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Affordable Things to Do with Kids in Chattanooga During Summer Vacation

July 28, 2022

Vacation Planning

With gas prices on the rise, planning a family vacation has felt daunting for anyone hoping to hit the road this summer and get out of town. From steep airline tickets to pricey rental car options, some hopeful travelers have opted to stay close to home — if they even leave at all. Fortunately, for those living in Chattanooga or in neighboring states like Georgia or Alabama, there are a lot of fun (and affordable) things to do in town without ever having to break the bank. So mark your calendars and get out your itineraries to start planning some fun things to do with kids in Chattanooga.

Follow our guide below for ideas on free activities, one-of-a-kind attractions, and delicious restaurants in Chattanooga. While trying to help you limit unnecessary travel time, we listed nearby activities that are within walking distance or close proximity to others, so you can make the most of your trip and plan accordingly.

family stands on swinging bridge overlooking chattanooga at Rock City
A family walks out onto a swinging bridge at Rock City.

Fun Attractions in Chattanooga

Whether you’re from out of town or local, Scenic City has plenty of entertaining attractions that are sure to keep the whole family busy. While these activities are not free, they are a great thing to mix in with any of the free ones Chattanooga has to offer.

Enjoy a full weekend of fun by picking one or more of the attractions below to do with kids in Chattanooga and enhance your family vacation or staycation. 

Take a Day-Trip to Rock City

rock outcropping reveals overlook at rock city
This stunning view of Lover’s Leap can be seen at Rock City.

If beautiful views and outdoor fun are on your list of things to do with the kids in Chattanooga, then Rock City is the place to go. Explore the beautiful Rock City gardens atop Lookout Mountain by taking a stroll along the 4,100-foot walking trail, which offers views of rock formations, caves, and gorgeous overlooks.

No matter the season, Rock City always has something special to offer the whole family.

Activities or Food Nearby: Incline Railway, Zipline at Ruby Falls, St. Elmo Clumpies, Cafe 7 

Visit the Tennessee Aquarium

Divided into two different buildings, the Tennessee Aquarium offers guests the experience of viewing underwater creatures from both freshwater and saltwater habitats. The “River Journey” portion of the aquarium houses many freshwater creatures that can be found in the Tennessee River. The “Ocean Journey” part of the aquarium houses creatures that can be found in oceans from all over the world. Activities or Food Nearby: High Point Climbing Gym, Creative Discovery Museum, Mellow Mushroom

Get a Day Pass for High Point Climbing Gym

If the kids are bursting with energy and a little sense of adventure, head to High Point Climbing Gym in downtown Chattanooga. At the climbing gym, kids can enjoy a designated section just for them, with climbing towers, rope walls, bouldering, and so much more. To get to the kids area, be sure you visit the downtown gym and not the Riverside gym. 

The downtown climbing gym is beginner-friendly and requires an orientation for all first-timers. It is generally recommended that children be about 25-30lbs in order to use the auto-belay systems and fit into a harness. The gym requires a waiver, so be sure a legal guardian attends in order for everyone to climb, be sure to plan ahead so that a legal guardian can fill out the waiver online, otherwise they can do so in person. Activities or Food Nearby: Aquarium, Creative Discovery Museum, Mellow Mushroom

Ride the Incline Railway

Catch a ride on one of Chattanooga’s most-loved attractions, affectionately known as the Incline Railway. Daily departures begin from the lower station in the Historic St. Elmo neighborhood and head up Lookout Mountain for a scenic, mile-high ride in the iconic railcars. Once you reach the top of the mountain, you can take in the views atop the observation deck or browse the gift shop. The Incline leaves each station about every 20 minutes, so take your time while looking around. When you arrive again at the bottom station, continue the fun and take the kids to grab a scoop of hand-dipped ice cream at the local ice cream shop, Clumpies. More unique restaurants and shops surround the bottom Incline Station for an afternoon of fun with the whole family. Activities or Food Nearby: St. Elmo Clumpies, Rock City, Zipline at Ruby Falls

Visit the Raccoon Mountain Caverns 

With more than 5.5 miles of underground passageways, Raccoon Mountain Caverns is known for being one of the most geologically active caverns in the South. While there are several options for exploring the cave, a great one for curious kids would be the Crystal Palace walking tour. Follow a guide for a 45 to 55-minute guided tour through the first ¼ mile of the cave. Guests will have the chance to see cave wildlife and many natural formations like stalagmites and stalactites. It is important to note, however, that children under three years of age or younger are not allowed on the tours. It is also not child stroller accessible, so plan ahead before making a reservation.

Reserve Tickets to the Creative Discovery Museum

For kids with a curious mind and an adventurous spirit, the Creative Discovery Museum is a must-visit. From immersive arts and crafts to fun play areas, the Creative Discovery Museum offers unlimited play with a healthy dose of learning. Kids can put on a mini-concert in the music gallery using a mix of instruments or visit the Make-It workshop to use tools and other materials to bring ideas to life. For children as young as four years old or younger, the Little Yellow House is designed specifically for them. This area is meant to inspire young children to use their imagination and curiosity. There are many activities they can do from climbing the treehouse and more. Activities or Food Nearby: Aquarium, High Point Climbing Gym, Mellow Mushroom

See the Animals at the Chattanooga Zoo

The Chattanooga Zoo is the perfect place to visit with the whole family. A stroll through the zoo will take you through different habitats for the animals from deserts to jungles. The Chattanooga Zoo has plenty to offer year-round, with special events happening almost daily — consisting of animal meet and greets and Q&As. Activities or Food Nearby: The Chattanooga Choo Choo, Southside Clumpies

Free Activities in Chattanooga

When it comes to planning free things to do with kids in Chattanooga, this city has it all. From historic railroads and caves to beautiful waterfalls and wildlife, Chattanooga is nothing short of entertainment and wonder. Below are just a few of our favorite activities to do with the whole family in town. 

Cool Off at Coolidge Park

Located on the North Shore part of town, Coolidge Park overlooks the Tennessee River and offers an interactive water fountain for children to play in during the summer months. Bring some chairs and a picnic as the kids play about in the water. Activities or Food Nearby: Walnut Street Bridge, Chattanooga Riverwalk, Good Dog, North Shore Clumpies

Take a Stroll Across Walnut Street Bridge

walnut street bridge crosses over the tennessee river in chattanooga
Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga is known for being one of the largest pedestrian bridges in the world.

This blue bridge can be seen from Coolidge Park, and is the perfect place for families to take a walk and enjoy the beautiful sights of the river and nearby mountains. It is also known for being one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world. 

Activities or Food Nearby: Coolidge Park, Chattanooga Riverwalk, Good Dog, North Shore Clumpies

Visit the Chattanooga Choo Choo

The Chattanooga Choo Choo is the perfect place to visit for a little bit of history. Built in 1909, this train terminal has been turned into a hotel, garden and various shops. Walking around this area is totally free and a lovely start or end to the day. Activities or Food Nearby: Southside Clumpies, Chattanooga Zoo

Ride Bikes on the Riverwalk

Bring your own bike from home and hop on the Chattanooga Riverwalk. Extending across town, the Riverwalk stretches for miles along the Tennessee River until it reaches the dam. Families can take the Riverwalk in sections, stopping at various places to sightsee or walk around town. Bike riders can hop onto the greenway by accessing any of the trailheads. 

If you can’t bring a bike from home, you can rent a bike from one of the Bike Chattanooga stations that are conveniently located at many of the Riverwalk trailheads. Activities or Food Nearby: Varies based on location

Go for a Hike in the Mountains

stone path cuts between mossy boulders at rock city in chattanooga
This stone path winds between beautiful mossy boulders at Rock City.

Chattanooga is known for its beauty and easy access to hiking trails in and around the city. Drive up Lookout Mountain for a quick hike out to Sunset Rock for breathtaking views of the area or stay in town and hike along Stringer’s Ridge. For more ideas on where to hike in town, check out this blog on 5 Family Friendly Hiking Trails in Chattanooga. Activities or Food Nearby: Varies based on location 

Swim at Nearby Water Hole

There’s no need for public swimming pools and fees when you’re in Chattanooga. The local swimming holes are free and a beautiful place to visit during the summer. With so many options to choose from, the Chattanooga swimming holes are a great way to spend time in nature while escaping the heat. Follow our guide to the best swimming holes in Chattanooga to learn more about where to go. Activities or Food Nearby: Varies based on location 

Places to Eat in Chattanooga

burger and beer served at rock city's cafe 7
Stop in for a delicious meal at Rock City’s Cafe 7.

After a busy day around the city, take the kids to grab a bite to eat. From grab-and-go food to sit-down restaurants, Chattanooga has a lot of delicious food options that are close to many of the attractions mentioned throughout this article. Here are a few of our favorites.

Get Lunch at Rock City’s Cafe 7 

If you have plans to visit Rock City for the day, sit down at Cafe 7 for lunch or even an early dinner while taking in the beautiful views at Lover’s Leap.

Cafe 7 offers southern cuisine with a modern twist. Activities Nearby: Rock City, Zipline at Ruby Falls, Incline Railway

Grab a Slice of Pizza at Mellow Mushroom Downtown

Next door to High Point Climbing Gym, Mellow Mushroom offers one-of-a-kind pizzas that are the perfect meal after a few hours of climbing. Stop in on your way to the next activity or for a quick break from climbing. Activities Nearby: High Point Climbing Gym, Aquarium, Creative Discovery Museum

Enjoy a Scoop of Ice Cream at Clumpies

children enjoy clumpies ice cream in downtown chattanooga
Kids enjoy ice cream cones from Clumpies Ice Cream at the Southside location in Chattanooga.

Need a sweet tooth fix? Clumpies Ice Cream has been handcrafting ice cream since 1999. With three conveniently located spots around town, you won’t have to travel far to get a taste. Activities Nearby: Varies based on location

Get Tickets to See Rock City

Don’t miss out on a chance to “See Seven States” at Rock City Gardens. Noted during the Civil War, a Union officer and Confederate nurse noted in separate diaries how the vantage point from Lookout Mountain boasted views of seven states including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Virginia. Located only 10 minutes from downtown, visiting Rock City is one of the best things to do with kids in Chattanooga. Buy your tickets online