Those iconic signs you’ve probably seen suggesting that you “See Rock City” are also pointing you to Fairyland Caverns. It’s maybe not as well known as some of the other nearby attractions, but it’s definitely unique and memorable. It may even bring back some cherished childhood memories.
Read on to learn more about this enchanting place where famous fairy tales come to life.
What Are the Fairyland Caverns?
Being so close to the Great Smoky Mountains, Rock City has been a popular stopover for several generations of tourists. In fact, developer Garnet Carter first put his creative touch on the gorgeous property in the 1920s.
However, his wife, Frieda, who’s of German descent, gets the credit for Fairyland Caverns. She combined her artistic eye with his entrepreneurial spirit to create an elaborate rock garden over 4,000 feet long. They’ve added fun, eye-catching features along the way and planted hundreds of species of trees and wildflowers, trees, and shrubs.
Fairyland Caverns is perhaps the most whimsical aspect of Rock City. It’s a natural sandstone cavern that’s livened up with dramatically lighted re-creations of scenes from folklore and fairy tales. It started humbly in 1947 with statuary imported from Germany and has thrilled and mesmerized several generations of visitors.
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Where Are the Fairyland Caverns?
Rock City, with its many different attractions, is so far north in Georgia it’s almost in Tennessee. In fact, it’s just 6 miles from downtown Chattanooga.
The longtime tourist stop is at the top of Lookout Mountain, an inspiring overlook in the foothills of the Appalachians. It’s in the northwestern part of Georgia, convenient to interstates 40, 59, 24, and 75 and U.S. Highway 41.
What to Know Before Visiting Fairyland Caverns
From the beginning, the Carters were mindful of maintaining the natural beauty of their property and enhancing it with fun additions. These days, a fourth-generation descendant carries that same mission forward while preserving Rock City’s legacy. Here’s some of what you can expect to encounter during your visit.
What Will You See on the Cavern Walk?
The Cavern Walk showcases Frieda Utermoehlen Carter’s love for classic European fairy tales and nursery rhymes. You’ll wind through the cavern past a series of dioramas depicting scenes that seem to have been lifted straight from storybooks. Black lighting and Day-Glo colors give life to familiar characters from famous tales and nursery rhymes.
To give an idea of what to expect, the cast includes Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Hansel and Gretel, and Jack in the Beanstalk. Once the walk comes to an end, the whimsy continues as you spill out into the expansive Mother Goose Village.
Art in the Gardens
Outside artists are helping Rock City grow and adapt by contributing their own work. Since 2009, seven artists have installed sculptures on the grounds, all inspired by the Enchanted Trail.
A feminine figure named Maloria, for instance, presides over the forest wildlife as a songbird lands on her outstretched finger. She’s the work of artist Matt Dutton.
In a more abstract offering, fellow artist Jack Denton gave his take on the celebrated See Rock City birdhouses. His Villa Aviana sculpture is an oversized version built from native plants.
Cost of Tickets
The Cavern Walk and Art in the Gardens are just two parts of what you experience at Rock City. Other attractions include Lover’s Leap, Fat Man’s Squeeze, Hall of the Mountain King, and the Swing-A-Long Bridge.
In addition, there are many gardens along with restaurants and gift shops. The admission price (at the time of this writing) is $21.95 for adults and $12.95 for children up to 12. There’s no additional charge for parking.
All of Rock City, including the Cavern Walk, is pet-friendly. One of the cafes on the premises even has a pet menu. Dogs are most common, of course, but they also welcome cats. They’ve even had guests show up with a goat or a parrot. All they ask is that you keep your pet on a leash at all times.
There’s much to see in this area, including the nearby Ruby Falls and, of course, the city of Chattanooga. If you want to stay overnight, the Lookout Mountain Riverview Inn is just a few minutes down the road.
Originally built in 1935, this boutique hotel had a long history as Sky Harbor Court. It has 10 rooms on a bluff high above the Tennessee River and is right on Scenic Highway 148.
Dogs are welcome at the inn, too, for an extra fee of $25 a night. They have to remain on a leash, but you can walk them at a National Park Service (NPS) greenway nearby.
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What Is the Best Time of Year to Visit the Fairyland Caverns?
Most people agree that fall is the best time of year to visit here, with spring being a close runner-up.
The crowds are smaller than they are during the summer, and the temperatures are lower, too. Autumn gets the edge because you can also enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the leaves changing colors.
How Long Should You Plan for a Visit?
You certainly won’t want to rush through the Fairyland Caverns. But even a leisurely stroll through should take no more than a half hour.
To fully enjoy all that Rock City has to offer, plan on 90 minutes at least and maybe even a couple of hours. That will give you plenty of time to relax and take in the spectacular views in pretty much all directions.
Are the Fairyland Caverns Worth Visiting?
Don’t write off the Fairyland Caverns as something corny or outdated. It’s probably safe to say that most visitors are pleasantly surprised, at the least, and often overwhelmed.
You may not be completely blown away, but with the right mindset, you’ll appreciate its timeless beauty. After all, it’s an attraction that’s kept folks coming back for almost a century, sometimes with their kids or grandkids in tow.
There’s also something really cool about its quaintness and how it’s endured into modern times.
There are certainly lots of tourist traps in this region, so it’s smart to beware. But we’d say that Fairyland Caverns – and Rock City at large – has a realness we love. Plus, it’s hard to beat the views from Lookout Mountain, and you just can’t get them anywhere else.
Would you like to visit the Fairyland Caverns?
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