ROCK CITY GARDENS & RUBY FALLS
  CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE
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Ruby Falls and Rock City Gardens are both situated atop Lookout Mountain, a massive and historically significant mountain just south of downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. The two sites are actually a few miles apart. In fact, Ruby Falls is in Tennessee and Rock City is in Georgia. Although they are two separate entities, Ruby Falls and Rock City have marketed themselves together for decades, doubling the appeal for motorists to drive up the side of a big mountain.

RUBY FALLS:

Ruby Falls is the easier of the two attractions to access. Itís only about two miles from I-24 Exit 175, and is about halfway up the mountain. Yes, Ruby Falls is an actual waterfall, a 145-foot UNDERGROUND waterfall. Itís not named for the color of the water or rock formations, nor is it named for any gemstones found within the caves. Ruby Falls is actually named after the wife if itís discoverer, Leo Lambert. Since it was first opened to the public in 1929, Ruby Falls has been seen by millions of visitors. The entrance to Ruby Falls is housed within an unusual stone building. The structure has a large ivy-covered tower resembling that of a gothic castle. Visitors who climb to the top of the tower are rewarded with a beautiful view of Chattanooga. The grounds are beautifully-landscaped. Tours begin every 15 minutes and are about an hour long. We did not have to wait for a tour, although our group seemed to be quite large, maybe 30 people. The experience begins with an 1100-foot elevator ride to the caverns below. The elevator has a window, allowing visitors to see the rock through which they are rapidly descending and to perceive the depth to which they are traveling.

The caverns are a constant 60 degrees year round. That may be a little too cool for some, but for us, it was a welcome respite from the heat and humidity outdoors. We were quite comfortable in shorts and t-shirts. Our tour passed many stalactites, stalagmites and other unusual formations named after the subjects that they resemble (e.g. "fish", "bacon", "cactus and the candle"). Some of the formations are illuminated with white incandescent lights. Some are illuminated with colored lights. The tour culminates with a view of Ruby Falls itself. If you have visited other caves and caverns elsewhere, you may find the tourís "minor" attractions to be rather ordinary. However, this unusual waterfall sets this attraction apart. Located within what is by far the largest chamber on the tour, the water emerges from about a 3-foot-wide hole in the chamber ceiling. The narrow stream of water gradually widens to a width of about 8-10 feet as it hits the pool 145 feet below where it emerged. A very narrow trail circling the falls allows visitors to take a close look... a very close look. In fact, those who choose to walk around the falls will probably get a bit damp. To the sounds of dramatic piped-in music (resembling a cross between "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and the soundtrack to any of the "NFL Films"), the falls is illuminated with alternating natural white lights and colored lights.

Although the trail within the caverns is flat, it is at times very narrow. Stairsteps are infrequent and are only about 4 or 5 at a time. Iím 6'2", and I experienced a few challenges... horizontally and vertically. The Ruby Falls tour is inaccessible to wheelchairs and those who have difficulty walking. Itís too narrow for any wheelchair and there are few, if any, places to sit. Thereís nobody to blame except Mother Nature, but it must be mentioned in order to avoid disappointment.

ROCK CITY GARDENS:

Both Rock City Gardens and Ruby Falls are enjoyable attractions, but we all enjoyed Rock City more. Rock City is about a 10 or 15 minute drive from Ruby Falls. You must drive through a labyrinth of streets and roads to get there, but the route is clearly marked. There are signs and arrows at every major intersection. Open since 1932, Rock City is essentially a 4100-foot hiking trail with numerous and diverse sights and activities along the way. The tree-lined trail winds among giant sandstone boulders, through tunnels, across and under stone bridges, through tight crevasses, and among many labeled species of local flora. Some areas are accented with soothing background music.

The attractions along the trail include:

The Grand Corridor - A tree lined walk lined with plants and sandstone cliffs

Needles Eye - One of two narrow passages that the trail passes through

Deer Park - A small area with some white deer on display. You can buy 25 cents worth of pellets and feed them.

Mushroom Rock - An 8-foot tall rock shaped like a mushroom... good photo op.

Swing-A-Long Bridge - A rickety 2-foot-wide and 180-foot-long swinging pedestrian bridge made of steel cables and creaky wooden slats spanning a deep valley between two sandstone formations. Itís scary. My older daughter wouldnít cross it. An easy detour is available.

High Falls - A tall waterfalls emerging from under a stone bridge on the side of the mountain

Lovers Leap - A terrace from which you can "view 7 states" (debatable) and enjoy a spectacular view of the Tennessee River valley below

7 States Flag Court - They claim you can see 7 states from this vantage point... Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The flags of these states fly on separate poles below the US flag.

Fat Manís Squeeze - The second (aptly-named) narrow passage. If I had eaten just one more donut for breakfast, I would have had to turn around and go back the way Iíd come.

1000 Ton Balanced Rock - A huge sandstone boulder precariously perched upon two narrow rock "legs"

Mother Goose Village is a relatively recent addition to Rock City Gardens... added for extra kid-appeal. Curiously, very few details about Mother Goose Village appear on the Rock City website. Located near the end of the Rock City trail, Mother Goose Village is within an artificial "cave" and is very different from the rest of the park. It features a series of small dioramas, each representing a scene from a Mother Goose nursery rhyme or story. Now... I honestly mean this as a compliment... it was slightly creepy. The building... er... "cave" was very dark, with black lights as the only illumination upon the fluorescent dioramas. Most of the figures are innocent and pretty, but we get an occasional reminder of the violence and stories of survival found within Mother Goose stories in their original form. Mother Goose Village looks like a giant model train landscape erected at the rear of a Spencer Gifts store, but instead of train stations and water towers, youíll see Hansel & Gretel confronting the witch who wishes to eat them, Cinderella in her pumpkin-carriage and the Big Bad Wolf hiding behind a tree... all in their psychedelic ultraviolet glory.

Mother Goose herself is a staple at Rock City. Sheís a kindly retired elementary school teacher. She looks the part as she dons an authentic-looking Mother Goose outfit and sports a goose puppet with her left hand. Her love of children is clearly genuine. She and her puppet talk and play with the visiting kids and she gladly poses for photos.

Food is available at the Big Rock Cafť, located at Rock Cityís entrance. The gabled roof and stone exterior are attractive. The interior is spacious and nicely decorated.

Rock City is difficult for those with disabilities. Rock City does provide a "VIP Tour". This is a shortened, escorted tour along an employee trail. Although it doesnít provide access to most of the parks attractions, it does allow access to the scenic view from the Lovers Leap terrace and the "see 7 states" flag court.

Rock City doesnít have the flash and panache of more modern family attractions, but its nostalgic charm is oddly endearing. Itís not an overwhelming sensory blitz, just a pleasantly unusual hour of family fun.

Parking at Rock City and Ruby Falls was not a problem and crowds were not bad. However, we visited early in the day in late August, when the tourist season was beginning to wind down, so crowds are likely bigger in June and July. Rock City is open from 8:30 AM - 8 PM from May 25 to September 2. They close earlier the rest of the year. Ruby Falls is open from 8 AM - 8 PM all year. As of 2004, Ruby Falls is $12.95 for adults and $5.95 for kids (3-12). Rock City is $12.95 for adults and $6.95 for kids. Combo tickets are available at substantial savings over the individual tickets. See their websites for more details.

CLICK THUMBNAILS FOR LARGER IMAGE

RUBY FALLS EXTERIOR INSIDE THE CAVERNS
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CACTUS & THE CANDLE RUBY FALLS - ILLUMINATED FORMATION AND POOL
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RUBY FALLS RUBY FALLS
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RUBY FALLS CHATTANOOGA SKYLINE FROM RUBY FALLS
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RUBY FALLS PHOTO OP
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ROCK CITY GARDENS MIKE & ROCKY
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40'S GAS STATION ACROSS THE STREET MOTHER GOOSE & KIDS
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BIG ROCK CAFE MUSHROOM ROCK
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LOVERS LEAP "SEE SEVEN STATES"
7 STATES FLAG COURT FAT MAN SQUEEZE
LOVERS LEAP & HIGH FALLS MOTHER GOOSE VILLAGE
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Read my reviews from our 2003 travels on epinions.com:

The Parthenon - Nashville, Tennessee

A Family Guide to New Orleans, Louisiana

How FAMILIES can enjoy Bourbon Street

The Wyndham Hotel - Downtown New Orleans

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas - New Orleans

Pensacola Beach, Florida

Best Western Resort - Pensacola Beach, Florida

Rock City & Ruby Falls - Chattanooga, Tennessee

A Family Guide to Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Ripley's Haunted Adventure, Gatlinburg

Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, Gatlinburg

Park Vista Hotel, Gatlinburg

A LIST OF ALL OF MY EPINIONS.COM REVIEWS

 

 

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