My family and I live here in Nashville, and my sister and her family live outside of Atlanta. We visit each other for holidays and other big family events, but every now and then, we like to load up the kids and hit the road to meet in the middle for a day of family fun. Over the past few years, we’ve tried out several attractions in Chattanooga, so if you’re thinking of taking a day trip to The Scenic City, here’s a rundown of some of the places we’ve checked out:
This tourist attraction’s longtime marketing campaign is practically a national imperative: See Rock City. What you’ll see at Rock City is a scenic mountain hiking trail with beautiful gardens, natural rock formations, and quite a few garden gnomes. The view from the mountaintop is spectacular, though I couldn’t tell you for sure whether you actually can see seven states from up there. It’s not a particularly tough trail, but at about three-quarters of a mile, it could be a little much for toddlers (some of the rock formations are quite narrow so there’s no bringing a stroller—the last time we went, my niece happily rode in a kid carrier backpack). I don’t want to give it away, so I’ll just say that your hike through Rock City is bound to have a fairy tale ending.
Penguins! There are all kinds of aquatic creatures to see (and some to touch!) at the aquarium—but for us, penguins are the #1 draw. The aquarium is housed in two buildings with a large plaza in between that has some food options. We generally start out at the River Journey Building then stop for lunch and a little bit of outside play afterwards before heading over to Ocean Journey to see the penguins, jellyfish, and butterflies (I don’t know why they have butterflies at an aquarium, but neither do I care because it’s a really cool exhibit!) It probably takes normal people about two hours to get through each building, but my kiddo gets antsy after about an hour, so we usually have to breeze through the last few exhibits.
Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel
The highway signs for the Chattanooga Choo Choo refer to it as a “historic site” which I believe refers to the location of the hotel which was once a train station. According to the Choo Choo website, it was turned into a “unique vacation complex” in the 1970s. Taking a cue from the famous song, the hotel was built around the theme of the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” with a real train engine as its centerpiece. I’ve never stayed there, but I know that you can book a stay in one of the renovated train cars—which sounds pretty cool. The complex has an old school charm about it, and our train-crazy kid enjoyed climbing on the engine, riding the coin-operated kiddie train, and checking out the extremely detailed model train display. We wanted to ride the trolley, but it was not operating that afternoon due to rain. If you’re hungry, The hotel has a restaurant and a coffee shop, and there are a couple of eateries nearby.
This is a great children’s museum with lots of hands-on exhibits. My son’s favorites: the giant water table, the music gallery, and digging for dinosaurs! What’s not to love?
Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park/SOAKya Water Park
Located just across the state line in Rossville, Georgia, Lake Winnie is a hidden gem. Seriously, you will swear that Siri has lost her mind when she directs you through a quiet residential neighborhood in search of an amusement park. But trust me on this one—it’s there, and it’s a wonder. Some of the rides are definitely…er… vintage, but there are a couple of modern thrill-type rides, too. Plus, there’s a very new water park complete with several water slides, a lazy river, and a wading area for little kids—with adorably tiny water slides for them too! At the time of our most recent visit, we had kids ranging from age 3 to 17, and they all enjoyed it. That’s saying something, right? They have concession-type food there, but you can also bring a picnic basket which I consider a HUGE perk. Check their website for discount offers.