Ruby Falls, Rock City reopen on restricted basis amid coronavirus pandemic

Lookout Mountain attractions open to public this week after 2-month shutdown

John and Sherry Britton, from Marietta, Ga., look off of the bluff at Lover's Leap at Rock City on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, in Lookout Mountain, Ga. / Staff photo by John Rawlston

Lookout Mountain's major attractions are reopening this week ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, but the tourist sites will have new restrictions to help limit the possible spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Rock City Gardens, which opened to season ticket holders on Monday after a two-month shutdown, will reopen to all guests Thursday with capacity limitations per hour. The reopening comes on the 88th anniversary of the initial opening of Rock City Gardens in Lookout Mountain, Georgia in 1932.

Less than four miles to the south over the state line in Tennessee, Ruby Falls resumed its cave tours on a limited basis on Tuesday. Those going to see the underground waterfall must wear a mask. Tour groups will be limited in size, and social distancing will be practiced wherever possible.

"Ruby Falls guests have been very supportive of the Tennessee Pledge protocols we've implemented, and our team has pulled together behind the scenes to make reopening as safe as possible," Ruby Falls communications manager Lara Caughman said. "It truly is a team effort, at a social distance."

Hugh Morrow, president of Ruby Falls, said the 91-year-old attraction is running at 10% to 20% of capacity and he said "the process is flowing well" in observing the recommendations of the Tennessee Pledge.

"It has enabled us to take small groups to See Ruby Falls while maintaining a safe distance," Morrow said. "We hope as the protocols move forward we can expand the group sizes. It is a wonderful time to visit Ruby Falls in such a quaint setting and it is by online reservation only."

Ruby Falls and Rock City, along with Chattanooga's downtown tourist attractions such as the Tennessee Aquarium, Creative Discovery Museum and Incline Railway, have been closed for the past couple of months since stay-at-home orders were issued for non-essential businesses. The Incline, Aquarium and Creative Discovery Museum remain closed.

Rock City Inc. began a phased reopening of Rock City Gardens Monday for annual and Lookout Mountain resident passholders. As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, tickets are available online for reservation and purchase.

The new safety measures implemented at Rock City include one-way traffic, timed tickets, and sanitizing stations within the gardens. Employees will also wear masks and have health screenings that include temperature checks.

Gift shops and food locations will also be opening with capacity limitations. Rock City's outdoor restaurant, Café 7, is reopening at 50% capacity from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"We know that the beauty and enchantment of our gardens will be just what the doctor ordered for many in our community," said Susan Harris, president and chief operating officer at See Rock City [SRC]." Our team has done great work preparing our place to open in line with the guidance we've received from public health officials."

Other SRC Inc. properties reopening to the public include the Rock City Starbucks and Clumpies Ice Cream Co. NorthShore and Southside shops, currently offering carryout service. Clumpies is also offering online ordering that may be picked up at these two locations 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily, as well as continuing local delivery and nationwide shipping. RiverView Inn remains open for business.

In late April, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced the reopening of gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys, and tattoo parlors as part of a plan to restart the state's economy. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee followed with an expiration of his stay-at-home coronavirus pandemic order on April 30.