March 11-12 and 18-19 mark Rock City’s 10th annual Shamrock City event to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Complete with bands playing all day, Irish-inspired dishes to eat and even a green waterfall, the event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. For more information, visit seerockcity.com/shamrockcity.
Though I've passed the barnyard signs ever since I can remember, I'll admit it: I have never been to Rock City. That is, until now.
One fateful day last month when the weather was unseasonably warm, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to halt everyone's questioning looks when I admitted that, after nearly eight years of living in the Scenic City, I had never been up Lookout Mountain for anything other than a hiking excursion. Luckily, my friend Sadie Yoder was up for a wandering Wednesday afternoon, so off we went.
It was Garnet and Frieda Carter who decided to turn the bluff's epic viewpoints into a household name. They developed the Fairyland residential area on Lookout, and while Garnet Carter was busy developing the nation's first patented mini-golf course there, Rock City became Frieda Carter's extensive project. The park opened in 1932, offering sweeping views and a safe, comfortable experience with impressive natural features like the notorious Lover's Leap and cascading waterfall below. But more than that, for Frieda Carter, it offered a place to explore her fascination with European folklore.
I'm not really certain what I expected of Rock City — especially after finding out that more than half a million people visit it each year, making me the odd one out — but the experience exceeded it. The casually calm air it exuded that day was exactly what I needed after a hectic week at work. Both kitschy and idyllic, it was a place where I could take a deep breath and release the stress in one large exhale.
As Sadie and I began our afternoon escape by inching through Fat Man's Squeeze, the instrumental music that piped overhead made us feel as though we were entering another world. The music was soft, and not altogether unlike the tracks anyone who has ever entered the Yellow Deli is familiar with, in the most comforting of ways. Coupled with the smell of the outdoors after rain, it provided a soothing soundtrack for our wandering over the 3/4-mile paved walking trail, taking us through the open-air spaces and tight, rock-walled caverns. I was more than happy to continue traipsing through the impressive rock formations and beautifully landscaped greenery to discover why it is one of Chattanooga's most iconic attractions.
No pun intended, but apparently I'd been living under a rock for the better part of my time in Chattanooga, because I had absolutely no idea Rock City features a land of gnomes and fairy tales come to life through dioramas meticulously set up inside some of the caves.
If you're like me and have somehow missed out on Chattanooga's highly touted mountain gem, you should absolutely go on a weekday. The area was completely crowdless, though by no means was it uncomfortably empty. Just beware: The only downside to a non-crowded day is the potential for a solo stranger to wander into the last fairy tale room without you noticing. If you're particularly jumpy — or perhaps have been binge-watching Law and Order as I was the night before we went — it could cause you to nearly jump out of your skin.
All in all, the views and scenery made my visit a wonderful one, and those are available any day of the week. My one regret is that I didn't know I could bring my dog. So next time, you'll find my 6-year-old pup Sasha with me. And we won't wait another eight years before that happens.