Friday, February 20, 2015

Hidden Gems {Noccalula Falls}

The trip from Chattanooga to our house is about 4 1/2 hours. That usually means at least one stop for a bathroom break or stopping for a meal, depending on the timing of things.

To break up the drive, I looked for a place to stop and stretch our legs. One of my favorite websites it to look for unique and unusual sites to visit. It's on this website that I found out about the Noccalula Falls Doomed Maiden just north of Gadsden, AL.

At the top of the falls is a statue of a woman who looks like she is about to fall over the edge. According to, "The legend behind the statue says that Cherokee maiden Noccalula flung herself over the falls because her father didn't like the tribe her boyfriend was from."

Ok, so the statue of this woman was not what attracted me to the stop, and I did not share the legend with my kids. What I did like was the description of the other activities offered: a train ride, hiking, and a playground.

You can access the playground and see the falls from outside the main Noccalula Falls Park area. Inside the gates of the park is where the hidden gem is found. Entry to the park is for a nominal fee and you can learn more about fees and hours here.

There is a small train that circles the entire park and includes three stops. We boarded the train at the first stop outside the visitor's center.

The next stop is the petting zoo. There were rabbits to pet as well as birds and assorted small furry creatures to view. They do have a lion in a large cage (with a double fence). The fence makes it difficult to see the lion, but it is impressive as you can walk all the way around cage assuring you will catch a glimpse of it.
Goats in the petting zoo

After the petting zoo, you can choose to walk around the Pioneer Village that shows how the settlers lived. The buildings include a cabin, livery, chicken coop, and many more for a total of around 20 buildings. There is also a covered bridge on the property.

The last stop before returning to the visitor's center included several activities. Visitors could choose to exit and play on the playground. Reentry was only allowed by the train conductor who checked for wristbands as proof of entry. 

At this train stop there was also the path to walk to the falls. The sign as we climbed down the stairs to the path said it would take 2 hours to walk the whole path. I didn't see how it would take that long unless it is slow going when you start hiking behind the falls. We didn't have two hours to set aside but the views of the falls from this angle were still nice.
Noccalula Falls

Close to the falls path was a rock garden with daffodils beginning to bloom. This would have been a great place to let the kids play hide and see. There were lots of nooks and crannies between the giant boulders. This is another part of the park we didn't get to fully explore.

In total we probably spent an hour and a half here. Another hour would have been nice to explore more of the rock garden and hike the falls.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Time for Spring Break!

So, the northern half of the U.S. is covered in snow, but spring break is on my mind. I need something to look forward to on these cold, dreary days. Yes, cold is relative because we don't get snow most years. But the gray days do seem to stretch on this time of year.

Last year we went to Chattanooga, Tennessee. If you haven't been before, I highly recommend making it a place on your list. It's a family-friendly vacation spot with lots to see and do. Here's a run-down of our trip:

1. 4 days and 3 nights at Super 8, 7024 McCutcheon Road, Chattanooga, TN 37421

  • I like this hotel because it is close to the mall which means a lot of restaurant choices. I have stayed on the west side of town and there are fewer restaurants. It's also reasonably priced, especially when you look at the cost of hotels downtown.
  • It's not too far to drive to any of the attractions. 
  • This hotel has an indoor pool which my boys love! The shallow end is big enough that they have plenty of room to play. 

  • They have a continental breakfast with a good, varied selection. The only hot thing served is waffles. We enjoy it so not really a con for us, but it may not be enough for some people.
  • The drive to downtown isn't far, but if it's rush hour, you will get caught up in it with all the people trying to head south to Georgia.

2. Rock City, Incline Railway & Ruby Falls

Waterfall at Rock City

  • You can purchase a 3-in-1 pass and get a better rate on these attractions than if you were to buy each individually.
  • My boys loved Rock City the most. As the name implies, it's mostly rocks but has few other features like a waterfall, a gnome village, swinging bridge and Fairyland Caverns. The view from the lookout point is amazing when you think about seeing 7 states at one time.
  • The Incline Railway is a slow ride up a steep incline. It's an impressive feat of engineering. You can start your ride at the top or bottom of the incline.
  • Ruby Falls is an underground waterfall which makes it impressive. There are many interesting formations to see along the way. This was my third trip to Ruby Falls. The tour has changed little over the years, but the waterfall reveal is very different. You can no longer walk behind the falls like we did during my first visit 25-30 years ago.
  • These three filled most of our time.

View from deck at Ruby Falls

  • It is pricey, even with the discount. As a solo parent, this package ate up a lot of my budget.
  • Rock City is mostly rocks. I believe they do a holiday light display in December, but we were there in March. My boys were entertained, so that made it a worthwhile stop.
  • The Incline Railway is slow and there's not much to see beyond the views of the city from the top and the houses and you ride by. This was the least favorite activity of my boys.
  • When you've seen one cave, you've pretty much seen them all. The waterfall at Ruby Falls is what saves this from being just another cave tour.
  • This did take most of our time which meant not much time to do anything else. Plus it took time to get from one attraction to another.
  • There were no family restrooms. This was an issue for most of the trip. Sometimes I dragged my boys in the stall with me and we took turns turning around (this can be an awkward experience when trying to be modest with children of the opposite sex). Other times I checked the restroom as they walked in and waited for them outside the door.

3. Tennessee Aquarium

Trying to touch a butterfly in the Ocean Journey building
  • We had a year-long membership to the aquarium that had been purchased in December. Our stop last March made the second visit and was covered by the membership making it practically free.
  • There are two buildings that are part of the aquarium. Visitors are sent to the top of each building and then wind their way down through many exhibits. This is my favorite aquarium because of the great layout and flow. Even with kids on a school field trip present, it flowed well.
  • There are restaurants within walking distance which makes it possible to take a break between buildings to get a resonably priced lunch. 
Watching the sharks and fish
  • Parking is downtown and requires payment. There is a small lot close to the corner of Aquarium Way and Walnut Street (near the Walnut street Bridge) that was only $3 for all day. This was a much better option than needing to feed the meter every couple of hours. 
  • There aren't killer whales. This isn't really a complaint of mine. But a friend said he preferred the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta because of the giant creatures. They are impressive to see, but I still prefer the Tennessee Aquarium for its size, flow and price.
  • No family restrooms.

Overall, it was a great trip. I would go again (and have been once since then already) because there is much more to see in Chattanooga. My boys have asked several times about going to Rock City again.

We made one stop on our way home that I will share in my next Hidden Gem.