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Chattanooga, Tennessee

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Did You Know … ?

  • Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park saw the bloodiest two-day battle of the Civil War (36,000 casualties).
  • The tilt on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway maxes out at 72.7%.
  • The Tennessee Aquarium is the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, holding 1.1 million gallons of water.
  •  “The Chattanooga Choo Choo” earned Glenn Miller the music industry’s first gold record (1942).
  • Cherokee Chief John Ross was only one-eighth Cherokee.

Lookout City

Chattanooga, surrounded by the mountain ridges of southeastern Tennessee, is aptly nicknamed the Scenic City. Its setting is nature in a party mood — pretty enough to attract tourists to the area. Chattanooga flanks the Tennessee River where the river makes a U-turn.

The best-known natural feature in the immediate Chattanooga area is Lookout Mountain, the scene of a major Civil War battle, but nowadays a tourist destination known for an underground waterfall (Ruby Falls); unusual limestone formations (Rock City Gardens); one of the world’s steepest railways (the quick way up the near-vertical ridge), and the incredible views from the mountaintop. No wonder Chattanooga was once named Lookout City.

However, the thing that gave this city an outsized dose of visibility was a 1940s song, “The Chattanooga Choo Choo.” The alliterative title worked for the lyricist, but it also — inadvertently or not — highlighted Chattanooga’s position as a rail hub in the U.S. Southeast. The North and South fought bloody battles to control the rail system and the river.

Tourists can visit or stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex, which encompasses a hotel along with the former Terminal Station and the Model Railroad Museum. For rail buffs who want more, the Tennessee Valley Railroad offers rides on vintage trains.

Chattanooga wasn’t always so attractive. It was once considered America’s most polluted city, and the downtown was dying. Town fathers in the early 1980s set in motion some very ambitious pubic-private revitalization projects. Chattanooga’s approach to the challenge, which involves the public in the dialogue, and its successes at recharging the historic center and its riverbanks have become a model for other cities.

Today, the riverfront boasts an aquarium, children’s museum, carousel, theaters, walking paths, pedestrian bridge, pier and a raft of restaurants, shops and other support systems for locals and tourists who frequent the area.

Riverfront redevelopment also included The Passage, a “weeping wall” of water at Ross’s Landing, marking the local starting point for the Trail of Tears. The region’s Cherokee Indians were forced in 1838 to migrate to Oklahoma. Ross’s Landing, a trading post founded by Cherokee Chief John Ross in 1816, was Chattanooga’s birthplace.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Paddle your canoe or kayak on the Tennessee River, starting from any of multiple landings in Chattanooga’s downtown.
  • Catch the vibes at the Riverbend Festival, an annual outdoor music fest, set in June, on the city’s riverfront. Or, choose the Choo Choo Jazz Festival in springtime.
  • Sightsee by motorcycle following one or more of the Bikers’ Dozen, a collection of scenic loops on the area’s back roads identified as ideal for motorcyclists.
  • Go whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River.
  • Sign on for craft beer educational sessions (and sample beers) at the intimate Chattanooga Craft Beer Festival held in the spring, or come to town in late summer for the considerably larger Southern Brewers Festival to sample beers made by microbreweries from around the country.
  • Compete at the RiverRocks Adventure Sports Games, which draw amateur as well as elite-level competitors. The 10 athletic events include cycling, kayaking, off-road biking, rock climbing, rowing and running.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Overnight in an updated Victorian railcar at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, which is part of the Chattanooga Choo Choo Terminal Train Station Complex.
  • Ride the Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain for panoramic views of the Tennessee Valley.
  • Take regular doses of free music while in town. Options are Nightfall on Fridays, May to August at Miller Plaza; Riverfront Nights, Saturdays in August and September on the riverfront, and live music at the Chattanooga Market, Sundays April to December.
  • Thirteen Tennessee Civil War Trail signs detail the 1863 battles for Chattanooga. Build your own themed itinerary around those signs.
  • For the offbeat, spend time at the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum, which showcases antique tow trucks and other recovery vehicles from the U.S. and abroad.
  • Spend quality time in the Bluff View Arts District, which promises to divert you with its galleries, historic homes, restaurants and unusual shops.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Join a riverboat sightseeing cruise on the Tennessee River, departing from downtown. Or make that a dinner cruise.
  • Take a free distillery tour at George Dickel Tennessee Whisky in Tullahoma.
  • At the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, be amazed at the conditions (meaning terrain) that Civil War soldiers faced. On the Tennessee side, the park encompasses Orchard Knob in downtown Chattanooga as well as Point Park on Lookout Mountain and Signal Point on Signal Mountain.
  • Check out the shops and restaurants at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Terminal Train Station Complex, and allow time for the on-site Model Railroad Museum. Further to the rail theme, ride one of the Tennessee Valley Railroad’s vintage trains.
  • Take the kids to the Tennessee Aquarium. Spend time checking out other elements of the city’s aggressive riverfront revitalization project.
  • Wander through the widely publicized Rock City Gardens with its collection of unusual sandstone formations. See if you can spot seven states from here.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Chattanooga Visitor Bureau at