Chattanooga, TN.

Recently, for spring break my family took a trip down to Chattanooga, TN for a few days.  When I had learned that my oldest son would have a soccer tournament the first weekend of the break in Memphis, I figured we may as well take advantage of the driving we would already do and make a mini trip out of it.  Our kids had never been to Chattanooga, and I had heard a lot of great things about the aquarium there.  With all the other fun and exciting things they have to explore, we decided to head over once the tournament was finished.

That's my son in the maroon shirt going after the ball.

We were fortunate to not have the early games on Saturday so we were able to head down to Memphis on Saturday morning instead of having to spend an extra night in a hotel on Friday night.  After watching our son’s team play a couple of exciting, rousing games of soccer, we headed back to the hotel to change for dinner.  The next day the team lost the first game, which put them out of the tournament.  We were not too disappointed though since we had a 4-hour drive ahead of us, so we hit the road for Chattanooga.

You can always tell when you are getting close to Chattanooga

One of the many Rock City barns.

when you start seeing the red barns with “See Rock City” painted in huge letters on the side or the roof.  It was fun spotting them along the way making our anticipation for seeing it grow with each barn we passed.  The terrain started to get much more hilly too.  I was really glad I had taken my car-sick medicine as we began to hit the rolling hills and whips and turns.  Chattanooga is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of southern Tennessee.  With each mile that brought us closer to our hotel, the scenery became more mountainous and beautiful as only the Appalachians can be.  Finally, our hotel appeared at the top of the hill before us and we breathed a sigh of relief as we knew that dinner would be our next endeavor once we were checked in. We chose to stay a few miles away from downtown to save some money on the hotel.  Our home for the next three nights would be at the Fairfield Inn and Suites near Lookout Mountain. It was a nice hotel that seemed fairly new.  It must have been well constructed because we never heard a peep from any neighbors.  The room was small but adequate for our family of four. 

A sampling of the brews from Big River Grille and Brewing Works.

We chose to eat dinner that night at the Big River Grille and Brewing Works, a microbrewery in the heart of downtown, just a block from the aquarium.  The food was excellent along with the service, and the local brew capped off the night well as we left the restaurant with full tummies and doggie bags in hand.  Before we headed back to the hotel for the night, we strolled down the block to see where the aquarium was.  Chattanooga has a very nice aquarium located right on the river, and we had planned to make that one of the sites we would see while visiting. 

The next day was supposed to be the nicer of the two days we had planned for our visit, so we chose to do the outdoor stuff on that day.  We headed up to Lookout Mountain after breakfast, which proved to be an interesting drive on a very hilly, curvy

Ruby Falls

road.  Once we reached the top we decided to do Ruby Falls first and then Rock City after lunch.  Ruby Falls is a 145-foot underground waterfall located over 1,000 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain.  It was discovered in 1928 by Leo Lambert, a local cave enthusiast.  He named the falls after his wife, Ruby.  Visitors can access Ruby Falls cave by a 260-foot elevator shaft, once your tickets are purchased of course.  The cave has had a lot of modern conveniences added to it to make access easier for visitors.  Lighting has been strategically added to show the dramatic formations in the cave.  A nicely paved path complete with handrails and steps guides your way to the chamber where the falls are located half a mile into the mountain.  The tour guide stopped us at a photographer as soon as we exited the elevator then led us a few more steps to an area where they have set up flat screen TVs to show visitors a short film on the cave’s history.  Then she led us on down the path pointing out different formations along the way.  As we approached the chamber where the falls were, the roaring sound of the rushing water enhanced our anticipation to see it.  We were led into a large chamber that was very dimly lit, and once the tour guide made sure we were all in position dramatic music began to play and the lights came up to reveal the breath-taking beauty and wonder of the falls.  We were given about five minutes to walk around the falls and take pictures before we were led back through the cave to the elevator to take us back up.  All in all, it was an enjoyable tour, but the commercialization of it took away from the natural wonder of the cave and the falls.

After a quick bite to eat, we headed on over to Rock City a couple of miles down the road.  Rock City is located at the top of Lookout Mountain.  It is a 14-acre property that is host to massive rock formations, beautifully manicured gardens, and a panoramic view of 7 states from 1,700 feet above sea level.  We walked on a self-guided tour through the property, which took about 1 1/2 hours.  The grounds were beautiful and the views made for some great picture-taking opportunities.  We were amazed at the beauty of the area, but like Ruby Falls, it also had a very commercialized feel to it that seemed to take away from the exploration of nature.  We headed back down the mountain to explore the river front in the downtown area for a bit before heading to dinner at a chain restaurant then heading back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.  Tomorrow we planned to explore the aquarium. The Tennessee Aquarium is home to many animals from a 300-pound sea turtle named Stuie to an array of

One of six large sharks at the Tennessee Aquarium.

 butterflies species.  It is located in 2 buildings, the River Journey and the Ocean Journey.  It has been rated by Trip  Advisor as the number one aquarium in the nation.  While we were there they were doing a Keeper Kids program where kids could choose to do a short backstage tour in several different areas.  My youngest son chose to do the sea turtle feeding where the kids were taken to the top of the aquarium to watch a keeper feed him, and they were given the opportunity to ask questions.  It was a short tour, but it gave the kids an opportunity to see the aquarium from behind the scenes.  We were very impressed with our visit to the Tennessee Aquarium and would gladly visit there again if ever we find ourselves in Chattanooga again.  That evening was another quick dinner and then we headed back to the hotel for the evening.  The next day would entail our journey back home.

We live about 5 1/2 hours from Chattanooga in Southern Illinois.  We chose to break up the drive home with a short stop in Old Stone Fort State Park in Tennessee since it was just off the interstate.  It is a small state park that is host to a 2,000-year-old Native American ceremonial site.  We stopped at the visitors center and picked up the pamphlet for the self-guided tour and headed out to check it out.  The Old Stone Fort turned out to be just an embankment that ran the perimeter of the ceremonial grounds, not very impressive.  What was impressive was the beauty of the nature that surrounded the site.  It is nestled between two rivers with gorgeous water falls and high stone bluffs.  The short stop at this state park was worth it just to see nature at its best in these two rivers. 

Chattanooga is probably not what most people think of when they are looking for a springbreak destination.  In fact, we were asked several times by locals if we were heading to Florida or on our way back.  They were surprised to learn we had chosen their hill-country city on the Tennessee River as our vacation destination.  Chattanooga is a beautiful area chock-full of history and natural beauty to explore.  We look forward to a time we can visit there again and see the many things that didn’t make it onto the itinerary on this trip.

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