For as long as I can remember, fall has always been my favorite time. Growing up in Maine, I experienced the best: beautiful leaves, cooler temperatures, apple picking—you name it!
(Disclaimer: while fall is easily my favorite season, Halloween is not on my favorites list (except the candy part. I know, I know . . . it’s horrible! Because of this, this list does not include any haunted houses, Boos at the Zoos, or any other kind of similar fright-filled activities. )
Since moving to the Midwest, my favorite season just hasn’t been the same. For the last four years, I managed to make it home to Maine in October to soak up as much of the season as I could.
Unfortunately, this year, I wasn’t able to make it because I went to Africa instead. Fortunately, Dave and I were due for another visit back to Chattanooga.
Because of the beautiful surrounding areas, Chattanooga has been nicknamed the “Scenic City.” Between the mountain ranges and the Tennessee River, there’s a lot to see and do. Chattanooga also happens to be the closest city to the midway point between where Dave and I live and the location of our favorite Airbnb host. For these reasons, we keep going back.
We’ve now been there four times, and the city has become somewhat of a second home for us. We’re figuring out our favorite restaurants, things to do while we visit, and spending less time scouring the internet to make plans for the weekend. Since beginning our long-distance journey, three out of the four trips have been between September and November.
So here is a guide to the best fall activities in Chattanooga:
If you’ve driven anywhere near Chattanooga, you have seen the bright red birdhouses adorned with the saying “See Rock City.”
Rock City can be found at the top of Lookout Mountain. Being a mere six miles from downtown Chattanooga, Rock City feels like an escape! It is most well known for the 100-foot waterfall, 200-foot swinging bridge, and Lover’s Leap (a lookout point from which you can city the city of Chattanooga and parts of six other states). In the fall, the park becomes more beautiful as the changing leaves add a touch of brightness.
During weekends in October, the gardens celebrate their German heritage with Rocktoberfest. A month-long festival of polka lessons, German food/beer, and live music/dancing. The gardens are open from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM (we missed this by one weekend)
If Octoberfest isn’t your style, they also do Rock City Lights in November and December decorating the area with thousands of twinkling Christmas lights.
Unfortunately, since our first visit was in September and the second visit the first weekend in November, we were between events. Despite this, we were still able to experience the beautiful gardens. They were even more beautiful in November with the changing leaves.
Blowing Springs Farm
Although technically in Georgia, Blowing Springs Farm is also only six miles from downtown Chattanooga.
Blowing Springs Farms has a Fall Festival starting at the end of September. Every year they design a new corn maze. If you visit Rock City, you can see both the corn maze and Blowing Springs’ large “See Rock City” birdhouse from Lover’s Leap.
For $10, you get entrance to the farm and four tokens, which can be used at the different activity stations. They have everything from the corn maze to hayrides, duck races, a critter coral (a small petting zoo), and a cow train (in my humble opinion, riding the cow train is the best activity!)
There are also pumpkins for purchase and yard games available.
Tennessee Valley Railroad
In the fall, they have a train called the Fall Leaf Special. This is a 9-hour round trip from Grand Junction Station in Chattanooga to Summerville, Georgia. There is a 75-minute layover in Georgia during which you can enjoy the area and see the engine reversed on an old turntable.
The trip, in coach, costs $79, and you can also purchase lunch on the train for an additional $20. Seats in other cars are available for an increased cost and include breakfast and lunch. A list of events happening in Summerville can be seen here.
Other seasonal train trips are available on their website.
The Chattanooga Market is open on Sundays from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM, starting in April and ending in November. They offer many local vendors and live music — everything from produce, meats, and cheeses to local crafters.
Southern Belle Riverboat
If trains aren’t your thing, you could always do your leaf-peeping on a river cruise instead.
The Southern Belle Riverboat offers a 3-hour Fall Foliage Sightseeing Cruise along the Tennessee River and the Tennessee River Gorge. The cruise costs $29.95, but lunch can be added for an additional $11.00.
Most of the fall foliage activities I’ve done have been on foot or from the roadway. The river cruise gives you an entirely new perspective.
Check the website for dates and times as the weekday versus weekend times vary. Also, consider booking ahead of time if you want to add a meal.
If you’re looking to stretch your legs and check out the leaves on foot, the Glens Falls Trail is a great place to start!
We actually visited Glens Falls during our spring trip in April (you can read more here) but would love to see it again with the changing leaves and cooler weather.
The trail is a short two miles round trip; however, the hike to the falls is only about half a mile. You can then follow a set of stone steps past the falls and continue through a cut-out rock before turning around.
While the path is well-traveled and clearly marked, the parking can be somewhat tricky. *important tip* search Glens Falls trailhead on google maps. There is a small parking area to the left off Ochs Highway as you drive towards Rock City from downtown.
Last, but not least . . . what better way to enjoy the changing leaves than from the top of the Incline Railway. The Incline Railway is one of my favorite Chattanooga activities as it reminds me of a tram trip I took while in Italy. (You can read more about that trip here.)
I suggest parking at the bottom and taking the tram to the top (there is minimal parking as it is located in a residential neighborhood). Here, you can look out over the city of Chattanooga and learn more about the history of the incline rail.
You can then enjoy a quick five-minute walk to Pointe Park.
If you’re interested in Civil War history, the “Battle Above the Clouds” was fought here in 1863. The entry to the park is $7.00.
Don’t forget to grab some Clumpies ice cream before you leave. It’s so good!
There’s certainly plenty of activities to do in Chattanooga. Why not avoid the southern heat by visiting in the fall?