore and is dog friendly.
Also built on a bluff, a 90-foot limestone bluff overlooking the Tennessee River, the Hunter Museum of American Art (pictured right) is comprised of a 1905 classical revival mansion, a low-slung 1970s building and a 2005 contemporary structure that showcase 100 years of architecture and house one of the finest collections of American art in the Southeast. The collection spans the history of American art from the colonial period to the present day, and includes painting, sculpture, contemporary studio glass and crafts.
Art lovers will also enjoy the 33-acre Sculpture Fields at Montague Park curated and designed by world-renowned artist John Henry. Filled with 27 large-scale sculptures by artists from around the world, the non-profit outdoor museum features beautifully landscaped gardens and is dog friendly.
One of the nation’s top children’s museums, the Creative Discovery Museum (pictured left) inspires children’s passion for learning through play. Whether creating a clay sculpture in the Artists’ Studio, zooming a message through a pneumatic tube in Inventors’ Clubhouse, digging for dinosaur bones in Excavation Station, or creating an ensemble cast of characters in the Back Alley Theatre, this museum is full of hands-on family fun.
For more family fun, AT&T Field is home to the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league baseball team and Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. With free parking, low ticket prices and good food, it’s a sure bet.
And finally, the Bessie Smith Cultural Center (pictured right) is undergoing renovations in 2021 to better showcase Chattanooga’s African American heritage and notable figures throughout history.
An excerpt of this story originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 48. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_may-june_2021