I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
March 11, 2016
You’ve seen the roadside barns painted with the words ‘See Rock City,’ but the cost of tickets to this Chattanooga-area landmark ($19.95 for adults, $11.95 for kids ages 3-12) may have you second-guessing whether the attraction is the best way to spend your time and money. After visiting Rock City several times with my family over the years, I can tell you with certainty that the ticket price is worth it, no matter the season. Here’s why.
Located atop Lookout Mountain just outside of Chattanooga, I’m convinced Rock City is one of the most beautiful and picture-worthy places in the US. Every pathway here leads to a new and enchanting discovery, whether you’re crossing over lush forests, squeezing through narrow rock passes, or descending stone steps into dark caverns.
For children in particular, Rock City is a paradise of exploration. Your kids will feel like they’ve stepped right into the heart of a fairytale storybook, a place where elves, dwarves, and gnomes could easily be lurking in grottos and hiding around corners.
You’ll also get a kick out of squeezing through the narrow crevices of the dark caverns. It’s the best kind of family adventure- The kind where everyone is thrilled and no one gets hurt!
Another Rock City family favorite is the Swing-a-Long Bridge, a 180-foot suspension bridge that gently sways as you walk across it. Hold on tight!
My children loved running ahead and being the first to find the surprises that waited around every bend.
Rock City is not for the claustrophobic or for those who have difficulty walking or navigating narrow spaces, but everyone else will really enjoy it.
Once you make your way through the caverns to the top of the Lookout Mountain, the view is spectacular. It will inspire a moment of silence from even the rowdiest of children.
On a clear day, you can see seven states from this spot. Can you imagine the thrill of reading this marker as a child? THIS IS EVERYTHING.
As if the view isn’t enough, this magnificent waterfall will send your OMGometer into overdrive. Although this is the best vantage point for a photo, the real magic happens when you cross the bridge over the waterfall and look down on it from overhead. This rock is called Lovers Leap– It’s named after a Cherokee legend about two young lovers from warring tribes. According to the story, a young brave was captured and thrown from the top of the rock. In despair, his beloved Indian maiden from the rival tribe then leaped from the rock to her death.
One big reason Rock City has managed to preserve its kitschy roadside America charm is that it’s owned by a third-generation family member of the couple that first opened the property to the public back in 1932. Garnet Carter originally had plans for the property to become a private community and golf course called Fairyland. His wife, Frieda, loved the rocky part of their land. She took a string and marked a path through the rocks that ended at Lover’s Leap. She also planted her favorite wildflowers and plants along the path and decorated it with her beloved garden gnomes and fairytale characters. Garnet saw potential in her path and turned it into a money-making attraction that endures to this day and still includes some of the same plants and flowers Frieda herself planted.
Frieda was also the inspiration behind the gnomes and fairytale characters that delight children inside Fairyland Caverns. The gnomes were moved into the caverns in 1947 and have been there ever since.
Inside the Fairyland Caverns, scenes from all your favorite fairytales and nursery rhymes will keep your kids enthralled. A room featuring an entire Mother Goose Village was added in 1964- My eight-year-old in particular loved walking around this room and naming every character he saw.
As for those painted barns that you still see across the south– These are also a legacy of Garnet Carter, who hit on the idea when business to his off-the-beaten-path attraction was initially slow. He hired a young sign painter named Clark Byers to travel the countryside and offer to paint farmers’ barns in exchange for allowing him to paint ‘See Rock City’ on them. The result was a piece of Americana that endures to this day.
Best of all is the fact that there’s really no one season that’s better than the others for a visit. Every season has its own special flavor. On our most recent visit last fall, we enjoyed the turning leaves, fall flowers, pumpkins, and decorations, and even this Autumn Troll who came out from the caves to see everyone.
Other special events include Fairytale Nights, a Shamrock City St. Patrick’s Day event celebrating the Irish, Christmas lights, and lots of live music events. No matter what time of year you visit, chances are there’s something going on at Rock City for your family to enjoy.
Rock City is just one of many family attractions in and around Chattanooga. Be sure and check out 30 Things to Do in Chattanooga with Kids for more great ideas.