If you’re looking for ideas for a fall adventure that doesn’t feel done to death, put Chattanooga, Tennessee, on your list of places to check out. Whether you’re seeking the perfect spot for a girl’s trip or a family vacation destination that will please everybody, Nashville’s lesser-known neighbor has much to offer.
Chattanooga is 489 miles from New Orleans and 589 miles from Shreveport. Driving to Chattanooga from Louisiana will take six to 10 hours, depending on where you start. This might be an acceptable drive time for a weeklong vacation, but flying may be easier for a shorter stay. The less-than-good news is that there aren’t presently any direct flights from Louisiana’s airports to Chattanooga. If a multi-city Tennessee trip appeals to you, Southwest Airlines currently has direct service from New Orleans to Nashville, 130 miles from Chattanooga. Otherwise, you’re looking at a connecting flight. The better news is that once you get to Chattanooga, you’ll have nearly endless options for things to do.
A Building, Not a Train
Mention Chattanooga, and your mind probably goes right to “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Although Chattanooga’s railroad history will likely play a part in your exploration of the city, the iconic Chattanooga Choo Choo isn’t a train but a building, and a don’t-miss one at that. The Choo Choo opened in 1909 as a train station and closed in 1970. Local investors bought the property and reopened the space in 1973 as a hotel and vacation complex.
Today’s Choo Choo combines the old train stations’ architectural charm with fun, modern hangouts, such as the restaurant STIR, American Draft, where you can pour a beer inside a vintage train car, and more.
The Best City Break
If mention of rooftop bars, a scenic river walk, restaurants everywhere you look, and unique local shopping has you raising your hand and saying, “Sign me up!” you’ll enjoy exploring downtown Chattanooga.
If you stay in one of the downtown hotels, such as the Read House Hotel or the Hotel Clemons, formerly the Bode Hotel, downtown Chattanooga is very walkable. When you’re done getting your steps in, take one of the free electric streetcars or grab a bike from the citywide bike rental program. If you plan to visit Lookout Mountain, you’ll need a car.
Find Adventure at Lookout Mountain
Lookout Mountain isn’t technically in Tennessee but in Georgia. It sits right on the Tennessee state line, just a few minutes from downtown Chattanooga.
Lookout Mountain is fun any time of year, but Mother Nature puts on quite the show during fall, with eye-eye-popping views of the valley and mountains blanketed in vivid autumn colors. Southeast weather is always unpredictable, but Chattanooga fall temperatures typically range from mid-70s to high 40s, perfect for outdoor activities. Make sure to dress in layers.
Take in breathtaking rock formations, a 140-foot cascading waterfall, and a viewing deck where you can see seven states on a clear day at Rock City Garden. Then, ride on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, the world’s steepest passenger railway. The ride to the top takes about 10 minutes, and you’ll see spectacular panoramic views of the valley from the train’s roof. Don’t lose your train ticket – you’ll need it for the ride down.
At the top, walk to Point Park, part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, and enjoy views of Chattanooga from above. Check out the Bluff or Sunset Rock Trails on Lookout Mountain if you want more of a workout.
Another don’t-miss activity on Lookout Mountain is Ruby Falls, America’s deepest commercial cave and tallest underground waterfall open for public view. The highlight of the guided tour, which lasts about an hour, is a 145-foot waterfall 1,120 feet beneath the mountain. Ruby Falls also offers zip lining for anyone seeking something more adrenaline-charged.
Chattanooga’s Haunted History
If your idea of a fall trip includes a bit of spooky flavor, Chattanooga won’t disappoint. Take your walking shoes and sign up for a tour with Chattanooga Ghost Tours. This 1.5-hour walking tour takes you around the city after dark and is led by a guide well-versed in local ghost stories. The deluxe tour option is a smaller-sized group, takes you inside at least one haunted location, and offers a refreshment break.
If you want to rub elbows with Chattanooga’s most notorious ghost, stay at the Read House Hotel, where Annalisa Neverly was beheaded in the bathtub of Room 311. The culprit was never found but is widely believed to have been a jealous lover. Room 311 is available to rent on Friday nights in October and on Halloween nights. The hotel uses a lottery system to determine who gets to stay in this room, where multiple paranormal occurrences have been reported.
Room 311 has been resorted to its 1927 condition and sits empty most of the year, supposedly to give Annalisa some peace. The staff at the Read House Hotel will give a brief tour of the room upon request. You don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to take the tour, although aside from the creepy vibe in this one room, it’s an excellent hotel, and I recommend it.
In addition to a great cocktail and craft beer scene, Chattanooga has a train ride dedicated to wine pairings! The Chattanooga Wine Train is a two-hour dining excursion available on select dates and includes a three-course dinner with specially selected wines from sommelier John McCune.
In addition to the activities at Lookout Mountain, the Tennessee Aquarium is fantastic. Housed in two separate buildings, the aquarium offers both a River Journey and an Ocean Journey. You’ll see everything from sharks and stingrays to alligators and adorable river otters.
Train enthusiasts can ride a restored vintage train at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. Need to burn off energy? Head to Coolidge Park and check out the splash pad, carousel, and a huge lawn to run and play on.
Jill Robbins is a Texas mom who loves to roam. She has a 30-year-old daughter and two sons in middle school. She knows that’s a big gap in age, but she tries to be polite when people point that out. Her writing has appeared in Business Insider, Tripsavvy, Wealth of Geeks, San Antonio Magazine, and more.