Rock City Gardens
This popular 4,100-foot path located on the Georgia side of Lookout Mountain offers attractions to appease many different types of travelers. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy weaving through the tall boulders situated at Needle’s Eye and Fat Man’s Squeeze along the Enchanted Trail. Children will feel like adventurers crossing the 180-foot long Swing-a-Long Suspension Bridge and likely delight in the figurines depicting fairytales and classic children’s stories in the Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose’s Village. Couples looking for a photogenic moment will appreciate Lover’s Leap, a lookout point adjacent to the mountain’s 90-foot waterfall. And everyone will have fun trying to see how many states they can spot from 1,700 feet above sea level at the See Seven States viewpoint.
Rock City now sees more than half a million visitors a year, but it used to struggle to attract visitors to its grounds when it first opened in 1932, due to its off-the-beaten-path location. One of Rock City’s founders, Garnet Carter, hired a local artist to promote Rock City around the country. The artist, Clark Byers, traveled across the nation and painted “See Rock City” on farms and barns as far as Texas and Michigan, eventually solidifying Rock City as a roadside attraction to visit. ‘Although a commercial success, Rock City is still a family-run business, currently operated by a third-generation descendent of the Carters.
Recent visitors enjoyed their experiences at Rock City, citing the natural attractions as beautiful and fun to explore, especially for those with children. Visitors particularly liked the waterfall and recounted the amazing views from the available lookout points. But not everyone was satisfied: a few travelers complained of the lack of accessibility for disabled visitors, and how certain parts of the attractions, specifically Needle’s Eye and Fat Man’s Squeeze, are difficult for overweight guests to enjoy since space is limited. Many travelers recommended wearing comfortable shoes and advised visiting early to beat the crowds.
Rock City has seasonal hours; check the website before you head over. Admission is $19.95 for adults and $11.95 for children ages 3 to 12. Visitors can also purchase package tickets that include admission to Ruby Falls for $35.90 for adults and $20.90 for children, as well as a package that includes Ruby Falls and the Incline Railway that is $48.90 for adults and $25.90 for children. Parking at the attraction is free but due to its location in Georgia, it cannot be reached by public bus.
Rock City Gardens is one of the South’s oldest and most popular natural attractions. Just six miles from downtown Chattanooga, Tenn., Rock City is an enchanted, 4,100-foot walking trail showcasing soaring rock formations and lush gardens that include over 400 species of wildflowers and plants. Other features include the Swing-A-Long Bridge that spans nearly 200 feet and the lookout point at Lover’s Leap where you can “See Seven States” while standing over the 140-foot waterfall that cascades down Lookout Mountain. Millions of people from all over the world have visited this nostalgic attraction, making memories worth repeating. Rock City is open daily for self-guided tours from 8:30 a.m. to dusk. Visit www.seerockcity.com for more info.
The attraction opened in 1932 by Garnet and Frieda Carter, and was made known partially due to the barn advertising campaign Carter initiated. A sign painter named Clark Byers was hired to travel the nation’s highways and offer to paint farmer’s barns in exchange for letting them paint three simple words: See Rock City. The distinctive black-and-white signs appeared as far north as Michigan and as far west as Texas. The advertising soon began to produce the desired effect and, by the close of the 1930’s, more travelers than ever had seen Rock City Gardens.
Rock City was chosen as one of America’s top ten great pastimes by USA TODAY, after the release of National Geographic’s book, USA 101: A Guide to America’s Iconic Places, Events and Festivals by Author Gary McKechnie.
Moments in Memory: Rock City to celebrate 25th Enchanted Garden of Lights
Correction: Rock City opened to the public on May 21, 1932, not Nov. 16. A previous version of this column contained incorrect information.
Rock City opened to the public 87 years ago in 1932. It was started by Freida Carter as a private rock garden located on Lookout Mountain, six miles from downtown Chattanooga.
Since it opened to the public, it has featured several celebrations throughout the years, including a St. Patty’s Shamrock City, a summer Southern Blooms festival, Rocktoberfest and the Enchanted Garden of Lights.
The Enchanted Garden of Lights, one of the attraction’s oldest events, started 25 years ago, on Nov. 16, 1995.
On that day the Chattanooga Times reported that the $500,000 event would be the first nighttime activity hosted by Rock City in coordination with a larger city celebration to light up Chattanooga for the holiday season.
A Chattanooga Free Press article that ran the next day titled “Yule Lights Will Shine at Rock City” detailed how the tourist season in the area tended to drop off after Labor Day, so citywide initiatives were proposed to draw in tourists during the colder holiday season.
In that article, Jim Kennedy, president of the city visitors bureau at the time, said: “It’s a proven fact people love to see Christmas lights and holiday lights. The fact they’re putting them in a magnificent natural attraction like Rock City adds another dimension.”
Today the event features a magic forest, nightly entertainment and a chance to meet Santa Claus.
Upcoming Rock City Events:
*Weekends in October (10/25, 10/26)
*Tickets: Adult: $26.95; children (ages 3-12) $14.95
- Enchanted Garden of Lights
*Dates: Nov. 22-30, Dec. 1-23, Closed Dec. 24, Dec. 25-31, Jan. 1-4
*Tickets: Prices vary based on peak admission trends. Adult: $16.95-$29.95; children (ages 3-12): $8.95-$15.95
*More information about Rock City and what it offers can be found at seerockcity.com.
And while Rock City news coverage is commonplace today, when it opened on May 21, 1932, Rock City appears to have not been mentioned in the Chattanooga Times, the daily newspaper at the time.
That may be of little to no surprise as, according to the Rock City website, early on the tourist attraction saw many slow days due to its location on Lookout Mountain and lack of traditional advertising, deciding instead in succeeding years to paint large barns across the country with the words “See Rock City.”
But by the time it was fully established with annual events and familiar attractions, Rock City regularly found its way into the pages of the daily newspapers.
The current grounds include the Lover’s Leap waterfall, a platform from which one is said to be able to see seven states, the Fairyland Caverns, art installations and a variety of restaurants and shops.
Contact Tierra Hayes at [email protected]
Rock City Gardens: Yabba dabba DO!
As someone who thoroughly enjoys the outdoors, one of my favorite pastimes is visiting botanical gardens, arboretums and the like. Most larger cities have a garden getaway, but few are as unique and interesting as the one I discovered in Chattanooga, Tennessee…Rock City Gardens. Rock City is technically located in Georgia, atop Lookout Mountain, but is just six miles from downtown Chattanooga.
While I was in Chattanooga I stayed downtown at the Chatanoogan Hotel, where I grabbed some tourist pamphlets and headed out for a day of sightseeing and activities. I had no idea what “Rock City” was…none! I kept seeing “Rock City” or “See Rock City,” but the “Gardens” part must have eluded me. As I meandered up Lookout Mountain I discovered a number of other area attractions, like Ruby Falls, Incline Railway and a zip-line excursion. I didn’t have a ton of time, so I had to pick just a couple attractions to visit. When I arrived at Rock City, I have to be honest…I was vacillating as to whether this activity should be one of the two that I’d spend time doing. I must have sat in the parking lot for five minutes making up my mind. Finally, I got my camera gear and headed toward the entrance.
I made my way through the gate entrance and walked out to the starting point of the garden path…as soon as I strolled around the corner, I was transfixed by the beauty before me. At that moment, I knew I had made the right choice to spend what ended up being hours at Rock City Gardens. My initial sight was that of a modest waterfall and a highly manicured tropical setting. This starting point was fairly compact with a narrow path leading visitors to what I would soon discover was an extraordinary setting…one of the most unique I’ve ever seen.
Rock City Gardens take visitors on an enchanting journey that reveals wonders that only nature can create. Of course, the gardens have been enhanced by man, but mother nature has certainly done most of the work. Rock City is situated on fourteen acres and features massive rock formations, with over four hundred native plant species. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a majestic, awe-inspiring view reveal itself…along with a 100′ waterfall. (Watch my video and you’ll see what I mean). Apparently, on a clear day you can see seven states from this vantage point.
The 4100 feet of trails throughout Rocky City take you through narrow slots where you’ll be looking up at soaring cliff faces. As you meander farther through the gardens you’ll find yourself looking down those same cliffs as folks behind you make their way to the elevated vantage points. Around every bend is something unique and different that continues to pique the curiosity.
If you find yourself in the vicinity of Chattanooga, Tennessee, I highly recommend stopping by Rock City Gardens.
If you’ve ever been to Rock City Gardens before, please leave a comment below and share your favorite aspects or memories with my readers and me.
Rock City Gardens Information:
Located on 14 acres atop Lookout Mountain, Rock City Gardens is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state of Georgia, with nearly half a million visitors each year. Rock City provides its visitors with a chance to experience Walker County through attractions like the famous “See 7 States” view or the “Fairyland Caverns.”
Another feature of Rock City is “Lover’s Leap”, an extraordinary rock formation featuring rocks jutting out from the side of Lookout Mountain. A climbing wall is also located at Lover’s Leap.
The site offers a 4,100 walking trail, providing an excellent opportunity for hiking while enjoying the attractions of Rock City. The unique experience of Rock City is sure to be an exciting time for everyone!
Southern Blooms Festival Rocky looks over Rock City The View from Rock City Enchanted Garden of Lights Child Meets Fairytale Characters Rocky Say “Get My Good Side!”
Special programming includes the Southern Blooms Festival, Fairytale Nights and the Enchanted Garden of Lights.
Additionally, animals are allowed inside the Rock City as long as they are on a leash. Parking is also free.
Rates: Adults- $19.95
Children (Ages 3-12)- $11.95
*Rates may vary, depending on the time of year or special event
- Hours of Operation
1400 Patten Rd
Lookout Mountain, GA 30750
Phone: (706) 820-2531
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Rock City Gardens Atop Lookout Mountain
Located 6 miles outside Chattanooga, TN, making a day trip from your luxury cabin in Blue Ridge, GA will be well worth the experience. Just an hour and a half away, traveling along the Ocoee River through the Ocoee Gorge, the beautiful drive makes the time fly by. As you drive around Blue Ridge, you’ll see many homes showcasing the famous Rock City birdhouses. Be sure to pick one up on your trip!
Rock City is a unique geological and botanical wonder. Located atop Lookout Mountain in Georgia, this scenic, natural attraction offers an experience of enchanting beauty. Rock City is a true marvel of nature featuring massive ancient rock formations and lush gardens with over 400 native plant species. A 4,100-foot self-guided walking trail showcases these soaring rock formations, caves, lush gardens, and even a waterfall. Offering a panoramic view of seven states is breathtaking on a clear day, and perfect for family photographs! Experience the Incline Railway, Ruby Falls, and Rock City and have the time or your life on top of the world.
Some Special Features:
- 60 to 90-minute, self-guided walking tour along The Enchanted Trail that gently meanders through the 14-acre property.
- Massive rock formations estimated to be 200 million years old
- Gardens featuring more than 400 different species of native wildflowers, plants, shrubs and trees.
- Panoramic views of seven states from 1,700 feet above sea level
- View of the Chattanooga Valley and Missionary Ridge-Civil War battlefields
- Some points of interest along The Enchanted Trail include:
• White Fallow Deer Park
• 100-foot waterfall
• 1,000-ton balanced rock
• Swing-A-Long Bridge (ideal for pictures)
• Legendary view of seven states from Lover’s Leap
• Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village
- Several Dining options
- Gift and Souvenir Shop
Blue Ridge Cabin Rentals closest to this day trip are our group of Toccoa River Cabin Rentals, Sky High Lodge, and Down by the River
See Rock City!
Ever since being a kid traveling with my family through North Carolina and Tennessee, I remember the red and black barns and the birdhouses that proclaimed “See Rock City.”
Larger than life birdhouse photo op
That’s it. Not where, not why, and certainly not with a URL back in the day. If you wanted to find out what it meant, you’d ask an innkeeper. I remember at Sun Plaza in Silver Springs in the 1960s, they had both stamp machines and a rotating mileage chart to attractions of interest. Rock City was among them.
These vintage stamp machines were straight out of my childhood
It took more than 50 years for me to finally see Rock City after seeing those first ads for it. The timing was right: blue skies, light traffic, and a stay the night before just an hour up the highway. It was along our route. So we climbed the winding road up Lookout Mountain.
I’m sure that Rock City has changed a lot since the 1960s. Starbucks. Multiple parking lots with friendly fellows waving us to a parking space. A sea of people. I began to have some regrets. I’m not fond of crowds. Perhaps a Labor Day visit wasn’t wise. Especially with a surcharge on the ticket because it was a “music weekend.” That wasn’t why we’d come.
A few minutes in, once past the gauntlet of shops and fudge and snack bars, I was more at ease once we started down the Enchanted Trail. It brought together three of my favorite things: geology, botany, and hiking.
The rock mazes of Rock City reminded me of the ones I grew up with in the Appalachians. Lookout Mountain is a part of the southern Appalachians
Rock City is laid out along a trail, but it’s far from linear. It dives deep into clefts in the earth through what I’ve known all my life as rock mazes, eroded pinnacles of rock along the edges of ridges.
It’s preserved, ironically, because of a developer. Garnet Carter created a club called Fairyland atop Lookout Mountain in 1926, followed by cottages and a subdivision. His wife, Frieda, designed homes and a gas station. She was fond of the fairy tales of her German heritage, and imported storybook character statues for the community; if you drive through it you’ll see street names like Peter Pan Rd and Red Riding Hood Trail.
We think this former gas station was one of Frieda’s designs. It’s now a Starbucks outside the entrance gate
Frieda wanted a rock garden in their backyard. She figured out a pathway by stretching string between the massive rocks and through the crevices, ending up at Lovers Leap. This is pretty much the route that the Enchanted Trail follows today.
The ultimate destinations at Rock City are Lovers Leap and High Falls, which cascades off of it
The Carters opened their rock garden to the public on May 21, 1932. An attraction was born. It was well off the beaten path, however, so that’s where the barns came into play. Garnet hired a sign painter to travel around and offer to paint barns for free as long as they had the red and black See Rock City added. It worked! The farthest flung barns were in Texas and Michigan.
Following a family down the Enchanted Trail
The Enchanted Trail is enchanting. It clambers in, out, and over the rock mazes, with stairs here and bridges there. You always feel that you’re moving along in three dimensions as there is usually something going on above and below.
We suspect the many photo op stops were there long before selfie sticks were invented
Trees and plants had interpretive tags, adding an arboretum aspect. The trail had low walls along it, befitting how the stonemasons first figured it out. In some spots, you’d look over and into deep crevices, where voices filtered from below.
John climbs out of the Needle’s Eye
The maze-like quality extended into a “choose your own path.” No wonder they handed us a map at the ticket booth. We took a side trail that led us to the ADA accessible trail called Legacy Lane, and ended up out at Lovers Leap, realizing by the flow of people that we’d come the wrong way and skipped a bunch of the main route. Whoops!
Looking down at the lower level from Lovers Leap
Hanging out over the edge of Lookout Mountain, you can easily see downtown Chattanooga off to the north. Georgia is below and south.
“See Seven States” is the tagline they use, borrowed from Civil War correspondence. On a clear day like today, it was still a stretch to think that the far horizon held Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Alabama is on the other side of Lookout Mountain so I wasn’t sure how to see it, either.
Chalk it up to active imaginations and marketing. As we used to joke on the Appalachian Trail, “I can see Georgia from here!” And Chattanooga
We eventually backtracked – passing Prospector’s Point twice – and found the Enchanted Trail again, but not without catching a preview of the bridges to come.
Interpretive signs provide history and background
You can choose from a rock-solid stone arch bridge or a long span suspension bridge to make your way out to Lovers Leap. Both have their own high points, so to say.
Expert stonework accents the Enchanted Trail
Meandering between the rocks, with deep cracks in the earth on both sides, I was delighted that the original low stone walls along the footpath are still in place. Rock City trusts that you’ll keep a close watch on the kids and stay on the path. Again, we could hear voices down below, in the deep crevices.
Deep crevices parallel parts of the Enchanted Trail
At the bridges, I chose the suspension span. I can be terrified of heights – actually, as comedian Steven Wright would say, “I’m not afraid of heights, I’m afraid of depths” – while John took the stone bridge. I didn’t look down, but I was not happy with the kids in front of me intentionally making the bridge bounce and sway. I should have known that would happen.
I left a lot of space in front of me on the Swing-A-Long Bridge
After another circuit past Lovers Leap and the 7 States Flag Court, we began the descent into a deep slender crevice called Fat Man’s Squeeze.
We’d already threaded the Eye of the Needle, but this was much tighter. I found walking sideways along the wall helped.
Squeezing through a very tight spot
After a dip through a cavern, the trail emerged in the rock forest and made its way out to the edge of the cliff, a level below Lovers Leap. This afforded a view of High Falls and a different perspective on the valley below.
The requisite selfie from the lower level
Linking the two big overlooks – Fairy Glen and Observation Point – the clever Rainbow Tunnel made use of natural light filtered through colored glass.
John in the Rainbow Tunnel
More geologic features, like the 1000-ton Balanced Rock and the Stone Witch, were linked by a series of caverns (rock shelters, really) and rock gardens.
Contemplating being under a balanced rock
With the emphasis on winding through the rock mazes, I wasn’t expecting caverns. So our descent into Fairyland Caverns came as somewhat of a surprise.
Talk about a purple haze. I wish I’d had a piece of “Christmas tree ore” on me with all the blacklights used for illumination.
It seems that Frieda Carter was quite fond of gnomes in addition to fairy tales. Add 1940s vintage sculptures by commissioned artist Jessie Sanders, fluorescent paints, and black lights, and this underground walk through Frieda’s version of Fairyland was a bit trippy.
Goldilocks runs for her life. Remember, fairy tales and Mother Goose rhymes straight from Europe were meant to scare kids into behaving.
The faux stalactites gave away that this wasn’t really a cavern, but another deep spot in the rock maze, with walls and portals added for effect. Still, it was fascinating to pause at the many vignettes.
Cinderella and her pumpkin
Mother Goose Village, the largest room, led us around a rectangle dominated by a castle and the illustrative statuary. We both caught a few nursery rhymes that we’d never heard of before.
Mary, Mary is all aglow
After that dose of retro in Day-Glo, it was jarring to pop up into the main gift shop and the entrance plaza full of people.
I’d planned to pick up one of their iconic birdhouses or birdhouse Christmas ornaments, but was sorely disappointed to discover they were made in China. Given the region’s deep well of artists and crafters and the fact that Rock City is still under the care of Garnet and Frieda’s descendants, along with its legacy of barn-painting promotions, I’d expected some “Made in Tennessee” or “Made in Georgia” handcrafted promotional items. No luck.
John found his tribe in the Gnome Shop
If we lived nearby, I’d want an annual pass to explore the crevices, overlooks, and gardens in more detail. I would have walked through again, even. But our afternoon plans were set, so it was time to say goodbye to Rock City.
Learn more about Rock City. It’s open year-round, although the road to the top of Lookout Mountain can be daunting in less-than-ideal weather. They host a variety of special events year-round.
There are so many wonderful reasons to visit Chattanooga in the fall that we can’t possibly do them all justice. However, there’s one place to visit in Chattanooga that, in our mind, rises far above the rest. Perhaps because it’s so conveniently located to our Bed and Breakfast, just across the street, or perhaps because it really is just that special and unique. We think it’s the latter, but you should come see for yourself. Book a room at our luxurious Chattanooga Bed and Breakfast this fall, and explore the stunning beauty of Rock City and the rest of Lookout Mountain’s attractions.
Rock City in the Fall
Everyone should see the stunning natural formations at Rock City at least once in their lifetime. There’s a reason it is one of Chattanooga’s top attractions, but it’s a place truly like none other. Once you enter Rock City Gardens, you’ll find a paved path that winds through amazing natural rock formations. Along the journey, you’ll find including narrow pathways through large rocks, like “Fat Mans Squeeze”, scenic look-out points, a beautiful suspension bridge, and an underground cavern. Along the way, you’re sure to enjoy many delights and surprises in the gardens themselves. The highlight of the journey for most visitors is Lover’s Leap, which is home to Lookout Mountain’s famed “Seven States View.” If you happen to come to our Bed and Breakfast during November or December, don’t miss the stunning lighted display known as the Enchanted Garden of Lights.
Though they are separate attractions, it would be hard to talk about visiting Rock City this fall without mentioning the other Lookout Mountain attractions, such as Ruby Falls and the Incline Railway. Ruby falls, and dramatic underground waterfall, is one of the South’s must-see attractions. For a truly unique experience this fall, try anintimate, guided lantern tour. This unique experience allows visitors a rarely-seen view deep within Lookout Mountain, and will allow you to experience Ruby Falls in a whole new light. The Incline Railway is an enjoyable 1 mile up trip up a 72.7% graded incline. The experience is a must, and the views this fall are incredible.
After a fun-filled day of adventure, head to downtown Chattanooga for a drink or two, followed by a delicious dinner.If you need some ideas of where to go, we’re happy to help. For an incredible fall adventure in Chattanooga, book your room at our Tennessee Bed and Breakfast today.