Review: Rock City Gardens
Pros: Family friendly, easily walkable, sit and rest a spell opportunities, photo-ops galore, one of a kind views, very friendly staff. Oh, and great watermelon slushies.
Cons: Honestly, I can’t think of any. Though I did notice several large school groups visiting and they can be a bit noisy. But they were all very polite.
What to wear: Comfortable walking shoes with light clothing in summer and jacket as needed other seasons. Daypack and water bottle suggested.
Quick videos of Rock City Gardens
Tips for visiting Rock City Gardens
- Entry is timed. If possible, select a morning slot. Sunlight and views will be better.
- As you enter, be sure to make a pit stop. It may be some distance to the next.
- Bypass the shops. Hit those on your way out.
- Before crossing the Swing-A-Long bridge, check out the bypass (a stone bridge). It’s a great place to get photos of the other members of your party as they cross the swinging bridge.
- As you enter Fat Man’s Squeeze, be sure to pause and have someone take your photo “almost stuck.” It’s a great shot.
- Take a long break atop Lover’s Leap. Grab a watermelon slushie in the cafe (maybe lunch) and sit a spell on the rockers while enjoying the view.
- The Fairyland Caverns harken back to the era before Disneyesque automated, overhyped theme parks. Slow down and enjoy reading the nursery rhymes – you’ll feel like a kid again.
- Hit the main gift shop as you leave. Rock City Gardens excels at slighty different souviners. Be sure to check out the iconic “See Rock City” birdhouses and take one home with you.
Travelogue: “See Rock City”
The slogan “See Rock City” ramains iconic throughout the south and midwest. Painted on hundreds of barns along major roads, those three magical words enticed wanderers for over half a century to visit a distant fairyland high atop stone-cliffed Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Today there are still many barns left (map here) and they are recognized by many as extremely valuable remnants of our nation’s historic vernacular landscape that evolved along with the automobile. And well worth preserving.
You may have noticed I mentioned Georgia, not Tennessee. Well, the truth is Rock City is in Georgia – technically. In reality, it is just 6 miles from downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee but pretty much functions as the core part of the city’s south side. Lookout Mountain is its own little onclave, complete with police, so obey the speed limits as you wind along Tinker Bell Lane, Mother Goose Village, and Aladdin Road.
The secret to visiting Rock City Gardens
My last visit to Rock City Gardens was in 1977, as featured in our recent Retro-Travel: 1977 post. Yes, 46 years ago! They’ve added quite a few upgrades since then. This includes a very well designed and equiped entry campus with multiple restrooms, dining, shopping, and hospitality/information areas. They also have an ATM and a Starbucks. Plus generous (and free) parking. They also completed a refurbishment of the historic Swing-A-Long bridge and are adding to other areas of the gardens as well.
The gardens are made up of several defined areas with special features in each. My favorite spots have remained much the same since my childhood visit: The Grand Corridor, Fat Man’s Squeeze, Swing-A-Long Bridge, and the “See Seven States” vantage point at Lover’s Leap. There are so many that you may be tempted to rush your way through to see them all.
But I highly encourage you to take the opposite approach. The real secret to getting the most out of your visit to Rock City Gardens is to “linger” – no hurries – pausing randomly and often. The garden’s many nooks, overlooks, and overarching stone formations are, in totality, quite inspirational. And singularly, quite entrancing. So take your time – explore them keenly with your eyes. Then apply their subtleties to your understanding and apprecation of Creation.
Rock City Gardens: Iconic and worth celebrating
Rock City Gardens atop Lookout Mountain offers you a unique chance to just slowdown, relax, and enjoy the creativity of God’s hand as witnessed through the natural rock formations that form this “city” in the sky. As you walk its paths that whimsically wind down and over natural stone formations and through narrow chasms, you may even pause and think “hhmm… nature may be a better architect than any human” – and you’d be right. I can easily imagine living here, pre-garden paths, and having an exciting childhood.
When coupled with its iconic history as part of the American vernacular landscape, I feel that Rock City Gardens deserves international recognition on a level equal to or surpassing many of our nation’s internationally heralded parks and gardens. Its beautiful architecture, both natural and humanmade, outstanding vistas, whimsical nature, and friendly staff rate a full 5 out of 5 stars from Kenn Dodson’s Wanderlust Travelogue.
So when you’re looking for things to do during your weekend getaway to Chattanooga, Tennesse I highly recommend Rock City Gardens as you first stop. Oh, and be sure to pick up a classic “See Rock City” red and black barn birdhouse for your back yard. If you forget, you can pick one up here.
Next up: Experience the colors and sounds of Ruby Falls.
PART 3: Coming soon, up and down the Incline Railroad at 72 percent slope!