Rock City Gardens is part natural wonder, part American kitsch. This family-owned attraction features massive rock formations, fantastic scenic views, and garish displays of fairy-tale characters.
It sits atop Lookout Mountain, just 6 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Gardens are actually located just over the state line in Georgia.
The most dramatic feature of the Gardens is Lover's Leap, a massive rock formation jutting out from the side of the mountain. From this vantage point, 1,700 feet above sea level, you can see 7 states on a clear day. A 90 foot waterfall spills from the side of the rock outcropping, providing a prime photo opportunity.
Rock City had its start when Frieda Carter began puttering around on the 14 acre property, developing it into a rock garden and laying out paths over a period of about 4 years.
Frieda loved European fairy tales, and she indulged her enthusiasm by placing imported German statues of gnomes and fairy-tale characters along the pathways. Energetic woman that she was, Frieda planted some 400 species of wildflowers and shrubs.
Her entrepreneur husband, Garnet Carter (inventor of miniature golf) saw the possibilities in Frieda's creation, and in 1932 the two of them opened Rock City Gardens as a tourist attraction.
Ah, but how do you get tourists to come to an attraction that's high atop a mountain, nowhere near the highway? That's when Garnet hit upon the idea of advertising on barns that were clearly visible from highways around the country.
Thus, the "See Rock City" advertising campaign was born. Today, fewer than 100 of these barns still exist, most of them in Tennessee.
You can see the Gardens on a self-guided walking tour along the Enchanted Trail, which meanders for under a mile (.78 miles to be exact) past massive rock formations and vistas with colorful names like Goblin's Underpass, Fat Man's Squeeze and The Needle's Eye.
The Swing-a-Long Bridge spans a 180 feet chasm and offers stunning views of the Chattanooga Valley. If the thought of a swaying footbridge makes you queasy, you can bypass the bridge on an alternate trail.
Since Frieda's original fairy-tale characters, the Gardens have added Fairyland Caverns, where the scenes glow eerily under a blacklight. Mother Goose Village was added in the 1960's.
Rock City is partially handicap accessible. They offer an escorted VIP tour, which takes you on a shorter half mile trail to Lover's Leap and the Flag Court. The price is the same as regular admission, but you get a Rock City Adventure Video, which shows the entire trail.
Because the paths are so narrow, and include steep stairs, strollers are not allowed on the Enchanted Trail.
The parking area will accommodate large buses, RVs and trailers. Four legged pets are welcome, if kept on a leash.
You can order tickets online at the Rock City Gardens official website.