Chattanooga is one of those cities that’s truly family-friendly — with history, whimsy, scenery, and plenty of fun things to do in Chattanooga that are designed with kids in mind but can be equally delightful for adults. Whether you grew up here and have visited Chattanooga children’s attractions like the Tennessee Aquarium, Children’s Discovery Museum, and High Point Climbing Gym crop up downtown, or have fond memories of stopping in Chattanooga on road trips to Florida in decades past, the Scenic City can be nostalgia-packed for grownups. And, for kids discovering all the fun to be had in the ‘Noog for the very first time, there’s a great blend of activities that are truly of the moment and classic children’s pastimes.
Can’t Miss Chattanooga Children’s Attractions
Lake Winnepesaukah has been a classic Chattanooga children’s attraction for almost a century. From the rides you remember as a child, like the Carrousel, Tilt-A-Whirl, Scrambler and all-time-favorite Cannonball Roller Coaster to new favorites like the Oh-Zone 14 story free fall, Fireball and the splashtacular fun at SoakYa water park, there are more ways to experience thrills and chills, rides and slides at Lake Winnie than ever! Lake Winnnepsaukah was named one of the America’s top 10 favorite family amusement parks by Travel and Leisure magazine.
Sundays and Wednesdays May 5 – September 22 are official McDonald’s Family Days, where you can save $5.00 on an Unlimited Ride Pass with a coupon from Chattanooga area McDonald’s. Contributions go to help families staying at the Ronald McDonald House, a local non-profit dedicated to helping families of sick children.
Mondays are also an extra special day to visit, when between June 3rd and August 5th an adult over 21 can get free Unlimited Rides Pass to accompany two children (16 or younger) paying full price, an offer made sponsored by US101 and EPB Fiber Optics.
High Point Climbing Gym
It’s not every city that has a climbing gym with an exterior wall where you can scale a parking garage over an array of colored lights, but that’s the ‘Noog for you. Not only does High Point have incredibly unique auto-belay routes that attract climbers from all over the country, they also have a Kids Zone especially for little ones, even as young as three, who are interested in trying this sport that has exploded in popularity.
According to a 2017 study in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 5 million minors are hitting rock gyms coast to coast, and that number is rising. Give it a try as a whole family, or embrace what’s already one of your favorite pastimes. The Kids Zone at High Point is a full 3,000 square feet and has 15 auto belays so kids can test their confidence on routes, as well as a 10-foot tall kid’s boulder for the daring.
No list of Chattanooga children’s attractions is complete without mention of the Tennessee Aquarium. When it opened in the early 1990s, the Aquarium transformed Chattanooga’s downtown and kicked off the renaissance that’s since cemented the city as a place for families to have fun. The main exhibit is a unique tour of river ecosystems that trace the Tennessee Valley’s streams from the top of mountains down into valleys, gorges, and lakes, and eventually on to the sea.
Across the courtyard, where kids love to splash and play in a miniature concrete replica of the Tennessee River, you’ll find a second Aquarium building that, in a more traditional fashion, outlines a saltwater ecosystem. You’ll see penguins, sharks, parrots, and more along the way, and can also visit the Aquarium’s IMAX 3D Theater in the neighborhood to complete your educational experience.
Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center
This corner of Tennessee has the nickname “the Scenic City” for a reason— there’s a ton of great hikes among the bevy of Chattanooga children’s attractions. Lula Lake, Sunset Rock, and Stringer’s Ridge all have lovely, shorter hikes that will be attractive to visitors of all ages. But it’s hard to beat the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center for sheer family appeal.
In addition to grounds to stroll, you can meet “native ambassadors” from as many as 29 species, including raptors, endangered red wolves. There are fifteen miles of hiking trails for short-term visits and nature-based summer camps for locals. Check the Nature Center’s events page for information on regular events, like lizard and snake feedings, plant nursery open houses, and even canoe trips.
There’s definitely a little something for everyone, and it’s hard to beat an afternoon exploring the Arboretum. But the pièce de résistance for families with older children is the Behind-the-Scenes tour that gives groups of up to five a chance to see even more of the Nature Center’s animal ambassadors and experience the creature features for a full hour and a half.
Creative Discovery Museum
If you’re looking for Chattanooga children’s attractions, you can’t miss the Creative Discovery Museum. This unique learning experience, with its whimsical architecture and wacky tower, has been making Chattanooga more playful since 1995. With exhibits for tots from toddlers to twelve years old, the Creative Discovery Museum is full of tactile, experiential zones that let kids play house, experience how water flows through a room-size contraption, try their hand at paleontology, and learn about trains. Close to both the IMAX and Tennessee Aquarium, the Creative Discovery Museum is easy to fold into a day or weekend of fun downtown.
Where to Stay for Chattanooga Children’s Attractions
Chattanooga is full of great lodging options for families, from unique boutique hotels to reliable chains to exciting camping experiences.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo
For decades, the Chattanooga Choo Choo has been a fun, family-oriented hotel where kids can experience spending the night in a real-live old fashioned train car reminiscent of a trip to Hogwarts. In recent years, however, the Choo Choo has undergone a multi-million dollar renovation that’s added a whole entertainment complex around the historic lodging.
Now you can enjoy a world-class concert venue on-site, a comedy club, escape room experience, the world-renowned SongBirds guitar museum, and— across the street— a confectionary and beverage shop called The Hot Chocolatier. There’s more than ever to recommend the Choo Choo, and plenty for parents and kids alike to write home about. It’s hard to beat the Choo Choo as a home base from which you can enjoy all manner of Chattanooga children’s attractions from downtown to the Georgia border.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chattanooga Downtown
Another great option for family-friendly lodging in Chattanooga is the Holiday Inn Express downtown. They offer a complimentary breakfast buffet, fast-charging stations so you don’t miss a minute of your kids’ goofy grins throughout your weekend, and free WiFi hooked up to the Gig City’s famously fast fiber optic internet.
If you want to Skype with friends and family back home or just make sure all your Instastories make it to the ‘gram, Holiday Inn is an excellent choice. The kids, meanwhile, will think this is a Chattanooga children’s attraction in its own right, with an indoor heated pool to splash in. Outside, it’s just a mile to fun destinations like the Chattanooga Lookouts ballfield, Creative Discovery Museum, and the Southern Belle Riverboat!
Racoon Mountain Campground
Camping is one of those classic childhood pastimes that turns any family vacation into something seriously epic. Just twenty minutes from Lake Winnie, and even closer to Chattanooga children’s attractions like Rock City and Ruby Falls, Racoon Mountain is also a destination in its own right.
By day, you can explore 5.5 miles of underground passageways in Racoon Mountain Caverns, pan for gold, swim in the outdoor saltwater pool, let imaginations run wild on the playground, and enjoy a family game of basketball, ladder ball, shuffleboard, or cornhole. With tent and RV sites, as well as cabins, you can camp however you’re most comfortable, and take care of laundry as needed with the on-site facilities.
Dining Near Chattanooga Children’s Attractions
Chattanooga is definitely a foodie’s delight, and that extends even to the pint-sized crowd that can be a little pickier. Foodie families can easily find something to please every palate for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, close to downtown or beyond.
Maple Street Biscuit Company
Maple Street Biscuit Company is a popular choice for families, with a Little Ones menu that includes a chicken biscuit, a half portion of their popular chocolate chip waffle with strawberries and powdered sugar, or a scrambled egg and biscuit combo. They serve fresh-squeezed orange juice, which is a nice treat, and you’ll be glad that you can take home their jellies once you’ve had a chance to try them.
Another joint as good for breakfast as it is for lunch or dinner, Frothy Monkey is often packed with families, so you know this is another great Chattanooga children’s attraction. Adults will find plenty of options ranging from the healthy to indulgent, along with coffee drinks and cocktails for later in the day. The kids’ menu includes favorites like a classic PB+J served w chips & orange slices, whole-grain silver-dollar pancakes, and ham and cheese sandwiches.
Clumpies Ice Cream
Sweet treats are an important part of any family vacation, and Clumpies is some of the best. This local business has been a favorite in the Scenic City for decades, and continues to churn out (pun intended) fresh flavors you won’t find anywhere else. Best of all, it’s easy to find a Clumpies near Chattanooga children’s attractions, thanks to their three locations on the North Shore, in the Southside, and in St. Elmo near the Incline Railway.
Barbecue is a must when you’re in the South, and Sugar’s Ribs does it right. With all your favorites from brisket to butt and mini-portions for the kids, everyone will leave full. Plus children will love watching the goats on-site, munching away at the kudzu (an invasive species) covering the side of Missionary Ridge, where Sugar’s Ribs sits with great views of downtown Chattanooga. Don’t forget to order up Jesslyn’s Banana Pudding for dessert!