The Perfect Long Weekend
Does your idea of the perfect long weekend include an easy scenic drive and a destination that has good food, fresh air, and family fun? Yeah, me too!
The next stop in our Destination series will check these boxes and more and is none other than the lovely Chattanooga, Tennessee. This southern gem of a city boasts metropolitan restaurants, a plethora of activities and attractions, and plenty of “Nature’s Playgrounds” opportunities for exploring in the great outdoors. Did I say long weekend? While it IS a perfect long weekend destination, I for one could spend the better part of a week exploring Chattanooga and the surrounding areas! There is truly something for everyone here… the art lover, the foodie, the outdoor enthusiast, and certainly plenty of fun activities and attractions for kids and families.
Nicknamed the “Scenic City” for its surrounding ridges and mountains, Chattanooga is nestled between the ridge-and-valley of the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau. For those of us in the Atlanta area, the Scenic City is about a 2-hour drive up I-75N (hit the Tellus Museum in Cartersville on the way if you have any science buffs in the car). Chattanooga has its own airport (CHA) and is also only a 2-hour drive each from Nashville, Knoxville, and Birmingham. Only two hours of “are we there yet?” – I consider that a WIN!
Now that you know where it is, let’s talk things to do… in and around Chattanooga!
Get Outdoorsy around Chattanooga
Our goal at the Adventure Outpost is for all of us to #getoutside so we’ll start there.
Quench the thirst of your family’s outdoor enthusiast by hitting up some of nature’s playgrounds in and around Chattanooga. There are so many options for exploring, but here are some of our favorites:
- Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, GA
- Raccoon Mountain Caverns in Chattanooga, TN
- Ruby Falls and Rock City in Lookout Mountain, TN
- Bike along the Chattanooga Riverwalk
- Visit Nickajack Lake
Cloudland Canyon State Park
This Georgia state park is just south of Chattanooga across the GA-TN state line in Rising Fawn, GA. Holy gorgeous views, Batman! While this isn’t exactly the Grand Canyon, I truly had no idea we had beautiful landforms like this canyon in our own “backyard.” Cloudland Canyon’s deep gorge is created by the Sitton Gulch Creek and has two waterfalls coming over layers of shale and limestone (come hither, geology lovers) and into small pools at the bottom. The park covers over 3400 acres near the western edge of Lookout Mountain and is one of the most scenic parks in Georgia.
Want to spend the night at Cloudland Canyon park? There is a range of camping options from hike-in outdoor camping to yurts and cottages. Enjoy activities like hiking (64 miles of trails), biking (30 miles of trails), and even disc golf! This state park could be a trip in and of itself!
Chattanooga Riverwalk (Tennessee Riverpark)
If biking is your thing, bring your bike and explore Chattanooga our favorite way, along the Chattanooga Riverwalk. With 22 miles of Tennessee Riverfront biking and walking paths (including over the Walnut Street Bridge and back), you can get from Downtown (before the Tennessee Aquarium) to the TVA Dam at Hwy 153 in style. The beautifully maintained path will take you past the aquarium, the Arts District and many parks and restaurants with the wind in your hair and the waterfront by your side. Trail Link offers a detailed that you can access if you have an account. But don’t stop at the Riverfront, Chattanooga is also laid out to accommodate bikes throughout the city, so you can bike all day and see all the sites.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Campground
Explore the caverns of Raccoon Mountain and see all the stalactites and stalagmites you can handle – about 5.5 miles of underground caves and caverns comprise this place. Make reservations for a walking tour to see it all. But the caverns themselves aren’t all that’s there… kids will love panning for gemstones after they’ve toured the caves with you. Camp out there too – anything from wilderness camping to drive-up camping, including RV campsites. Cabin rentals are available too if you’re not up for an outdoor campout.
Lookout Mountain – Ruby Falls and Rock City
Ruby Falls is the tallest underground waterfall in the country and is in Lookout Mountain just outside of Chattanooga. Book tickets in advance to enjoy the glass front elevator ride 260 into Lookout Mountain to explore the underground cavern and enjoy the breathtaking waterfall. While you’re there, enjoy the views from the lookout tower atop the mountain, and give ziplining a try. High Point Zip Adventure offers 5 routes with various degrees of difficulty over 700 feet of zip lines!
Rock City is a path of mountain rocks winding through a whimsical land. What I thought would be overly touristy and cheesy (we’ve all seen the #SeeRockCity mailboxes and birdhouses, one of which I admit I now own), was not that at all. Rather, it transported me to another world full of huge ancient rock formations, breathtaking views, and a beautiful pathway comprised of bridges and overlooks… and who could forget the “Fat Man’s Squeeze” which is an aptly named narrow path between two huge rock formations (the kids laughed for hours at this one). The kids loved Fairyland and the welcoming gnomes (and gnome houses) throughout the property. The coolest part to me, though, is how you can see 7 states from one overlook called “Lover’s Leap.” See more photos of Rock City from our trip in March.
Visit or Camp on Nickajack Lake
If camping is your thing, there are several options on which passes through Chattanooga, connecting Nickajack Dam to Chickamauga Dam. Looking for a day outside of the city or prefer to camp and take day trips to Chattanooga? Then beautiful Nickajack Lake is a great choice. It’s an easy 30 minute drive to Downtown Chattanooga and boasts several camping options, rental homes, boat ramps, fishing piers, picnic spots, waterside dining, and kayak & boat rentals. LakesOnline.com has a complete list of Nickajack Lake campsites and fishing tips. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, take a look at our pictures from our unique experience at the Hales Bar Marina Floating Cabin Rentals where boat rentals are also available.
Oh boy, the foodie in your family will be satisfied and then some by all that Chattanooga has to offer. Don’t miss out on Hennen’s for brunch - just don’t count calories that day (#worthit). For a lovely patio, head to 1885 Grill on St. Elmo Avenue where you’ll find the best chicken sandwich ever, and not to mention, a to-die-for crab cake sandwich for your seafood lover. Check out our friend over at Bites and Sites for a full rundown of the Chattanooga restaurant scene. As with anywhere you go, be sure to call ahead to make sure you know of any newly implemented health and safety protocols used at the various restaurants and to ensure you’re aware of any temporarily adjusted hours.
- Tennessee Aquarium - Enjoy the gorgeous view of the Tennessee River (and meander around the Tennessee River Park) as you walk to the entrance of the Tennessee Aquarium, home to the world’s largest freshwater aquarium. There is also a large saltwater section as well. This is the cleanest and most well-organized aquarium I have been to. Be sure to check their website for more details and to plan your visit.
- Walnut Street Bridge - Walk the world’s largest pedestrian-only bridge.
- Bluff View Art District – They aren’t kidding about the “View” referenced in the name of this historic neighborhood. From its stone cliffs, you have a gorgeous view of downtown Chattanooga, including the Tennessee River and the Walnut Street Bridge. Enjoy the artsy vibe by visiting the River Gallery (don’t leave without seeing their sculpture garden) and grab a coffee at Rembrandt’s Coffee House. Stay awhile at the Bed and Breakfast, eat at several of the local restaurants, or grab a snack at the Bluff View Bakery.
- Use Chattanooga’s electric shuttles for a FREE and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that will help get you around the downtown area! Electric buses run every 5 minutes from the Chattanooga Choo Choo to the Tennessee Aquarium and stop at every block in between. Check the CARTA website for hours and for adjusted schedules on holidays.
- #Getoutside on High Point Climbing’s outdoor climbing walls that are above Broad Street. They have a Kids’ Zone as well as Fitness and Yoga classes too, so there is something for everyone!
- While there are plenty of ticketed attractions, sometimes nothing beats a self-guided walking tour around a new city and Chattanooga has plenty to offer on an easy walk through Downtown, City Center and around to the Southside. Explore “Ferris Bueller” style and look for the photo ops around the statues and artwork around town. One of our favs is the Instagram-worthy butterfly wing mural on Chattanooga’s Southside created by Nashville artist, Kelsey Montague. See our photo collage of all the fun spots we found.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of nice hotel chains downtown. We’ve always stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn which is next door to the Creative Discovery Museum (perfect if you have kids) & right behind AT&T Field. We love this spot because you can walk to all the popular spots and it’s still easy to get to City Center or Southside if you’re ok with walking a few blocks. For something a little more “historic” check out the Chattanooga Choo Choo historic hotel or the luxurious Read House.
Chattanooga just has so much to offer. If you’ve been, what are some of your favorites? If not, where would you like to start?