Chattanooga: Rock City

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Of all the tourist attractions in Chattanooga, I found Rock City to be the best surprise of them all. It’s beautiful, it’s fun, and except for a few creepy gnomes, it’s a fantastic place to spend an afternoon.

Location

Rock City is located atop Lookout Mountain, however it’s nowhere near the upper end of the Incline Railway, so you’ll have to drive there. It’s easy to find a sign to point you in the right direction, no matter where you are in Chattanooga. When you arrive, you’ll be pleased to find out that parking is free.

My Visit

The big attraction at Rock City is Lover’s Leap, where you can supposedly see seven states.  But that’s near the end of the trail.  Your journey begins on paths like this…

.. which winds around through gardens, past trickling water…

… sometimes it runs underneath itself…

… or squeezes through tight passages.

The flowers along the way are beautiful…

… and there’s also a small animal display.  The “Deer Park” is home to the rare white Fallow deer.  I think that’s the tail end of one in the picture above.

After the peaceful, winding walk, you come to the most interesting part of the park–the one with incredible views of the land surrounding Lookout Mountain.  To get there, cross the Swing-A-Long bridge…

… which is just as rickety as the name implies.

If you’re afraid of the swinging bridge, a stone structure can be found less than 100 feet away (which is where I was standing, as I took this picture of the Swing-A-Long).

From there, follow the signs to Lover’s Leap, the dramatic point from which you can see seven states.

Ok, you’re in Georgia, so you don’t have to look very far to see that one.  Tennessee is just to your left (you cross the state line as you drive up to the park).  Alabama isn’t far, and on a clear day the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina are probably visible.  I think the biggest stretch is Kentucky and Virginia–at least during my visit, the haze made it difficult to make out Mt. Pinnacle.

Chattanooga is in the distance, just over the hillside.

Directly below Lover’s Leap is a large manmade waterfall fountain.  You can get a good view of it as the trail circles around, after leaving Lover’s Leap.

It’s at this point the trail gets a bit strange.  Gnomes start appearing in the dark crevices and passageways.  Then, you walk into a completely darkened chamber…

… that’s lit only by blacklights.  Displays on either side of the path depict fairy tale scenes, like Hansel and Grethel (a gingerbread typo?)…

… and Snow White and the seven dwarfs, which in this case, are seven gnomes.

The final attraction is a huge collection of these types of blacklight scenes all gathered together in one display, depicting just about every fairy tale you could imagine.   It’s all inside a giant shed, and you walk around the outside of the display, circling the building before exiting.  During my visit, the shed felt like a hot, dark oven.  It was uncomfortable and smelled funky, in addition to the creepy lighting and weird displays.  I imagine some kids would enjoy it, while others may develop nightmares from it.  I was just happy to get out of there.

After that, the trail ends, and you’re back at the entrance.

Rock City was first discovered by non-Native Americans in the early 1800’s, when missionaries came to the area to convert the native population. During the Civil War, an officer from the north and a nurse from the south both commented on how the passages between the outcroppings of rock resemble city streets.

 In the 1920’s, Garnet Carter began developing a housing community and golf course on the mountain, while his wife Frieda began developing paths through the rocks.  She planted flowers along the paths and added gnomes from Germany.  When Garnet’s golf course fell through, he changed his focus to developing Rock City, and in 1932 the attraction opened.  (You can find the whole story on Rock City’s website.)

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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