Top Must-Visit Attractions Near Chattanooga, TN

Explore The Best Of Chattanooga

Top Must-Visit Attractions Near Chattanooga, TN

Chattanooga is an outdoor mecca and Tennessee’s best-kept secret. This growing city sits in the Appalachian Mountain foothills along the Georgia border and is a short 135-mile or two-hour drive from either Nashville or Atlanta.

A quick Google search of “Chattanooga, TN 37402” will confirm dozens of unique attractions near Chattanooga TN, perfect for sightseeing.

One thing the most popular area attractions have in common is that they are usually included in the various city-pass or other discount pass packages available. So if you know where you want to visit, these pass cards will save a bit. However, most attractions are affordable even without the discount passes, and most parks and some museums are free.

If you plan to visit Scenic City, bring your hiking shoes. The downtown is entertaining, and most of the attractions are accessible by foot, car, or bike within the city. Whether you drive or walk, numerous parking lots dot the Riverfront. And electric bikes are available to rent from Bike Chattanooga Wheland.

However you get around, locals will agree that some of the most awe-inspiring Chattanooga attractions require a short drive into the countryside.

Ruby Falls

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Ruby Falls, part of the Lookout Mountain Cave system along the Tennessee River Gorge, was accidentally discovered as an 18-inch crack in the rocks. Now it is one of Chattanooga’s most visited tourist attractions.

Located on Scenic Hwy, Ruby Falls is also the country’s tallest underground waterfall. Made primarily of limestone, the Falls are naturally occurring rock formations that have been enhanced by colored lighting.

At the Ruby Falls entrance, one elevator travels 260-feet underground and lets out onto a short trail — leading to the subterranean formation. At the same door, another elevator heads to the rooftop of the Lookout Mountain Tower.

The Chattanooga Lookout Tower provides views of the Chattanooga and Tennessee Rivers to the north and the Appalachian foothills to the east. Several activities have been built as added attractions, including a 40-foot wall-climbing experience by High Point Climbing and a 700-foot zipline experience.

Rock City Gardens

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Chattanooga sits just 15 minutes from the Georgia state border. And one of the most impressive attractions in the area is even closer. Rock City Gardens is the quickest road trip, just 6 miles from downtown Chattanooga. Rock City is located atop Lookout Mountain and features massive ancient rock formations, gardens with over 400 native plant species, and awe-inspiring panoramic views. Another experience at Rock city is the Swing-A-Long Bridge. This 180-foot suspension bridge links

On the far side of Lookout Mountain is a 4,100-foot walking trail that provides hiking paths through the Georgia Mountains.

One of the trail’s most breathtaking “7 States” panoramic vistas is the 90-foot waterfall at Lover’s Leap – a scant 1700 feet above sea level. Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama can be seen at this trail point.

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

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One of Chattanooga’s most revered tourist attractions is Lookout Mountain Incline Railway. A type of rail system used for steep inclines typical in Europe in the early 19th century, this funicular railway has operated for over 125 years. It is the best way to ascend the escarpment.

Two short trolly-type railcars slowly glide up and down what has been nicknamed “America’s Most Amazing Mile.” The cars reach a 73 percent grade, making The Incline one of the steepest passenger railways in the world.

Once you arrive at the observation deck of Lookout Mountain station, which sits at 2389′ elevation, you will be greeted with stunning vistas of the Tennessee Valley.

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

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The Chattanooga National Military Park highlights Chattanooga’s vital part in the Civil War. In 1863, Confederate and Union forces fought to control Chattanooga, considered “The Gateway to the Deep South.” And after an initial victory at Chickamauga, Union forces won Chattanooga.

Surprisingly, the park is located in Chickamauga, Georgia. But this small Smoky Mountain town is less than 10 miles from downtown Chattanooga. In addition to the Chattanooga National Cemetery, there are Civil War memorials at Signal Point, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge.

The Lookout Mountain Trail System

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Lookout Mountain is crisscrossed with more than 30 miles worth of trails that allow hikers to explore the park. Most of the paths are repurposed 19th-century railroad beds and offer a relaxed look at the mountain ecosystem. This is just one of many great hiking trails in and around Chattanooga.

Point Park

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Point Park is a ten-acre memorial park overlooking the Lookout Mountain Battlefield off of Scenic Hwy. It is part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park complex.

A paved walking path around the park takes visitors to several historical tablets and monuments. The most prominent remembrance in Point Park is the New York Peace Memorial. The state of New York erected this unique statue as a tribute to peace and reconciliation between Union and Confederate veterans.

Raccoon mountain caverns

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The Raccoon Mountain Cave system is located eight miles west of downtown Chattanooga. A 5.5-mile network of caves features naturally occurring limestone formations and fossils embedded in rock.

The Raccoon Mountain Caverns opened in 1931 and remained one of the many fun things to do in the Chattanooga area. In addition to the well-lit walking trail and guided tours, the site includes campgrounds, planning for gemstones, go-karting, and hiking.

Chattanooga Choo Choo

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The Chattanooga Choo Choo began operating in 1880, shortly before the American Civil War and was the United State’s first non-stop service train. The train was recognized as an essential link between the northern and southern United States during the Civil War. And Chattanooga quickly became a high strategic value target throughout the war.

Today, the retired Terminal Station serves as a hotel — the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel.

The on-site museum is a popular destination. Or take a stroll in the Glenn Miller Gardens – a tribute to Miller’s famous song, Chattanooga Choo Choo.

The Chattanooga Market

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The Chattanooga Market is the region’s largest artisanal arts, crafts, and Farmers’ Market, held on Sundays – From April through December. It also includes the Chattanooga Holiday Market in December.

Located at the First Horizon Pavilion off of Riverfront Parkway, adjacent to Finley Stadium and just steps from The Naked River Brewing Company, the Market hosts festivals and special nights such as Food Truck Night, which highlights the farm to table and sustainable farming.

Tennessee Aquarium – IMAX

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The Tennessee Aquarium is organized into two sections that compare the animal and plant life that constitute freshwater versus saltwater ecosystems. Each of the two-section sections follows the journey of a raindrop – one on land and one to the sea.

The freshwater journey showcases an Appalachian Cove Forest and a delta swamp. And it includes animals that typically reside in Tennessee rivers, such as river otters, turtles, and alligators. In contrast, the saltwater journey focuses on penguins, sharks, and reef fish.

A shark and ray touch pool complements the Boneless Beauties gallery, featuring jellyfish, a giant octopus, and cuttlefish.

For a virtual experience, head to the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX Center. Here there are daily screenings of environmental and planetary-themed productions.

Chattanooga National Cemetery

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The Chattanooga National Cemetery, established in 1863, covers over 120 acres. It is the largest national cemetery in the state and one of the oldest military cemeteries in the country.

More than 44000 veterans are interned at this historic site, marking courage, sacrifice, and bravery. The Chattanooga National Cemetery overlooks three American Civil War battle sites — Chickamauga, Snodgrass Hill, and Missionary Ridge.

Administered by the Veterans Administration, the Cemetery is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Creative Discovery Museum

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The Creative Discovery Museum in downtown Chattanooga is one of the country’s best children’s museums. Nationally recognized, this interactive museum encourages learning by doing. And, of course, by having fun.

Engaging exhibits such as the Roof Top RiverPlay garden to an inventor workshop are geared to pre-adolescents. Whether it’s learning about beekeeping or the history of biofuels, both kids and adults are welcome.

Chattanooga Zoo

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Another Chattanooga favorite that encourages fun is the Chattanooga Zoo. Over 13 acres of habitats and enclosures house more than 500 animals from 200 species, with climates representing Sub-Saharan African deserts, tropical rain forests, and Himalayan plateaus.

Zoo Tour Guides will spend time describing the unique flora and fauna of the region and introducing the animals.

Larger mammals at the zoo include red pandas, snow leopards, giraffes, and chimpanzees. And the Warner Park Ranch area features a petting zoo. Additional park activities include an old-fashioned carousel and a working Zoo Choo Train.

Tennessee Riverpark

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The Tennessee Riverpark is a well-known green space on Amnicola Highway, along the shores of the Tennessee River. It is a local favorite with picnic tables, 16 miles of paths and trails, sandpit playgrounds, and even six fishing piers.

A unique feature of the Tennessee Riverpark is that it is a scheduled stop for the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System rental service. And surprisingly, the trails are open to both pedal bikes and e-bikes, which allow visitors to see the many large urban sculptures installed there.

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

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The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is a historical attraction near Chattanooga, TN. The museum celebrates the extensive part the rail lines played in the settlement and development of Chattanooga. The city’s first rail line, the Western and Atlantic Railroad, was established in 1850, while the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad opened a few years later. Chattanooga quickly became a railroad hub, taking advantage of new transportation corridors.

Military leaders recognized Chattanooga’s strategic advantage during the Civil War because of its railroads.

The Heritage Railroad maintains an active rail line as part of the museum. Train rides demonstrate the extensive rail lines while exploring the area’s history. One of several, the hour-long Missionary Ridge Local trip begins at our Grand Junction Station and passes over four bridges and through the pre-Civil War Missionary Ridge Tunnel.

Coolidge Park and Carousel

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Coolidge Park can be found along the Tennessee River on the north shore. This open-area green space is the entrance to the Coolidge Outdoor Stage. A Splash Park is peppered with fountain sculptures of elephants and turtles, a horse, lion, and seal – a perfect cooling pit stop.

The centerpiece of the park and a favorite of locals and visitors is the refurbished 100-year-old carousel. Pack a picnic or launch your kayak at one of the river’s many access points for a quick respite from the day.

Bluff View Art District

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The Bluff View Art District houses The River Gallery, the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Hunter Museum of American Art.

In addition to the main building, the River Gallery has a brilliant hill-top sculpture garden along the Chattanooga Riverwalk.

Another facet of the Bluff View Art District is the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts. Decorative Arts are described as those everyday objects that elevate our spirits, such as ceramics, textiles, metals, wood, paper, and glass. The museum was established in 1968 with the contribution of the Anna Houston Collection.

The crowning jewel of the Bluff View Art District is the Hunter Museum of American Art. This two-part museum is dedicated to works created by American artists dating back to the 1700s. The museum boasts permanent and traveling paintings, sculptures, glasswork, and furniture representing the Hudson River School and American Impressionism. The museum includes pieces from famed artists such as Andy Warhol and Ansel Adams.

Sculpture Fields

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Located on Chattanooga’s southside is Sculpture Fields. This 33-acre public park is the largest outdoor sculpture park in the Southeastern United States and is dedicated to over 40 permanent sculptures and traveling installations from around the world.

As a vital green space, the park is dog-friendly and open to the public. While there are no tour guides, visitors can learn about the artwork through guided tours via the OtoCast phone app. Each sculptor describes the work, the materials, and the process. Pieces from renowned artists such as Carl Bilingsley and Claus Moor are permanently installed at the park.

Chattanooga ghost tours

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Chattanooga proudly declares itself as one of the most haunted cities in America. Visitors will find spirits on Civil War battlegrounds and ghosts on mountain trails. And taking a walking tour of the city’s haunted locations is one of the more unearthly attractions in Chattanooga.

The city undoubtedly has a storied past. From its murderous settlement, the violence and sadness of the Civil War, and as a stop on the Trail of Tears, it is no wonder that some believe that ghosts wander the halls and alleys of this southern town.

Chattanooga Ghost Tours are a fun way to see the city and hopefully spot some of its former residents.

Missionary Ridge Park

Missionary Ridge Park was one of seven strategic military engagements that broke the Confederate siege of Chattanooga.

Today the Missionary Ridge Park contains eight reservations and monuments that preserve and tell the story of the Battle of Missionary Ridge.

In 1863, Chattanooga remained under Confederate control under the command of General Braxton Bragg. On November 25 of that same year, 50,000 Union soldiers spontaneously stormed up Missionary Ridge into oncoming Confederate fire. The attack stretched from Georgia’s Rossville Gap to Tunnel Hill at the northern end of Missionary Ridge. And despite insurmountable odds, Union soldiers prevailed.

As the battle ended, the Confederate Army of Tennessee was in retreat to Georgia, and the Union had won the day.

Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center

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The Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center was founded over 30 years ago under the direction of the Junior League of Chattanooga. Located 10 minutes from Chattanooga, the campus includes a 317-acre arboretum, 15 miles of trails, animal enclosures, and a treehouse. Within the preserve is a native animal area dedicated to protecting critically endangered red wolves. Reflection Riding is also an immersive hands-on outdoor Summer Camp for children.

Another nature preserve in the region is nearby Audubon Acres in East Brainerd. Audubon Acres is a 132-acre sanctuary with miles of hiking trails on Chickamauga Creek. Early settlement dwellings are part of the visitors center, including Spring Frog Cabin circa 1700 and Little Owl Village, which dates back to the 1400s.

Another unique attraction can be seen from Walnut Street Bridge on Chattanooga’s North Shore. It is the natural oasis of the 19-acre Maclellan Sanctuary and wildlife preserve on Audubon Island. Sitting in the middle of the Tennessee River and supported by the Chattanooga Audubon Society, the island protects nesting osprey and blue heron. It is a place for native plant species to thrive.

Walnut Street Bridge

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Walnut Street Bridge was first completed in 1891 as the first civilian highway bridge suspended over the Tennessee River.

Built by engineer Edward Thacher, at 2,376-feet-long it is also the longest pedestrian bridge in the United States.

The “county bridge,” as the Walnut Street Bridge was once known, connects North Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park on the Tennessee River’s north shore to the downtown area near the Bluff View Art District. This walkable bridge boasts urban sculptures and a theater on its southern side for impromptu concerts. In addition to a passageway connecting Chattanooga, The Walnut Street Bridge is the location of festivals and events such as the Wine Over Water and the Seven Bridges Marathon.

Chattanooga Whiskey Company

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The Chattanooga Whiskey Company produces bourbon whiskey in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Following the grand tradition of craft whiskey, Chattanooga Whiskey has established two locations in the downtown area – the Experimental Distillery off of Market Street is open to the public and offers tours and tastings. The second location is the main factory, the Riverfront Distillery.

Southern Belle Riverboat

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Riverboats and the South go hand in hand, and the Southern Belle Riverboat is a Chattanooga tradition. This three-level, 450-passenger, motor-powered excursion vessel was built in Tennessee specifically for the Tennessee River journey. The Belle begins its journey at Pier 2, Chattanooga, TN 37402, between Central and Market Streets.

The Southern Belle’s lazy speed allows travelers to admire the historic bluffs while appreciating the panoramic views of the Appalachian foothills. The Southern Belle’s river journey takes visitors beneath the numerous bridges along the Tennessee River.

Travel by day to see the sights while enjoying lunch at the onboard cafe. Or float down the river at sunset for a unique city view.

Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center

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While planning to visit Chattanooga, schedule a stop at the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center. This unique Museum honors Americans who received the Medal of Honor for military service – the highest medal awarded to those in the United States military.

The Medal of Honor recipient exemplifies six core values: patriotism, courage, citizenship, integrity, sacrifice, and commitment.

The first six Medal of Honor recipients were associated with Chattanooga and are interned in the Chattanooga National Cemetery.

The Heritage Center commemorates the medal recipients and venerates their service through exhibits of more than 6,000 items from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and Desert Storm.

There you have it, 25 must-visit attractions near Chattanooga, Tennessee. From your vacation rental, you’ll be able to visit as many of these that interest you most. If you want to check them all out, we highly recommend you stay in town for at least a week, while otherwise you can check off 2 or 3 places leisurely in a weekend.