75 Years of Enchantment
at Magical Rock City, TN
Spectacular views of Chattanooga, the surrounding hills and even a waterfall delight Rock City visitors who head to the mountaintop attraction for a half-day of fun.*
By Susan J. Young
After my parents and grandmother visited Chattanooga’s mountaintop Rock City Gardens attraction in the early 1950s, for years they chattered on incessantly about it. Over and over, I heard expressive stories about the fairytale attraction.
What was the big deal I thought? How exciting could an enchanted trail and floral displays be? How much fun could one have exploring rock formations and fairyland caverns with elves and storybook creatures.
My father, Marvin Young, about to enter the "then scary" Hall of the Mountain King at Rock City in 1950.*
Rock City certainly seemed an attraction with odd diversions. But several years ago when I was in Chattanooga on business, I headed for the attraction’s lofty location atop Look-Out Mountain.
Instantly, it was as though all those parental memories I had viewed in decades-old photo albums (see photos this page) had come alive. I chuckled as cute static elves peered out at me from cave-like vignettes. Rope bridge crossings created laughs.
Look-out spots created great photo opportunities of the teeming city below and of seven states on the horizon. Displays of 400 native plants and flowers splashed texture and color throughout the park.
A rope bridge offers some fun (and a bit scary) rippling as you walk over it and it's fun to stop for a great view. The shot on the left is modern day, on the right it's my mother, Doris Young, on a Rock City rope bridge in 1950.*
But the stars of Rock City were really the massive rocks themselves. One of 1,000 tons was perched precariously. Trails led me through a fantasy world of rocks, caverns, childhood stories and to look-out areas.
At one point, I squeezed between two very tight rocks along a trail. No worries, though, as there are alternative routes for those with claustrophobic tendencies or robust figures.
My mother squeezing through a narrow crevice and stairway within rock formations at Rock City in 1950.
When I looked around, kids raised on high-tech video games and multimillion dollar theme park rides were enjoying Rock City as much as the older folks. The low-key attraction creates simplistic fun.
Don’t expect razzle-dazzle coasters or flight simulators. Do expect your half-day visit to offer a mix of quirky things to see and do -- everything from a waterfall to a deer park.
This little girl is among the kids who find the attraction endearing, despite its lack of razzle-dazzle attractions or rides. At left, two kids at heart -- my mother and my grandmother, Irene Reilly -- outside Rock City's gift shop in 1950.*
Founded in 1932 by Garnet and Frieda Carter, Rock City celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2007. The birthday party kicks off in May. Interestingly, the attraction itself is just an infant, considering its rock formations are more than 200 million years old.
Still, reaching the 75-year mark in the attraction business is quite an achievement. Birthday events throughout the year include a Fairytale Festival, Summer Concert Series, Roctoberfest, Enchanted Gardens of Light and more.
Holiday lighting displays are impressive at Rock City.*
One new feature this year is a Starbucks Café. Visitors can savor their double latte while seated within the old Cornerstone Station, which was the original Fairyland Community Fire Station.
Located six miles from downtown Chattanooga, Rock City Gardens still enchants. Admission is $14.95 for adults, $7.95 for kids 3 to 12.
To order tickets online or learn more about the anniversary hoopla, visit www.seerockcity.com. (Editor's Note: If you click on the Rock City site here you will not be able to return to this page with a back click; something on the Rock City site bars visitors from returning to the previous page with a back arrow. Normally we do not print links that approach the Web in this way. But given that this is the main site for the attraction, we feel compelled to include it. Just re-type www.southerntravelnews.com in the browser window if you go to the Rock City site and wish to return to ours. Or, jot down the Rock City site URL above and go there later after you're finished browsing our site.)
Best Bets ... for Transportation Up to the Rock
If you go to Rock City Gardens, one scenic way to reach the attraction is via the Look-Out Mountain Incline Railway. The views and photography opportunities are spectacular.
This funicular to Rock City operates on the world's steepest passenger railway incline.*
Those with height fears, however, might do well to drive up the mountain. Why? The funicular takes guests in trolley-style cars over a 72.7% grade. It’s the steepest passenger railway in the world.
The incline’s Web site -- www.lookoutmountain.com – posts a ton of combination ticket and package offers, some including Rock City Gardens tickets. Contact 800-825-8366.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau or Susan J. Young. All rights reserved. Please do not link to these photos nor copy. Thank you.