What began as a simple trail to see rock formations has turned into a must-see family destination celebrating its 90th year in 2022. Located just six miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee atop Lookout Mountain, a day at Rock City Gardens makes a great addition to your vacation plans!
Rock City will amaze you with its awesome rock formations, swinging bridge, special events, and spectacular views. This tourist attraction is one you just can’t miss!
Ready to learn more? Here is your complete guide to Rock City TN, located atop Lookout Mountain!
WHERE TO STAY IN CHATTANOOGA
This year marks our family’s third stay at The Chattanoogan, and it gets better every time! New in 2023 the rooms have been updated with new carpet, new headboards, and new mattresses and pillows!
We love the multiple restaurants (including an outdoor lounge), the coffee shop, the spacious rooms, and friendly staff. Yes, it can be a romantic option for couples, but all the amenities make it easy-peasy for families, too… that’s why we love it!
Plus, the hotel’s location is close to downtown and central to everything Chattanooga offers. Plus, it’s a Hilton Curio hotel so you can use your Honors points while still enjoying that boutique feeling!
CAN'T MISS THINGS TO DO IN ROCK CITY
FOLLOW THE ENCHANTED TRAIL
Stretch your legs on the 0.75-mile Enchanted Trail to take in the best Rock City experiences.
Along this trail, you'll wander through cool caves, like Hall of the Mountain King and the Grand Corridor. You'll also see amazing rock formations, like Mushroom Rock. You might have to slide sideways through Fat Man’s Squeeze and the Needle’s Eye! I won’t lie; I had a claustrophobic moment with Fat Man’s Squeeze. My boys got to show me love and encourage me through it!
Be on the lookout for seven art installations along the Enchanted Trail. Each artist used Rock City’s unique environment for inspiration. Rock City Gardens continues to update art installations, so you might spot something new on your next visit.
SEE THE VIEW FROM LOVER’S LEAP
The Enchanted Trail is full of natural beauty, but the breathtaking panoramic views from Lover’s Leap are the star. At 1,700 feet above sea level, this ancient rock formation is absolutely beautiful.
Spend some time near High Falls alongside Lover’s Leap. Take in the views while the rushing water soothes your soul. Oh, and of course, Observation Point is the place to get a perfect Instagram shot!
MARVEL AT BALANCED ROCK
Another one of the astounding rock formations is Balanced Rock. The rock is 1,000 tons and is perfectly balanced on top of two much smaller rocks.
Your path will lead you right under Balancing Rock. For another fun photo op, hold your hands up like you are lifting the rock!
EXPLORE ROCK CITY GARDENS
As you wander, you may be tempted to keep looking up at the rock formations, but be sure to look at what's on the ground as well! Rock City has over 400 native plant species, including trees and shrubs.
The gardens make repeated trips feel like first time visits. Come in the spring to see all the pretty blooms. Return in the fall to see the bold hues of brown, red, and gold.
MEANDER FAIRYLAND CAVERNS AND MOTHER GOOSE VILLAGE
Rock City owners Frieda and Garnet Carter worked hard to instill their love of European fairy tales and whimsy within the gardens. Atlanta sculptor Jessie Sanders was tasked with bringing scenes from cherished fairytales to life. The sculptures were then brightly painted to glow when lit by a black light.
If nursery rhymes are more your style, you’ll be enthralled with Mother Goose Village. A later addition to Fairyland Caverns, this area spotlights hand built dioramas depicting classic nursery rhymes. Count how many you remember from your childhood!
WALK THE SWING-ALONG-BRIDGE
Feeling brave? Take a walk along the 180-foot suspension bridge, aptly called Swing-Along-Bridge. From here you have lovely views of the Chattanooga Valley. A word of caution: the bridge really does “swing along” when you are walking across!
If you would prefer your feet to be planted on firm ground, you CAN bypass the bridge. My oldest son is afraid of heights and there was zero chance of getting him to cross with us. But I would really encourage you to take a deep breath and give it a chance!
SEE SEVEN STATES AT ONE TIME
Once you take in the natural beauty of Lover’s Leap, turn your attention to the Flag Court. Believe it or not, you can take in awe-inducing panoramic views of seven states from one spot! On a clear day, you can see Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
There’s a sign mounted on the railing to direct your gaze toward each of the states. For closer looks, peer through binoculars mounted on the railing.
CHOW DOWN DURING YOUR VISIT
You have a variety of dining choices at Rock City Gardens with menus to satisfy even the pickiest eater.
Located just inside the main entrance, Big Rock Grill is a go-to for classic quick service meals. Choices include burgers and dogs, chicken fingers, sandwiches, salads, and more. Load your family up here before you hit the Enchanted Trail!
Weren’t ready for lunch when you arrived? Café 7 has you covered. It’s located at Lover’s Leap and offers full service dining on the terrace. The menu changes periodically, but you can find Southern classics such as fried green tomatoes, BBQ sandwiches and shrimp & grits.
Get this – they have kid-friendly AND pet-friendly menus available! When was the last time you saw that in a restaurant? For the grown-ups, enjoy a craft beer or a glass of wine while savoring the mountain air.
Is that a little too fancy for your crew? No worries. Cliff Terrace, also by Lover’s Leap, has your pizza, dogs, funnel cakes and other snacks that hit the spot. Why not mix and match? Order from both Café 7 and Cliff Terrace. Enjoy it together out on the terrace.
Sometimes, you just want dessert. The Fudge Kitchen is here for you. You can watch fresh fudge being made on the spot! They have a lot of other goodies to take home as well.
PICK UP A SOUVENIR IN THE GIFT SHOP
My children have never met a gift shop they didn’t like. This is a must-do at Rock City Gardens for us. With at least four different shopping spots, my kids had plenty to choose from. I selected a cute garden gnome ornament for our travel-themed Christmas tree. The gnomes and garden-themed gifts abound. It would also be a great place to pick up something for the gardener in your life!
A classic and the most famous Rock City souvenir is the birdhouse. Back when the Carters opened Rock City, advertising money was tight. They worked with an artist to use farmers’ barns as the billboards. A giant “See Rock City” was painted on the barn roofs closest to the area’s most traveled roads.
You can take home a replica of Rock City history to enjoy in your backyard. If you like to earn your souvenirs, you can pan for gemstones or treat yourself to a geode dig at Prospector’s Point near Cliff Terrace.
MUST-VISIT SPECIAL EVENTS
VISIT IN WINTER
You might think that winter is a bad time to go to a garden, but this isn’t just any garden! You won’t want to miss the Enchanted Garden of Lights event that occurs nightly from mid-November through New Year’s Day.
During your visit, you'll be treated to the Arctic Kingdom Aurora Lights, a mass of swirling lights that bring to mind the Aurora Borealis. The main attraction is the 43-foot-tall Tree of Lights. You’ll be mesmerized by the light show with seasonal music. It continues after you walk through the tree and into a 40-foot-long tunnel of animated holiday lights and music.
Of course, the Big Man himself will be there - Santa Claus. Get a peek at his workshop and sleigh before you whisper your gift requests to him! You’ll also be able to visit with Jack Frost and Inara the Ice Queen. Live music performances complete the experience.
MAKE IT A WEEKEND IN SUMMER
If you’re a live music fan, you’ll want to visit Rock City Gardens for Summer Music Weekends. This special event happens on weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Rock City hosts some great performances from local bands and solo artists.
Be sure to attend the Birds of Prey shows in the Critter Classroom while you're there!
PRESS YOUR LUCK IN MARCH
Everyone is Irish in Shamrock City! During select weekends in March, you can be lucky enough to attend this special event. You can get your fill of Irish food, along with specialty beer. You’ll be delighted by pop-up Irish dance performances throughout the gardens!
Kids will love Bagby’s Critter Corral, where they can get up close with Suffolk sheep and Highland cows. Panning for gold is entirely appropriate; it’s almost a requirement for goodness sake! The Shamrock Scavenger Hunt is something fun the whole family can do together.
GET FESTIVE IN FALL
Weekends in October are perfect for Rocktoberfest! Honor the heritage of Rock City co-founder Frieda Utermoehlen Carter by indulging in German food and specialty beer.
This special event also includes Birds of Prey shows and costumed characters the kids will love!
MORE FOR YOUR WEEKEND
At only six miles from Rock City Gardens, there’s no reason not to visit downtown Chattanooga! There are so many things for families to enjoy together. The Tennessee Aquarium is a must-stop. It’s one of the best aquariums in the Southeast, so allow plenty of time to explore. To see more animals, include the Chattanooga Zoo in your vacation itinerary.
The Creative Discovery Museum is perfect for kids who love hands-on fun! If your family enjoys being athletic, be sure to hit up High Point Climbing and Fitness. This is a perfect way for families to be active when the weather is disrespecting your vacation time.
If the weather cooperates, take in all of the outdoor beauty that Tennessee has to offer. There are plenty of hiking trails for all experience levels. The Riverwalk offers 13 miles of local views. If you would rather take a ride, there are plenty of options. Check out their bike share program or make arrangements with any of the local kayak, tubing, and raft rental companies. You can experience the lovely Tennessee River up close!
There are a few state parks nearby, but if you would like to get some United States Civil War history in with your hike, then you NEED to go to Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. This park is actually in two locations, as the name implies. Visit the Chattanooga Battlefield while you are in the area. The Chickamauga Battlefield is just across the border in Georgia. The Junior Ranger Program is free and a great way to engage your kids in the visit.
VISIT RUBY FALLS
At less than 4 miles away Ruby Falls is the perfect complement to your Rock City Gardens visit! Discovered in 1928, Ruby Falls is the tallest and deepest underground waterfall in the U.S. that is open to the public. You’ll walk the cavern trails to the waterfall and see unique and ancient geological formations that are 1,120 feet below the summit of Lookout Mountain.
If that’s not enough adventure for you, make reservations for the High Point zipline. It includes 700 feet of ziplining fun over the Tennessee Valley treetops. Conquer the 40-foot climbing tower for amazing views!
Please note that advance reservations are required and they frequently sell out. Get your tickets early! Due to the natural formations inside the cavern, the paths are not wheelchair accessible.
TAKE ON THE INCLINE RAILROAD
Take a ride on a railway system that’s been operating since 1895! Celebrating 125 years is Chattanooga’s funicular Incline Railway system. The cars will take you roughly a mile up to the top of Lookout Mountain, where you can experience gorgeous views of the Tennessee Valley.
Once up top, there will be snack and restroom facilities. Within a 5-minute walk of the railway station is Point Park, the site of the 1863 Civil War “Battle Above the Clouds." Also nearby is the Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map and Museum. You’ll be able to view authentic period weaponry and other Civil War relics.
The railway cars are wheelchair accessible and move at a slow speed of under 10 miles per hour. The grade is steep - one of the steepest in the world - but it only takes 15 minutes each direction to complete your trip. The Incline Railway was designated a National Historic Site in 1974, so take a ride back in time!
DETAILS ABOUT YOUR VISIT
WHEN TO VISIT ROCK CITY
When is the best time to visit Rock City Gardens? It’s open year-round, making it a great destination when it’s convenient for you. There are pros and cons, though.
Cooler temps paired with the blooms of spring or the bold colors of fall make those two seasons prime touring time. Summer, while hot, isn’t as hot as it *could* be, owing to the higher altitude. Winter may see some snowfall, but generally not much. Layer up and head out!
HOW TO GET THERE
From Atlanta, it will take you just under two hours to get to Rock City Gardens via I-75. This is perfect for a day trip! If you want to make a weekend of it, remember that Chattanooga is nearby.
PARKING AND ADMISSION
There is no charge for parking at the gardens and space in the lot is ample.
You are able to purchase walk-up tickets to the gardens, but advance purchase is encouraged. Tickets are for timed entry and sometimes sell out.
The special events, such as Shamrock City and Enchanted Garden of Lights, require an additional fee. If you think you’ll be a regular visitor, an annual pass might make sense for you. It offers free general admission, as well as a discount on special events, food, and retail purchases.
GEORGIA OR TENNESSEE
With its close proximity to Chattanooga, you might assume that Rock City Gardens is in Tennessee. Surprise - it’s actually located in Georgia! Lookout Mountain spreads across both states, but Rock City Gardens is on the Georgia side of the mountain.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHATTANOOGA
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO TENNESSEE
- YOUR TENNESSEE VACATION
- GATLINBURG: 33+ Essential Things To Do In Gatlinburg TN For Family Fun
- PIGEON FORGE: 12+ Exciting Things To Do In Pigeon Forge
- FRANKLIN: 18 Things To Do In Franklin TN You're Gonna Love
- NASHVILLE: 35 Best Things To Do In Nashville With Kids
We make no guarantees of any price listed on our site. We are not responsible for content on external web sites linked from ours, including linked resources, an external blog post, any partner site, hotel property sites, or affiliate sites. We only write about places we love in an attempt to help you in your adventures, but we can’t guarantee you will love them, too.
Posts may contain affiliate links at no cost to you. Several of our trips are also compensated by the respective tourism boards for the city or state we are visiting. This never impacts how we share the destination with you – opinions are always our own and we pride ourselves on that. We do not sell links or accept unsolicited guest posts under any circumstances. Don’t even ask.
United States Copyright, 365 Atlanta Family, LLC