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Chattanooga with Kids

by Susan Finch

Sep 24, 2018

© Sean Pavone | Dreamstime.com


Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga is bursting with natural wonders, world-class fun, great food and plenty to do. There’s a decidedly laid-back and artsy vibe about the city that draws visitors and nearby locals alike. From antique railway cars, underground caverns and creative museums, here’s what to see and do in Chattanooga with kids.


Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel

If you’ve got train-obsessed kids at home, they’ll loving sleeping in a real-life train car converted into a comfortable hotel room. The aptly named Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel features Pullman train cars dating back to the 1930s, 40s and 50s, outfitted with a queen-sized bed. Families can request a room with an additional daybed and pull-out trundle for the kids. There’s also lots of history here. Parts of the adjacent Union Station were built before the Civil War and saved from demolition in 1973. A group raised enough money to reopen it as a unique vacation getaway and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.


Raccoon Mountain Caverns

Step back in time at Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Campgrounds. While you can camp out under the stars or roll up your RV, you can also just come and explore a nationally recognized cave system. Roll up your sleeves and pan for gemstones, take in the views from Lookout Mountain and Raccoon Mountain, and go on a guided cave tour. Tours last just under an hour and guide visitors through underground passageways with natural formations. In fact, it’s the most geologically active cave in the south. Kids will learn more about stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, natural bridges and more.


Crystal Palace Room in Raccoon Mountain Caverns

Crystal Palace Room in Raccoon Mountain Caverns © Wizreist | Dreamstime.com


See Rock City

Located at the top of Lookout Mountain, See Rock City features ancient rock formations and more than 400 native plant species in its rolling gardens. The main pull is the popular “See 7 States” panoramic views of surrounding states. Kids will especially love the Enchanted Trail with a woodland path of Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. Make time to grab a snack or dine at Big Rock Grill for spectacular views.


Tennessee Aquarium

No trip to Chattanooga is complete without a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium. Discover the story of water at the “River Journey” and “Ocean Journey” exhibits to learn about different aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. You’ll also learn more about exotic plants and animals from around the world and get to see resident wildlife. Penguins, otters, sharks, sturgeon, jellyfish and reef fish are all on hand to delight guests. After exploring the aquarium’s habitats, head to the IMAX 3D theater for movies like Oceans 3D. Kids will want to reach out and see if they can touch the dolphins swimming before them.


Coolidge Park Antique Carousel

Take a spin downtown on the magical Coolidge Park Antique Carousel along the city’s North Shore. Overlooking the lovely Tennessee River, the 100-year-old restored antique carousel is a classic. For just a buck, you can ride it again and again without busting your budget. Afterwards, explore the rest of Coolidge Park and make time to scale the rock climbing wall. Coolidge Park is part of the city’s 13-mile-long public greenway called Tennessee Riverwalk that spans from the Southern Belle Riverboat to Chickamauga Dam and offers plenty of chances to soak up stunning views.


Creative Discovery Museum

The Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga is what it sounds like, an amazing array of interactive and creative exhibits designed with kids in mind. Hands-on exhibits include a Culinary Corner where kids learn to make simple, healthy snacks with fresh ingredients from the museum’s rooftop garden, and a Buzz Alley and Bee Garden with a full-sized Honey Bee Observation Hive. For quieter fun, Discovery Library offers a place to unwind with a good book and get away from the bustle. There are even special programs catering to kids with sensory sensitivities, like Sensory Night.


Part of the magic of Chattanooga is just relaxing and walking around town. Save an afternoon to lay around in the green spaces and pop into coffee shops, pubs and ice cream stops. Sometimes unwinding is the best part of a family vacation.


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