19 Secrets of Lookout Mountain: Unforgettable Views, Hidden Falls & More!

Lookout Mountain is massive! It stretches over 90 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Gadsen, Alabama. However, the area just outside Chattanooga is a bonafide vacation destination. There are old time favorites like Rock City and Ruby Falls, and outdoor adventures of every description. Plus, the region is steeped in history with everything from Civil War battlefields to the world’s only wrecker museum. 

Follow along, and we’ll show you enough fun and adventurous things to do on Lookout Mountain to make you want to plan a whole weekend there! To which we say…”Go on, just do it!” We promise you’ll have a great time!

See Rock City

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

If you’ve driven anywhere in the South, you’ve probably seen a billboard encouraging you to See Rock City.

Sure, it’s a classic tourist trap with the scientifically unsubstantiated “See Seven States” Lookout, the pump-powered Lover’s Leap waterfall, and the Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village that looks like something from Alice’s imagination after she passed through the looking glass.

But don’t dismiss Rock City as just another roadside attraction. It is a hidden gem for nature lovers, boasting massive ancient rock formations, a fun swinging bridge, and meticulously maintained gardens showcasing over 400 native plant species.

Discover Ruby Falls

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

In many ways, Ruby Falls is the subterranean sister of Rock City, including a ubiquitous barn roof advertising campaign that inspired Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison to sing about it. Its big draw is a 145′ waterfall located 1,120 feet underground. The cave has no natural openings, and the first trip took the man who discovered it, Leo Lambert, over 17 hours! 

The subterranean falls are a love story too, with a happier ending than Lover’s Leap. Leo took his wife, Ruby, to see the falls the day after he discovered them. She was so moved by their beauty that Leo dedicated the falls to her, and they have been known as Ruby Falls from that day forward.

Today, visitors can ride the elevator down and follow the trail to the falls room, passing many named cave formations along the way to the falls room.

See Ruby Falls by Lantern Light

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Did you know that Ruby Falls has an after hours lantern tour? Friday nights, after regular operating hours, your group takes off to explore the cave by lantern light. Seeing the cave by hand held lights helps you imagine what it was like for Leo Lambert when he was exploring Ruby Falls for the first time. Only, you have a guide and trails instead of a six-hour belly crawl.

Once you get to the falls room, your guide hoists a propane lantern up to the top of the falls and you’ll realize just how massive they are as the room swallows the light. Then the house lights come up and you have extended time to enjoy the beauty of the falls. The Ruby Falls Lantern tour is a more laid back and natural way to experience Ruby Falls.

Conquer the High Point Zip Adventure at Ruby Falls

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Conquer might be a strong word for the High Point Zip Adventure, unless you have a strong fear of heights, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. You warm up with an optional ascent (or two or three) on the climbing tower. You’ll find easy routes, difficult routes with overhanging walls, and several in between. 

After you’re good and ready, you clip in and take two, roughly 400’ ziplines out and back. Your climbing guides set up your gear and apply the brakes for you, so all you have to do is step off and enjoy the ride.

Attend a Lookout Mountain Festival

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The newest festival on Lookout Mountain is Flora Luna, a celebration of food and light in Rock City Gardens that lets you see Rock City under a new light. There’s even an original music score that plays accompaniment to the elevated culinary offerings. Flora Luna runs from April 5 – May 14, 2024, but it isn’t the only special event on Lookout Mountain.

Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights welcomes visitors with over one million lights during the Holiday Season. Ruby Fall’s Battle Below the Clouds (April 20, 2024) is the friendliest BBQ competition in the South, with delicious food and live bluegrass music. These are just some of the exciting festivals waiting for you on Lookout Mountain.

Ride America’s Most Amazing Mile on the Incline Railway

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Incline Railway takes you a mile up Lookout Mountain and 125 years back in history to a time before the reign of cars. Massive hotels bloomed on the slopes of the mountain, welcoming businessmen and presidents to these “Castles in the Clouds”.

Not only is the ride up and down a trip (pun intended), but you have ample time to walk around and explore Lookout Mountain from the top station. A short, three block walk takes you to Point Park National Military Park and the Battles of Chattanooga Museum.

Learn the History Behind the Battles of Chattanooga

Photo Credit: Chattanooga Tourism Co.

The Battles For Chattanooga Museum and Point Park tell the stories of the fierce Civil War Battles for this strategic city. In September 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg defeated the Union Army at Chickamauga. The federal forces withdrew to the high ground on Lookout Mountain. The rebels besieged this karst fortress and might have starved the troops out if not for the success of General Grant’s “Cracker Line” resupply missions.

The re-invigorated forces began the three-day Battles of Chattanooga, which resulted in one of the most dramatic turnabouts in American military history. It ended with the Union forces driving the Confederate troops away from Chattanooga. A year later, Chattanooga was the springboard for Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Visit the International Towing Museum

Photo Credit: Chattanooga Tourism Co.

Every little boy will tell you that Mater and tow trucks are cool in general, but only a few will know that they were invented in Chattanooga. Odds are, quite a few of those boys have visited the International Towing Museum at the base of Lookout Mountain. Rest assured, boys of all ages will love the 24 tow trucks in the showroom, ranging from 1913 to 2002.

Stay at Chanticleer Inn Bed and Breakfast

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Chanticleer Inn Bed and Breakfast is a 20-room boutique hotel dating back to 1927 located at the gates of Rock City. It’s a perfect spot for a romantic getaway (think rooms with whirlpool tubs and gas fireplaces), especially if you can sip your way through Flora Luna and stroll back to your room.

There are many places to stay near Lookout Mountain, but Chanticleer Inn is the only bed and breakfast / boutique hotel on the mountain.Your mornings start with a signature breakfast, followed by a full day of fun exploring all the things to do on Lookout Mountain. 

Hike to Glen Falls

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Trailforks reports 39 miles of trail in the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Region, from the Guild Trail in the north to Jackson Gap in the south. In many ways, that’s a better description than “hiking Lookout Mountain,” which, as we’ve established, extends some 90 miles to Menatone in Alabama.

We’ll try to avoid the Oprah “you get a trail meme” and focus on some of the unique things you can do on Lookout Mountain trails besides hiking. The 1/2-mile hike to Glen Falls is worth the headache of finding parking. (word to the wise: leave early and please, don’t parallel park in multiple head-in parking spaces). You can also hike in from the Guild Trailhead, which is 1.6 miles away with a big parking lot.

Climb Sunset Rock

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Sunset Rock hike is a Chattanooga classic because you’re on top of a 90 foot-high west-facing cliff band. Ironically, you must be off the trail before sunset, but what is in a name? 

Plus, it’s only 600′ back to the car, so you can get close.

For climbers, the area is known as Sunset Park, with over 150 routes for experienced climbers. If you’re interested in trying it out, you can hire a guide for a 1/2 day trip and see what all the fuss is about.

Go Bouldering on Old Wauhatchie Boulders & St Elmo Boulders

Photo Credit: Chattanooga Tourism Co.

There are 27 climbing boulders located along the Far Enough Trail from the Guild-Hardy Trail to John C. Wilson Park. The Lookout Mountain Conservancy and hundreds of volunteers cleared off the invasive English ivy and built durable surfaces at the base of the boulder and steps to reduce erosion. They also maintain an excellent bouldering web page and a digital guide that helps fund the conservancy. You can see the boulders sorted by difficulty, as well as important safety and conservation tips.

Gravel Riding on the Guild-Hardy Trail

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Guild-Hardy Trail is a reclaimed narrow-gauge railway bed that meanders for five miles along the base of the bluffs at Lookout Mountain. It’s relatively flat and wide, with a uniform rock surface, perfect for easy hiking and gravel biking. There’s also one of the largest parking lots of any of the trailheads.

Heading south on the Guild-Hardy Trail, you’ll reach Glen Falls in 1.6 miles with much easier parking. It’s about that distance heading north to Ruby Falls. On this route, you’ll pass underneath the Incline Railway and find overlooks with views of the Tennessee River.

Mountain Bike to Cloudland Canyon

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Cloudland Canyon is a magnificent Georgia State Park situated around Sitton’s Gulch. You can view the gulch from the top on the Overlook Trail or hike down to a series of 100′ waterfalls on the Sitton Gulch Trail. It’s a wonderful hiking destination on Lookout Mountain, but did you know you can mountain bike to Cloudland Canyon from Chattanooga?

The River to Clouds Trail runs 34 miles from the end of the Tennessee River Walk to Cloudland Canyon, with about 4000′ of climbing. It’s enough for a serious day trip with a shuttle or a weekend getaway if you overnight in Cloudland Canyon.

Explore Lula Falls

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Lula Lake Land Trust protects the Rock Creek watershed on Lookout Mountain. It offers many activities, but the star attraction is Lula Falls. The Core Preserve has 13 trails totaling over eight miles, but there’s also the 8-mile Moonshine Trail and the 14-mile Cloudland Connector Trail.

There are three things you need to know before visiting Lula Lake. First, it is only open to the general public on the first and last weekends of each month. Second, you’ll need to get a permit before visiting, which often has a waiting list. Lastly, unless you have a handicapped parking permit, you’ll park on the top of the hill and hike the access road down to the trailheads. 

Tour Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center

Photo Credit: Reflection Riding.

Reflection Riding Arboretum is known for its immersive, nature-based learning. However, there is so much more to do when you visit. The Arboretum has 3 miles of gravel trails through the wetlands of Lookout Creek that end in a canoe launch. There’s also an oversized parking lot at the trailhead for the Kiddie Trial, which climbs up 1.7 miles to Sunset Rock.

Ride the Tennessee Riverwalk

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Tennessee Riverwalk is a 12-mile paved path that runs along the Tennessee River from the Chickamauga Dam to St. Elmo at the base of Lookout Mountain. For the casual rider, it gives you access from Lookout Mountain to the downtown Chattanooga Riverfront (or vice versa) with only five miles of pedaling.

No bike? No worries. Bike Chattanooga bike share has stations around the city, including in front of the Incline Railway Station. You can rent an electric bike for only $10/day and enjoy unlimited 60-minute rides up and down the Riverwalk, which connects you to the best things to do in Chattanooga.

Eat Delicious Food

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

In 1855, a young writer named Augusta Jane Evans quipped that the view from Lookout Mountain reminded her of the view of Naples, Italy, from St. Elmo Castle. She wrote St. Elmo, a wildly successful novel set in the area that only trailed Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in sales during the 19th century. That’s why the town at the base of Lookout Mountain is called St Elmo. Not only does it have a fascinating backstory, it also has delicious food.

You can’t beat the ice cream at Chattanooga’s hometown favorite, Clumpies. If you’re looking for something more substantial, the 1885 Grill offers authentic coastal cuisine, and The Tap House offers a classic pub fair and craft beer. Farther up the mountain and just a hair past Rock City, you’ll find Mediterranean cuisine at Massey’s Kitchen and coffee and pastries at Canopy Coffee

Scratch Your Curiosity at the Naughty Cat Cafe

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Let’s be real; you’re coming to the Naughty Cat Cafe for the cats, not the coffee. It’s one of the largest cat cafes in the world and serves as a foster home for the local shelters. All the cats are up for adoption, and since their opening, they’ve found homes for over 1,200 worthy and well-socialized cats. 

Even if you’re not looking for a cat, you’re welcome to visit and give these kitties the affection they need to integrate into a loving home. Plus, the nominal entrance fee goes directly to support the cats. It’s, in a word, purr-fect. It is so good; in fact, reservations are strongly encouraged.

Wrapping Up Things to Do on Lookout Mountain

Photo Credit: Chattanooga Tourism Co.

Top to bottom, from caves to cats, there’s a little bit of everything on Lookout Mountain. It’s perfect as a part of your Chattanooga vacation or a weekend destination in its own right. You’ll discover life in the slow lane, steeped in history and natural beauty. 

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Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Ruby Falls, one of the Southeast’s must see attractions, lay hidden 1120’ under Lookout Mountain until discovered in 1928.Today, it’s part tourist trap, part Chattanooga icon and part testament to the spirit of discovery and childhood dreams. Learn the secrets of Ruby Falls and plan your visit.

Ruby Falls Secrets Revealed – Hidden History and Why You Should See Ruby Falls

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Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Cloudland Canyon is one of Georgia’s most rugged and beautiful state parks. Here is our complete guide to the parks hiking trails and capturing it on film.