If the cheesy tourist-trap-style “See Rock City” signs painted
on barns along the highway (including at my husband’s family’s wheat farm in
Oklahoma) had touted the garden
of Rock City,
I might have been tempted to stop and visit sooner.
I like blooming landscapes much better than
rocks (which I have plenty of at home in Central Texas
So we bypassed this attraction when driving on Lookout Mountain near
many years ago.
|Charming rock bridge at Rock City gardens|
But our curiosity was piqued, and we did stop on a
subsequent trip to Chattanooga. We
discovered a surprisingly charming attraction, not the slightest bit overblown. There’s a reason 425,000 people visit annually,
and it’s not to climb over all those boulders.
Opened to the public in 1932, Rock City
Gardens is a delightful family attraction that features natural rock formations and views of Chattanooga.
|New paths have enhanced Rock City.|
Sightseers in the early 1800s were attracted to the
naturally-formed avenues of the place they nicknamed Rock City. Discovered by two missionaries who came to
the Lookout Mountain
area to minister to Indians in
1823, Rock City
didn’t become a major attraction
until Frieda Carter developed the large walk-through garden around 1930.
Today, visitors enjoy a peaceful and serene setting that
showcases different forms of natural beauty—massive rocks, colorful flowers,
cliffs, and waterfalls. Nature’s
handiwork is enhanced by the path Freida forged through the wilderness and
among the rock formations with only a string to mark her trail. Beginning in 1928, she spent four years
gathering and preserving more than 400 varieties of indigenous plants in her
garden on the family’s private estate.
|Waterfalls and other features have been added|
to attract visitors.
Attendance at Rock City
burgeoned as families took to the
highways for road trips.
games or DVD players to divert their attention, children and parents watched
the passing scenery—and were intrigued along the way by signs on barns and
birdhouses extolling them to “Visit Rock City,” a result of an ingenious
advertising campaign conceived by Frieda’s husband Garnet Carter (who also
started the Tom Thumb miniature golf chain).
Beginning in 1936, Carter convinced farmers from Texas to
Michigan to paint large white block letters on roofs and sides of barns,
inviting travelers to the attraction. Messages such as “To Miss Rock City Would
Be a Pity” or “Millions Have Seen Rock
Have You?” convinced travelers to stop and
After reaching a high point in the late 1970s, Rock City declined
during the 1980s as interstates pushed old highways—and the painted barns–off
the beaten path.
But Rock City
has rebounded and is now lovingly embraced by the city of Chattanooga
as a major attraction.
The turnaround began when Rock City updated its features to
appeal to modern travelers and joined with other nearby attractions in a marketing
campaign. Rock City
has rebounded with new trails, garden paths, waterfalls, a climbing wall, and seasonal
|Spend a delightful time enjoying|
the natural beauty of the area.
Original attractions along Enchanted Trail have been
faithfully maintained under a new generation of family ownership.
Visitors can still wander down the Grand
Corridor, walk through the Needle’s Eye and over Sky Bridge
slither through Fat Man’s Squeeze, and marvel at natural formations like Mushroom
Rock and Tortoise Shell Rock.
Rock, a 1,000-ton boulder is a favorite photo spot, and visitors can see seven
states from the Observation Point on a clear day.
Lover’s Leap, the site of a tragic Indian
legend, and Goblin’s Underpass are also favorite sites.
Children and adults both enjoy Fairyland Caverns, where rock
walls are illuminated with ultraviolet “black light,” highlighting Frieda’s
collection of sculpted gnomes in creative vignettes. Mother Goose Village is a gigantic landscape
of storybook characters illustrating many beloved fairy tales.
Landscaping and architectural additions continue to honor the
original plan, so that new areas blend smoothly with the old. Themed music written
for the park is subtlety piped along trails, tempo and style matching natural
elements and enhancing the experience in an unobtrusive manner. The
horticulture staff works year-round tending to the different species of trees
and flowers on the 15 acre site, all the while carefully maintaining its
natural ambience. The resident herd of white fallow deer are descendents of animals
originally located there in the 1930s.
|On a clear day, you can see seven states from the park.|
A beautiful 3200 square-foot Group Pavilion that can be
fully covered with drop-down sides was added.
The addition of Grand View, a conference and special events center
adjacent to the property, has also increased traffic.
The Fudge Kitchen offers enticements of a different variety.
Visitors should allow at least an hour and a half to tour the property,
although dawdling is encouraged.
While improvements may catch the public’s attention, natural
beauty is still the main reason visitors enjoy trekking through Rock City.