Rock City
City:Lookout Mountain
See Rock City. This simple 3-word phrase has beckoned travelers along the United States highway system to the top of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee since 1935. Painted on barns from Georgia to Michigan and west to Texas, the words guide people to the unusual world of Garnet and Frieda Carter, who developed the attraction in 1932. See Rock City.

Entrance to Rock City
Entrance to Rock City
We travel to Rock City along the Ochs Highway, built along the eastern side of Lookout Mountain. This road offers the best view of Lover's Leap and the falls from anywhere outside of the park.

The top of Lookout Mountain has long been a favorite with tourists. Among the attractions that call this peak home are Rock City (technically the name is Rock City Gardens, but the signs and most people drop the "Gardens"), Ruby Falls, Point Park and Cloudland Canyon, to name a few. Yet even before the automobile, vacation-minded people visited the mountain for a break from day-to-day life.

As early as 1823 people wrote about visiting the area now known as Rock City Gardens. During the Civil War both a Union soldier and a Confederate nurse wrote about "Seeing 7 states..." from Lookout Mountain, a slogan Rock City still uses. Starting in the 1890's, Lookout Mountain became a major attraction, with grand hotels and three railroads to the top (include The Incline, which still runs today).

Garnet and Frieda Carter started Rock City in the middle of the Depression, after the failures of their hotel and miniature golf franchise. They hired Clark Byers to paint "See Rock City" on any structure large enough to be seen from a highway. The signs were a promotional gimmick that dramatically increased the number of visitors.

By the time World War II broke out the attraction had become a major stop for tourists in the southeast United States. Of course, the gas rationing and war effort significantly impacted Garnet and Frieda, but Rock City survived.

Kids pose for parents
Kids pose for parents at one of many seasonally decorated photo areas
The post-war baby boom presented the Carters with a challenge. How do they make the attraction appealing to the younger audience in the cars? Frieda and Garnet came up with Fairyland Caverns. Holes were carved in the rock and fairy tale characters enacted popular scenes. The addition was immensely popular.

By 1960 Rock City was so famous that Life Magazine featured it on the cover. In the 1960's Mother Goose Village was added to further enhance the appeal of the attraction to younger family members. This large building made of rock has an immense re-creation of the Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Since the death of Garnet (1954) and Frieda (1964) ownership of the attraction has remained in the family.

Recent years have brought a revolution in Rock City Gardens. Many of the barn signs are now gone and many of those that remain are on the National Register of Historic Places. The attraction added Seven States Flag Court and made other improvements. A few years ago they added a web site to let people know about this fun vacation destination.

Fun things to see at Rock City
Fun things to see at Rock City. Clockwise from top center:
  • Rock Bridge to Lover's Leap
  • Stone Face
  • Spectators check the view from Lover's Leap
  • Down into Fat Man's Squeeze
  • Lake Lula Falls

Many of the buildings are made of stone, which adds to the aura of the attraction. Even parking is in a stone-fenced lot, with stones at the top of the parking spaces. The reasonably priced tickets ($9.95, June, 1999) permit access to the mile-long trail which winds through several acres of interesting rock formations before coming to the famous swinging bridge that leads to Lover's Leap. If you are uneasy with heights there is a second path on solid ground. At Lover's Leap is Seven States Plaza with a sweeping vista of the Valley and Ridge section of northwest Georgia and southeastern Tennessee. Also in the area are stands with food and drink.

Once again the path enters rock formations, descending into "Fat Man's Squeeze," a deep black hole in the rocks that is tougher on the shoulders than the belly, then winds back for a great view of both Lovers Leap and the falls from below. Fairyland Cavern and Mother Goose Village were interesting, even for our teenage boys. The entire visit took about 90 minutes from the time we left the car until our return.

Christmas is a special time at Rock City as the park comes alive with lights and a holiday theme. Extended hours make this a great nighttime excursion.

This area is loaded with great family vacation fun. In addition to Rock City, Ruby Falls and The Incline are nearby. Ruby Falls is a cavern tour that ends at a spectacular underground falls. The Incline, billed as "America's most amazing mile" takes visitors to the top of Lookout Mountain from the base.

South and west of Rock City is Cloudland Canyon, a Georgia State Park, with excellent camping facilities and some of the best hiking in the state. At the peak of the mountain, technically in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is Point Park, part of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park, and the Battles for Chattanooga Museum (formerly Confederama). Downtown Chattanooga, America's Scenic City, is truly a vacation paradise, with the Tennessee Aquarium, an I-MAX theatre, the Discovery Museum, Rossville Landing Park and many other fun things to do.

Location: Rock City Gardens
Lookout Mountain, GA
Directions: Take I-75 north all the way to Chattanooga. At the I-75/I-24 split, take I-24 west towards downtown Chattanooga. Get off at exit 178 south, the Lookout Mountain/Market Street exit. Go straight to the traffic light on Broad Street and take a left. Follow the signs to Rock City.
Additional information:

Date added: November 16, 2003
Last update: December 6, 2003

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