Our second fun-filled day in Chattanooga started with a ride on the Missionary Ridge Local at Tennessee Valley Railroad. The daily “Local” is a short train ride, only about an hour round-trip, which worked perfectly with our limited time in Chattanooga.
Upon arriving, we realized the train about to leave! We quickly purchased tickets and made our way onto the train to find seats. Within minutes, the conductor called: “All Aboard” and the massive wheels began to turn, steam billowed and we left Grand Junction Station behind.
Our ride followed one of the original railroad lines built in Chattanooga. The restored rail cars are very comfortable and since it was a nice day, the windows were open. This allowed for some nice photos to be taken from our seat as we made our way along the tracks. A highlight of the ride was traveling through a pre-Civil War tunnel completed in the year 1858.
Soon, we arrived at the East Chattanooga Station where riders could exit the train and observe the locomotive being turned on a rotating turntable. While the locomotive moved into position, a railroad worker entered a small booth to operate the turning mechanism. Then slowly, the behemoth locomotive made it’s 180 degree rotation before returning to the rail cars for the trip back to Grand Junction Station. It was very impressive.
Click Here to see the locomotive turn for yourself!
While at the East Chattanooga station, visitors also have time to visit to the railroad restoration shop where we learned about the museums’ acquisition and restoration of historic locomotives. There are quite a few in there and work was definitely being done. We could hear the clinks and clangs as workers performed their duties.
We rode the same route back sitting on the opposite side to enjoy a different perspective. Returning to the station, we had time to take some great photos of the train and visited a few of the vintage rail-cars located by the parking lot before heading out.
Tips: Inside the Grand Junction Depot there is a gift shop, small deli and restrooms. Tennessee Valley Railroad also offers longer train journeys as well as special events like Day Out with Thomas, Halloween Eerie Express and North Pole Express to name a few. Check website for more information.
All that train-riding made us hungry so we headed to downtown Chattanooga for lunch. We disagreed on where to go so Troy and Mia went to lunch at Five Guys and Drake and I decided to try Maple Street Biscuit Company. I guarantee you, Drake and I made a better choice.
I knew as soon as we walked into Maple Street it was going to be delicious. The smell of fresh biscuits perfumed the air with their doughy scent. Also, right behind the cash register there was a guy rolling out dough to make another batch, a good sign our order would be fresh from the oven.
The difficulty then was deciding what to have. The choices were numerous and everything sounded amazing. I finally chose the “The Squawking Goat,” a flaky biscuit with a fried chicken breast, fried goat cheese medallion and house-made pepper jelly. Drake opted for “The BLT,” pecan wood-smoked bacon, mayo, lettuce and tomato. Of course we needed a side so we ordered “Hashups;” home fries with chopped ham, red and green peppers, grilled onions, mushrooms, and melted cheese.
Let’s just say Drake and I didn’t do much talking once the food arrived beyond, “oh my gosh,” and “so good!” I wished we had more room as I really wanted to try the Iced Cinnamon Pecan Biscuit, however we were full. I assure you, we will make another trip to Maple Street Biscuit Company soon.
After lunch we made the short walk to the Tennessee Aquarium, located on the banks of the beautiful Tennessee River. This aquarium is housed in two large buildings; one called River Journey, the other Ocean Journey.
We decided to start our adventure with River Journey. We traveled by escalator to the top level of the building where we learned our “journey” would follow a single drop of rain falling into a stream high in the Appalachian mountains all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Exiting the escalator, we found ourselves in the Appalachian Cove Forest, a re-created habitat of local mountains including bird song, trees and waterfalls; all open to the sky. After a short walk, we came upon adorable river otters at play; diving and swimming with each other. It just so happened our arrival coincided with the start of the “Awesome Otters” program where otter care-givers provided fascinating information about them and showed off a bit of their training.
We then moved inside to the world’s largest gathering of freshwater species in the world. We continued our journey to where the Tennessee River and Ohio River meet before emptying into the mighty Mississippi. A highlight here was learning about the long-term restoration project to help lake sturgeon make a comeback. There is even a tank where you can touch them.
Next up was the Mississippi Delta, the final leg of the journey. Here we visited Alligator Bayou, home to 13 American Alligators. Other great areas we visited was River Giants, a collection of very large fish that can be found in lakes and rivers and also Rivers of the World that was home to many interesting species.
The River Journey ends back on the ground floor right into the gift shop. After a shop-around, we headed to our next adventure; the Ocean Journey building.
Once again we traveled by escalator to the top-floor to start the tour. Here, our journey began at Tropical Cove, an incredible open-air rain-forest setting with tropical plants, flowers, birds, and free-flying butterflies. If you are lucky, you may just have one land on you! There is also Stingray Bay, a large touch tank where there are several species to touch and learn about.
There were plenty of opportunities to view sharks, stingrays, sea-turtles, and even penguins! My favorite area was the Boneless Beauties, where multiple species of the graceful jellyfish swam together in their darkened tanks.
Towards the end of the journey there was a bubble that protruded into one of the huge viewing tanks. Drake and Mia had a chance to lay in there and enjoy this unique view. It ended up being their favorite experience of the day.
Click Here to watch a “Twin Views” segment filmed at Tennessee Aquarium where Drake and Mia share their thoughts on their visit.
Note: Tennessee Aquarium also offers 3D IMAX movies and backstage tours for an additional charge.
We experienced a lot of Chattanooga, however, there were attractions that we missed and those have been added to our “To Visit” list.
Top 5 Chattanooga Area Attractions for Next Visit:
River Gorge Explorer – A ride on a 65-foot catamaran to tour the Tennessee River Gorge (offered by Tennessee Aquarium).
Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center – Over 300 acres to explore by hiking or cycling through landscape and wilderness. There is also a place to view native animals. Rent a canoe or take a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Cloudland Canyon State Park – A Georgia State Park located on the western edge of Lookout Mountain is very scenic with lots of great hiking. The park is known for it deep canyon cut into the mountain by Sitton Gulch Creek. There are waterfalls, camping and more to explore here!
Mayfield Dairy Farms – Educational tours of the dairy offers an inside look of the history and production of their delicious products. Tours end in the ice cream parlor! Located about about an hour north of Chattanooga in Athens, Tennessee.
Creative Discovery Museum – Considered one of the nation’s top children’s museums, the Creative Discovery Museum offers lots of fun activities for children including a 2 1/2 story high climbing structure, a place to dig up dinosaur bones and an interactive watercourse where sailing boats is encouraged.