139 miles, two and a half-hour drive

Once declared as “America’s Dirtiest City” in 1969 by former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, Chattanooga now holds titles such as “Best in the U.S.” and “10 U.S. Destinations You Need to See in 2018” from Lonely Planet, “Top 45 Places to Go in the World” from the New York Times, and one of the world’s greatest cities by NPR.

The fourth largest city in Tennessee, Chattanooga has experienced an incredible renaissance. Chattanoogans joined in the Vision 2000 community planning process to help revitalize the downtown area, beginning with the Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan: $750 million of mixed-use development, enhancement, and conservation along 22 miles of the Tennessee River corridor.

In the spring of 2005, Chattanooga unveiled another $120 million in riverfront improvements spanning 129 acres. What began as a discussion about improving a marina grew to include expansions of the aquarium and museums, public art installations, and the complete overhaul of the riverfront at Chattanooga’s birthplace, Ross’s Landing. Tucked between the mountains of Southeast Tennessee, along the beautiful Tennessee River, Chattanooga offers a world of outdoor adventure, amazing restaurants, live events, art, and world-class attractions.

Start your adventure at one of downtown Chattanooga’s best-known attractions: the Tennessee Aquarium. “But DiG,” you say, “We’ve been to the Georgia Aquarium, and it’s one of the largest in the world.” Take it from some one who has visited both aquariums many, many times: one does not negate the other. Located on the banks of the Tennessee River, you’ll begin your adventure at the top of a five-story building, working your way down and around the world’s largest gathering of freshwater species, including river otters, turtles, alligators, and of course, fish. Across the aquarium plaza, you’ll experience the stunning diversity of life in saltwater and tropical environments in the Ocean Journey building, which houses lemurs, sharks, rays, and an amazing butterfly garden.

Down the street from the aquarium, you’ll find the Creative Discovery Museum, where kids can splash in a manmade river, dig for dinosaur bones, make beautiful music, and (our favorite) hoist themselves up with the simple pulleys and levers to the Rooftop Fun Factory: a three-story tower with a bird’s eye view of downtown.

If you didn’t bring your kayak, there are still a variety of ways to see Chattanooga from the water. The Southern Belle triple decker riverboat is designed to mimic the luxury riverboats that cruised Chattanooga’s waterways in the 1800s. Take a one-hour historic tour on the Chattanooga Ducks: authentic WWII amphibious landing crafts built specifically for the D-Day invasion. And if you really want to live it up in style, Blue Heaven River Tours charters beautiful cabin yachts.