There are only a couple of things that high school boys care about, the largest one being girls. I was no exception to that rule, and I met the same problem that most young men face at that age: How do I get one to date me?
My logic worked like this—I need to be able to actually take a girl on a date; therefore, I need a car.
Where: 1720 S. Scenic Highway
When: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily
How much: Click here for tickets
However, cars and dates cost money, which I had none of. In order to acquire money to take girls on dates, I had to get a job, but I had no marketable skills because I was a high-schooler.
The solution? I applied to work at one of the numerous massive tourist attractions in town. It wasn’t a glamorous position, but it did help pay for the junker car I ended up getting that winter.
Don’t get me wrong, those tourist attractions have done a lot for the city of Chattanooga, but they aren’t always what a native and his friends want to enjoy on the weekend. I want my city to be known by more than commercialized tourist spots.
I think it’s just an unspoken rule that natives generally avoid these places.
However, they are a fairly integral part of the city and its history. I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I just ignored the sites that Chattanooga is known best for.
I’ve gone all my life without actually taking a tour of Ruby Falls, but I thought I would pay it a visit this weekend and see what was up.
The tour began with an elevator ride down several hundred feet into the mountain. The doors opened and I was corralled, along with the other occupants of the elevator, down a cave into what can best be described as a long, narrow staging area.
I was grouped with about 30 other people and a tour guide who introduced himself as Matt.
I had assumed that I would simply be touring the caverns by myself, but instead, Matt guided us through the winding caves, stopping intermittently to tell us about rock formations.
The tour itself was about a mile from start to finish and took an hour to complete. We spent that whole time walking down a clearly guided path with a low ceiling above and marked rocks on either side.
Honestly, the experience felt a little campy because the guide kept making rock jokes the entire time, and many of the formations were illuminated with electric blue or green lights.
However, it did have the advantage of getting to see interesting formations without actually spelunking in claustrophobic spaces.
After 40 minutes of walking, we were guided into a large, dark cavern that was filled with the sound of running water. A light clicked on, and Ruby Falls was illuminated.
At 145 feet tall, it was slightly larger than I had imagined it but still seemed like a lackluster cornerstone of a tour. Maybe it was just the rainbow of unnatural lighting used to illuminate it that made me think it was cheesy.
From there, the tour guide turned us around and walked us back through the caves to get to our exit elevator and up to the surface.
In addition to the cavern tours, Ruby Falls has built a large high ropes course on-site with the Adventure Guild. This course can be divided into three sections: the orange children’s course, the blue/green course and the climbing wall section.
The blue/green course is the main attraction to Zipstream, with more than 20 obstacle elements available for children above 11 years old.
The orange section is just a smaller version of that course and is intended for children between 6 and 10 years of age.
New this year is the 40-foot climbing wall, which has an auto-belay system to keep visitors safe. Here you can climb to the top and fly through the trees on two zip lines, which total almost 700 feet.
Whether you are just interested in testing out a high ropes course or you’re wanting to tie it to the cavern visit with your kids, the Zipstream is a great addition to your Ruby Falls visit.
Pretty much anyone can take part in the obstacle courses, zip lines and climbing wall, but there are some height and weight restrictions, which can be found here.
It’s actually a little astounding that I managed to get to this age without taking a tour of Ruby Falls. It does, after all, bring several thousand people to Chattanooga every year to see it.
I can’t in good conscience say this is a must-see part of the city. There’s a lot that Chattanooga has to offer, and Ruby Falls certainly isn’t at the top of that must-see list.
It appeals to some and that’s fine, but it feels like an exploited and commercialized natural wonder to me now.
Personally, I’m going to save myself the trouble in future years and enjoy alternative natural sights in Chattanooga, even if tourist attractions like Ruby Falls helped me buy a car. I guess I owe them thanks for that, at least.
Emmett Gienapp is a writer trying to make it through college in Chattanooga. You can usually find him bouldering around the city, catering to pay rent or reading Dostoevsky in public places to appear intellectual. You can follow his column, Native Eyes, on Instagram and Twitter. Also feel free to contact him with suggestions, comments or stories via email.
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