Today on our Tour of Tennessee we will finish up with our goings in doings in Chattanooga!
Day 2: Chattanooga (continued)
We arrived about 45 minutes early and changed into our “caving clothes”. After a quick briefing and getting geared up in helmets, head lights, gloves and knee pads, our guide took us right into the cave.
Open to the public since 1931, this natural limestone cavern has been nationally recognized as being one of America’s finest caves. It is truly magnificent inside and you will find miles of passageways, waterfalls, formations, fossils and maybe even a critter here and there. (Stand under the waterfall and get WET! It was COLD!!)
Once you get into the wild cave portion of the expedition, there are no electric lights and the cave exists in its natural state. Our guide was extremely educated and well informed and talked to us frequently about not only our safety, but how to properly move through the cave to ensure it remained in its natural state and was able to grow for decades to come. For example, you cannot touch active formations with your bare hands or you will stunt their growth.
We did the Canyon Crawl Expedition as this was a great entry to caving and the only one that Whit was old enough AND tall enough to do. It lasted two full hours and was like nothing ANY of us had ever done before.
There were extremely tight portions where we literally had to wiggle on our bellies through 10″ crevices. There were parts where we had to climb, pulling ourselves up with a rope.
There were incredibly fun natural “sliding boards” where you had no clue where you’d land since you could only see as far as your headlamp gave light :-)
We spent two memorable and adventurous hours walking, crawling, climbing and sliding through an incredibly vast network of underground chambers, canyons, and tunnels. Overall we ranked this the number one thing we did in Chattanooga and perhaps on our entire tour of Tennessee!!! This was something I never could have imagined doing before having boys and when I told Honey it was on the agenda he was even hesitant.
If you go:
- Book early as each group can only accommodate about 15 people. I made the reservation in late January for early April. Our tour was sold out the day of.
- Take old clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and filthy dirty.
- There is a campground next door to the cave entrance and you can use the community bathroom to change. We did this and left our regular clothes in the car.
- You are welcome to bring cameras and phones but keep in mind that you must also carry them and keep them safe. There is climbing, wiggling, sliding and even scooting on your belly through puddles of water. I kept my phone in my arm band and it was fine. I would not recommend carrying it in your pocket, however. (Or bra like one lady on our tour… :-) ) You will WANT a camera to take pics though!! Figure out a way to make it work.
- A quick tip on pics – have the person you are photographing turn off their head light and you keep your on. Turn the flash off on your phone. This worked best for us.
- Be sure to use the potty before you leave for the tour. There are no bathrooms in the cave and body fluids can ruin the cave.
- You can leave your wallet and car key in the office before your tour. I would not take them inside in your pocket.
- You do need to have some level of fitness, in my opinion. It isn’t strenuous, but it is 2 hours long and there is climbing and activities that you likely don’t do often. That being said, I am certainly no athlete. I walk every day and was just fine.
- Go in with an open mind and be ready for adventure!!!!! Honey is 6’3″ and probably around 200 lbs. He fit just fine through the cracks and tunnels. :-)
- After your tour you can use the bathrooms and showers at the campground to clean up. There was a line for all the showers and I wasn’t that jazzed about the idea anyway so we decided just to head back to the hotel. We happened to have a towel and a blanket in the car so we had the boys strip down to their boxers and we sat on the towel / blanket to not ruin the car. I would recommend having towels (to either dry off with or sit on) and a garbage bag to put your dirty clothes in if you aren’t headed straight to wash them. Ours got carted all over Tennessee and smelled just lovely by the end of the week. :-)
- The guides all seemed to be young but had fantastic attitudes and were very knowledgeable. They do accept cash tips.
We were wet, cold and filthy by the end, but we ALL were beaming with pride that we did it! Unforgettable memories were made deep inside of Chattanooga that day. I absolutely positively cannot recommend this experience enough.
Our meal was delish and I loved the whole atmosphere of the restaurant. We did have an advance reservation and I would recommend this. We would definitely eat here again!!
Day 3: Chattanooga
Our last morning in Chattanooga got off to an early start. Since we were heading out of town we went ahead and checked out of Read House, drove and parked at the Tennessee Aquarium.
The aquarium didn’t open until 10AM so we decided to walk to breakfast. It was a really nice way to start the day. We passed Headquarters Row where Union leaders like Grant and Sherman made their headquarters in the Civil War. The original house that stood here was demolished in 1966.
And then we hit the historic Walnut Street Bridge! Erected in 1891, the Walnut St. Bridge is the world’s longest pedestrian bridge and connects downtown Chattanooga to the north shore. It was a lovely walk across the Tennessee River and offered beautiful views of the city.
We walked our way to Milk & Honey for breakfast and LOVED it!! It is the cutest little cafe and had a line out the door.
We lucked out with seats at the bar. I had the most delish Samoa Coffee and homemade pop tart appetizer. I also had a design-your-own breakfast sandwich that was equally as good. They had a wonderful selection of gelato, but we were stuffed from breakfast and didn’t try it. If you’re not up for a hike to breakfast, there was plenty of free parking as well.
On the way back we decided to take the Market Street Bridge. It’s not a true pedestrian bridge but did have a wide sidewalk and was low traffic on a Sunday morning.
On our way back to the aquarium, we stopped to explore The Passage. This area marks the start of the Trail of Tears where Cherokee tribes were forced to leave Chattanooga for Oklahoma. There is a ‘weeping wall’ representing the tears shed as the Cherokee were driven from their homes and removed on the Trail of Tears, as well as statuary and more.
Our last outing in Chattanooga was the Tennessee Aquarium! Since we have such an amazing aquarium here in Atlanta I was on the fence about whether or not to do this one. BUT, I’d heard it was really amazing and it sure was! I’m so glad that we did!!!
We first explored the River Journey building. It was completely fascinating to trace how freshwater flows all the way from a mountaintop stream to a chattering creek, travels into a lazy river and finally joins a vast ocean.
The second building continues the story in Ocean Journey. Here you are immersed in saltwater habitats and surrounded by penguins, touchable stingrays and sharks, a butterfly garden and a coral reef with huge sharks, turtles and schools of fish.
The aquarium had a great balance of impressive sea life, touch pools and interactive exhibits. We had a wonderful time exploring! Oh, and a seahorse gave birth to the most minuscule little bunch of babies right before we got there!! They looked like specs in the water. Staff was on hand to talk about the whole thing – we learned that only a few would survive as they had to make it to the surface for a breath of air within minutes to make it.
If you go:
- Consider purchasing your tickets in advance and in combo with other Chattanooga attractions. We purchased with Rock City and Ruby Falls and saved about $26 overall on just the aquarium piece.
- Allow plenty of time to explore. We spent about 2.5 hours and didn’t even do the IMAX!
- Video and cameras we welcome in all areas.
- Parking is not free and was around $10. You can take the electric shuttle or walk from some of the hotels very easily.
This wrapped up our time in Chattanooga and we directly hit the road for the short two hour drive to Dollywood. Stay tuned!!
Part 5 – a quick morning in the city
DIXIE DELIGHTS DELIVERED