- Travel and Places»
- Travel Activities & Ideas»
- Outdoor & Adventure Activities on Vacation
See Rock City
See Rock City!
For years I'd seen the barns and the birdhouses: See Rock City. I finally got to do so, and it lives up to the hype. Rock City is on the Georgia side of Lookout Mountain. It's gardens and caves and waterfalls and mountain views and kitsch and natural beauty. Overpriced tourist trap? No. Not cheap, no, and the food is overpriced, but I wouldn't call it a tourist trap.
What is Rock City, anyway?
Rock City is one of several tourist attractions on Lookout Mountain. Open since 1932, it's probably the most famous one.
What is Rock City, and why is it on so many barns and birdhouses? Rock City is a carefully curated garden of wildflowers, gnomes, mountain views, rock tunnels, a deer park, waterfalls, and natural beauty.
It was in 1823 that two missionaries, Daniel S. Butrick and William Chamberlain, arrived in the area to minister to the Indians. On August 28, 1823, Reverend Butrick made an entry in his diary describing “a citadel of rocks,” atop the mountain, noting the immense size of the boulders and stating that they were arranged in such a way “as to afford streets and lanes.”
It was started by Garnet Carter and his wife Frieda. Garnet Carter developed a neighborhood on the mountain called Fairyland, full of such streets as Robinhood, Cinderella, Aladdin, etc. He also built the first miniature golf course, when constructing a normal golf course took longer than expected. Frieda Carter had three hobbies: gardening, landscaping, and European folklore and fairy tales. She combined these to create Rock City, a rock garden full of wildflowers and garden gnomes, which she and her husband eventually opened to the public.
Garnet Carter hired Clark Byers, a sign painter, who went from farm to farm. He offered to paint their barns if he could write 'See Rock City' on the barn roofs. From Michigan to Texas, barns (and later birdhouses) advertised Rock City.
Where is Lookout Mountain?
Although Rock City is usually thought of as a Chattanooga tourist attraction, it's actually on the Georgia side of the mountain. Technically, it's in the town of Lookout Mountain, GA, only a few miles above Chattanooga, TN. Nearby Ruby Falls is in Chattanooga, TN, while The Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map and Museum and Point Park are in Lookout Mountain, TN.
The only reason the state lines matter is because sales tax is cheaper in Georgia than Tennessee. Lookout Mountain (the mountain, not either of the two towns of the same name) is the southern most part of the Appalachian Mountains, and stretches over southern Tennessee, northwest Georgia, and northeast Alabama. And yes, you really can see seven states if the weather is clear.
Rock City, Lookout Mountain, Georgia
See Seven States!
Gnome Valley, Goblins Underpass, and Fairy Caverns are only some of the magical places you'll see in Rock City. There are gnomes scattered all throughout Rock City, not just in their valley. (They like to wander.) Goblins Underpass is merely a tunnel. Fairy Caverns are full of dioramas of favorite fairy tales, and a delight for adults as well as children.
Wear Comfortable Walking Shoes
Wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring a hat that fits well, not one that a breeze might carry off your head and down the mountain. A light jacket is advisable, as it's cooler at the top of the mountain than it is down in Chattanooga. Many portions of Rock City are not wheelchair accessible. Some portions -- not just Fat Man's Squeeze -- are not suitable for those who are of a larger design. I have some friends who are (sorry, no polite way to put this) downright obese, and they would never make it through some of the passages. Those who are unable to enjoy the trails and caverns can visit the gift shops and one of the restaurants, however.
Most important: bring a camera. The view from the mountain, the natural beauty, the carefully tended gardens, the bridges -- you'll want photos. My camera, alas, decided to break the day before we came to Rock City, so all photos here are by my son, Ian Macdonald. The videos are from YouTube and were taken by total strangers.