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We travel a lot, so four days at a time is usually all we can give Chattanooga/Atlanta. However, you could easily organize a weeklong school field trip or family vacation to this twin city corridor. In addition to the history and the restaurants, there are a lot of things to do here of a general recreational nature. And they are major time consumers. Two or three of these stops in a day is about all you can fit in. The way we do it is to rotate stops around so we hit each one every third or fourth year. That way, if a kid stays in our program four years, he always has something to look forward to next time until he eventually gets to see everything.

You do need to realize that Chattanooga and Atlanta are very popular destinations, and these are very popular attractions. You need to make arrangements in advance, or you may either spend your day in line, or arrive to find all passes are already taken for the entire day.

The Lookout Mountain Scenic Railway, also called "The Miracle Mile," is an amazing ride. This is one of the longest, steepest inclines in the world. It is so steep that when you board at the bottom you only vaguely notice the entire roof is made of glass and the seats tilt. As you start up the mountain, the cars gradually become vertical until the glass roof has become your window and your seats have tilted to keep you level. It's also interesting because you're on a single track but at exactly the halfway point there is a split into two tracks for an eighth of a mile for the two cars to pass. The typical rider takes the incline to the top of Lookout Mountain, spends about an hour up there walking the battlefield and looking down on the city from various vantage points, then rides back down. Any of the views on top are spectacular. This and Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh are the best views of major cities in America. It is also stunning to realize that while you are riding up the incline, the steep, boulder strewn terrain you are riding through is the same terrain the Union Army had to try to climb with Confederate gunfire raining down from all angles. The station on top has a gift shop and snack bar with drinks and ice cream.

Aquariums are now commonplace and the ones in Baltimore and New Orleans are truly great collections of marine life. What makes The Tennessee Aquarium special is that it is the world's largest Freshwater Aquarium. Rather than display coral reefs and seaweed forests, this one traces a drop of water from an Appalachian mountaintop down streams, lakes and rivers to the sea. Along the way, it shows you turtles, catfish, snapping turtles, and other residents of inland ecosystems. Then, as the stream finally reaches the ocean, there are still displays of sharks, jellyfish, etc. It's almost worth the visit here just to see the Penguin colony. The aquarium is part of a spectacular waterfront development which is itself worth seeing.

Rock City is that attraction they've been advertising on barn rooves all over the South for 100 years. You almost have to go once just so you can say you've been there. But it really is worth a stop. Basically, it's a hike through a jumble of boulders, wierd rock formations, swinging bridges, narrow passageways and incredible views along the cliffs of Lookout Mountain. There is even a fascinating population of birds and flowers living among the rocks. Photographers spend whole days there. They stage a really impressive Birds of Prey show once a day where you can get up close and personal with owls, eagles and hawks. There's a Starbucks next to the gift shop. And you can buy a souvenir birdhouse that looks like a barn with the famous See Rock City lettering.
Ruby Falls is a very spectacular cave inside Lookout Mountain. There are lots of caves to go in, but we haven't seen any others with a spectacular waterfall inside. Because of the rocks, this one had a natural reddish orange hue to it, and they've enhanced it with special effects lighting. The falls is the centerpiece of the cave, but there's lots else to see. There are narrow passageways, high ceilings, stalagtites, popcorn, stalagmites, bacon, and all the other characteristics show caves are famous for. We rank this cave right up there with Mammoth, Carlsbad, Luray and Howe among the best in the nation.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad is a central collection of engines, cars and cabeese and an assortment of train trips heading out in various directions behind old steam locomotives. The Missionary Ridge Local is a six mile, 55 minute trip which runs several times each day. You go through the oldest railroad tunnel in Tennessee and visit the East Chattanooga turntable and repair shops. Chickamauga Turn is a five hour trip running Saturdays only. It takes you past the Chickamauga Battlefield to the little one stoplight village of Chickamauga, where you have 30 minutes to poke in the shops and take pictures of the historic main street before reboarding the train. The Hiwassee Adventure is a 50 mile, three hour round trip over the Hiwassee Loop, a giant corkscrew by which the train climbs out of the tight Hiwassee river valley. The big trip is the 90 mile, six hour Copperhill Run, a day long excursion to the mining town of Copperhill and back. The Copperhill Run also follows the famous Loop. In addition to these standard trips, TVR offers specials each season, such as the Autumn Leaf Special and the Evening Dinner Trains.
The oddest attraction you can visit in the Chattanooga - Atlants corridor is the Kangaroo Rehabilitation Center. They bring 'roos here with injuries, illnesses or other issues. Sometimes they get "joeys," the term for baby 'roos, who were orphaned when their parents died or were killed. Over the years, they've accumulated quite a colony. You get to walk or drive through this North Georgia Outback and see the animals in as close to their natural habitat as can be provided on a different continent. There are various displays and presentations. This is an especially good stop for school groups, but you need advance preparations.
Atlanta Zoo
CNN is a mandatory stop, especially if you have a youth group. And it's a major stop, consuming at least half a day if not a whole day. You must make advance arrangements. They offer special educational packages designed for different age levels : elementary, middle and high school. They include lesson plans, activities to do before you arrive, and followup activities. All the various tour packages sell out. Parking will be an issue. You may need to park several blocks away and walk. But this is the news outlet that the whole world watches, from the caves of Wazyristan to Beijing, Moscow and Tehran, and for students to see it behind the scenes is a valuable experience. There are snack bars and restaurants in the building, and major restaurants just around the corner in all directions. Anderson Cooper's specially equipped Afghan Humvee sits in the lobby and there are various other pieces of equipment that you've seen on tv if you're a faithful CNN viewer. CNN is downtown, two blocks up the hill from the Five Points intersection, half a block past the Atlanta Journal Constitution Building.
The Coca Cola Museum is a fun stop, a whole museum set up to commemorate a soft drink. You learn how it started as Cocaine Cola, an 1800s headache medicine. Eventually they removed the narcotic from it and redid the formula, but it was still a medicine purchased at pharmacies. Finally so many people were buying it general stores began selling it. The museum displays vending machines, billboards, metal signs, glasses, evolving types of bottles and cans, print and tv ads, vehicles, neon signs, and rooms full of other memorabilia somehow related to Coca Cola. From this visit on, drinking a Coke will take on a new significance.
The Atlanta Jazz Festivals are held every year over the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. For a youth group interested in music, this is a fireworks display of all day three day world class nonstop music. People come in from all over the country to spread their blankets or set up their folding chairs and listen. Snack bars and food tents set up to feed the masses, and since you're on the square downtown, all the restaurants are also available. The huge crowds are surprisingly well behaved, dancing and singing and applauding but otherwise mellowing out. If you make your hotel reservations early, this is a great time.
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