Travel: Lookout Mountain

If you plant a finger on a map of the U.S., aiming for the heart of the South, you’ll likely hit Lookout Mountain. Rising up from the Cumberland Plateau in Georgia and Alabama and stretching into Tennessee where it overlooks the Tennessee River and the city of Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain remains the stuff of legends.

The band Alabama sang of the mountain, battles raged over its conquest in the Civil War and barns across the South advertised its popular attraction, Rock City. The century-old funicular railway moves visitors up the mountain at 72.7 percent incline, one of the world’s steepest passenger railways, and Ruby Falls located deep beneath the earth remains the country’s tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public.

Visitors should stand at Lover’s Leap inside Rock City and peer through viewfinders at 2,000 feet.

“If it’s really clear and you look through the viewfinder and know what you’re looking for, yes, you will see seven states,” said Meagan Jolley, public relations manager at See Rock City, Inc. These include Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas.

Quaint bed and breakfasts top the mountain with breathtaking views and award-winning restaurants are available for those who long for a fun weekend getaway. For nature lovers, some of the finest hiking can be found on miles of mountain trails, along with unique parks.

“Perfect for nature lovers, Cloudland Canyon is a 3,485-acre park only 20 minutes from Chattanooga,” said Pam Wattenbarger, an author and blogger who lives in Chickamauga, Ga., a short drive away. “A 10-mile trail around the canyon edge provides scenic views, while shorter trails lead to two waterfalls.

“There’s a playground for the kids, cabins and camping areas, and plenty of picnic tables,” she added. “Come during the week when it’s less crowded. The entrance fee is $5 per car.”

And when the day is done, a trip down the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway to Clumpies Ice Cream parlor, a Chattanooga tradition, seals the trip.


The bad news regarding one of the South’s most popular attractions is that coronavirus has limited the number of visitors inside, as well as put a damper on upcoming events. The good news is almost all of Rock City lies outside, so it’s likely one of the safest attractions to visit these days. At press time, Rock City was still trying to decide what to include in its Enchanted Garden of Lights holiday show. For instance, Santa and Mrs. Claus will make an appearance but kids may not be able to sit in Santa’s lap. Most of the extravagant light display and activities will return Nov. 20 and run through the first weekend in January.


Safety measures of social distancing, when possible inside a tight cave, and the wearing of masks are also required at Ruby Falls. Small groups descend via an elevator into the cavern and make their way to the magnificent 145-foot waterfall and its vibrant light show. For those looking for something more adventurous, the High Point ZIP Adventure offers 700 feet of ziplines with a 40-foot climbing tower.


There are only 10 guest rooms at the RiverView Inn, a quiet oasis located on the northernmost point of Lookout, directly above the Tennessee River with a breathtaking view of Chattanooga. Amenities include a heated saltwater pool, afternoon snacks, the Skybox Clubhouse with TV and games and a fire pit, s’more kits included.


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