Chattanooga lies on the banks of the Tennessee River, surrounded by natural beauty on all sides. It’s an easy drive from Nashville, Birmingham, and Atlanta, making it a great spot for a quick getaway. The city beckons visitors with its outdoor adventures, rich history, and stellar dining, but we love all of the fun things to do in Chattanooga with kids.
Families will love the walkability of the downtown area, the city’s free electric shuttle, and the hospitality of the locals. If you don’t know what to do in Chattanooga, we are happy to share some of our favorite things to do in Chattanooga Tennessee with kids.
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Where to Stay in Chattanooga
- The Chattanoogan – Conveniently located to restaurants and attractions in downtown Chattanooga.
- The Edwin – Across the street from the Tennessee Riverwalk, luxury hotel with an outdoor pool kids will love.
- Treetop Hideaways – For a unique accommodation in Chattanooga, why not stay in a treehouse just minutes away from some of the area’s top attractions? We guarantee an unforgettable stay.
Fun Things to Do in Chattanooga with Kids
1. Visit an Underground Waterfall
Ruby Falls is a spectacular waterfall inside Lookout Mountain on the edge of town. It is one of the best things to do in Chattanooga with kids and one of the city’s most popular attractions.
Visitors enter this cave system via an elevator shaft that travels 200 feet below ground. You’ll take a guided tour to reach the star of the show, Ruby Falls. Along the way, guides share information about the history of the cave, the rock formations, and the area in general.
Upon reaching the waterfall, guests are told this 145-foot waterfall sits 1100 feet underground (almost the same distance as the height of the Empire State Building). It’s the largest underground waterfall in the United States. Then, there’s a magical light show that turns the waterfall into all the colors of the rainbow. It was one of my family’s favorite experiences in Chattanooga.
If you’re looking for more things to do in Chattanooga with kids, outside of Ruby Falls is the High Point Zip Adventure Park. This outdoor ropes course has bridges, walkways, and zip lines. It provides a beautiful view of Chattanooga from the mountaintop as you sail through the trees!
2. Explore the rock formations of Rock City
I didn’t know what to expect from Rock City, but as the name suggests, it’s a city made of rocks! Located on the Georgia side of Lookout Mountain, Rock City is an outdoor amusement park featuring an enchanted trail, a panoramic view of 7 states, a waterfall, a swinging bridge, and Fairyland Caverns.
You should plan on spending a few hours here. There’s so much to do, from exploring the nooks and crannies along the trail and admiring the beauty of Lover’s Leap Waterfall to seeing the magical displays inside Fairyland Caverns. Younger children will love exploring the great outdoors but keep in mind that there are lots of stairs and tight spaces, so don’t bring a stroller.
Make sure to bring good walking shoes and water, especially during the warmer months! Rock City is open year-round and hosts special events, including the Enchanted Garden of Lights during the holidays and Fairytale Nights in the spring.
3. Enjoy the Views on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
For more Lookout Mountain attractions for the whole family, check out the Incline Railway on the Tennessee side! This is the world’s steepest passenger railway that goes to the top of Lookout Mountain. Known as “America’s Most Amazing Mile”, the train ride provides stunning views of the Chattanooga area.
When you reach the top, you’ll enjoy panoramic views from one of the highest Chattanooga lookouts. The train station at the top also features a gift shop and food court, or you can explore the restaurants at the bottom. This would be a great way to end the day when the weather is good.
4. Explore the Creative Discovery Museum
This is Chattanooga’s children’s museum. It has won a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for 5 consecutive years and is a must-visit for families with young children. Especially if you have mixed ages in your crew, this is a great stop.
There’s a section for kids ages one to 5, with a separate area for younger children. And for older kids, there are gorgeous indoor and outdoor spaces to explore, with hands-on exhibits covering STEM in a variety of ways. It’s a fun place to get the wiggles out and learn at the same time!
5. Visit the Tennessee Aquarium
I suggest planning at least half a day at the Tennessee Aquarium with kids. It’s also one of the top Chattanooga attractions and the entire family is sure to enjoy the aquarium. It’s truly one of the best aquariums we’ve been to in a long time!
Located on the riverfront, the aquarium is divided into 2 main buildings (River Journey and Ocean Journey) with an IMAX theater in a separate building a block away.
The entire space is magical from the time you enter. Floor-to-ceiling aquariums, welcoming docents, and interactive exhibits make this a great idea for a day out in Chattanooga. Around every corner is a new animal, a new surprise that takes your breath away.
The Ocean Journey building includes a Lemur Forest, Butterfly Garden, Stingray Bay (yes, kids can touch them), penguins, and different species of sea life. We thought the jellyfish area was especially beautiful.
The River Journey building has an Appalachian Cove Forest, a swamp area (with alligators and turtles), River Giants, and Rivers of the World (think fish, snakes, frogs, and lizards). My boys could not get enough of the creepy, crawly creatures and loved learning about them through the hands-on exhibits!
Don’t miss the different animal presentations throughout the day (including the awesome Secret Reef Dive show where the SCUBA diver answers questions while inside the tank), allowing children to learn about the animals on a deeper level.
6. Learn Chattanooga History at Chickamauga National Military Park
Chattanooga was known as the “Gateway to the Deep South” and played an important role during the Civil War. The Battle of Chickamauga was the site of the second deadliest battle of the Civil War and it’s located just over the Georgia border from Chattanooga. Older kids can appreciate the historical significance of this first National Military Park and might enjoy a visit.
The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is inside Point Park at Lookout Mountain. We started at the Visitor Center, where we watched a 25-minute video about the battle and the area’s role in American history. Afterward, we drove through the area to see the battlefields, monuments, and cabins that remain. It is quite a moving experience.
7. Explore Coolidge Park
Located on the north shore of the river, is Coolidge Park, a great space for families to unwind. There’s a historic carousel, water fountains for kids to run through, a rock wall for older kids, picnic areas, and a pavilion for seasonal concerts and events. This Tennessee river park is one of the top places for a family picnic, walk, or bike ride.
The park sits below the Walnut Street Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge in Chattanooga. You can make a day of it by crossing the bridge for great views of downtown Chattanooga. Then you’re just a short walk away from all the great attractions and eateries on Market Street, as well as the Hunter Museum of American Art, and more!
8. Ride the Southern Belle Riverboat
The Southern Belle offers a variety of cruises on the Tennessee River and a different perspective of Chattanooga and the surrounding area. Some cruises include live music and a sit-down meal, while others offer shorter city tours, which is often better when you have young children. Day or night, you’re sure to have a unique experience on the river!
I think Chattanooga is one of the best places for a family vacation. With everything from outdoor adventure to interactive museums, it’s a great place to visit with kids of all ages!
Where to Eat in Chattanooga with Kids
Tupelo Honey – this place is exactly what I expect from a Southern kitchen. Delicious biscuits (with blueberry compote and honey of course), fantastic shrimp and grits, and perfectly cooked buttermilk fried chicken with sweet potato pancakes. It was so good!
Julie Darling Donuts – we loved this adorable donut spot in Chattanooga and found some new favorites. We tried the pancakes and bacon, Oreo flavored, and cookies and cream (our favorite). They also have donut sundaes and Do-ssants (donut + croissant, yum). We’ll save those for next time.
Clumpies Ice Cream – this is THE place to go for ice cream in Chattanooga and there are several locations around the city (we went to the one near Coolidge Park). Flavors run the gamut from traditional (Cookie Dough) to the unique Firecracker (tutti frutti topped with Pop Rocks). They’re all refreshing and you pay based on weight, not per scoop. The kids asked to return every day.
Frothy Monkey – this coffee shop/restaurant is open all hours of the day, but we stopped by for breakfast. The oatmeal was delicious and the biscuits and gravy were to die for! Know that the portion sizes are big, so consider that when ordering.
Lupi’s Pizza Pies – this place has an eclectic vibe, with a friendly staff and delicious made-to-order pizza, calzones, and lasagna. Located on Broad Street, not far from the Tennessee Aquarium, this was one of our favorite Chattanooga downtown restaurants.