Traveling on the Chattanooga Choo-Choo: Day 1

Several times throughout the early days of my & Joel’s relationship, he mentioned fond memories of visiting the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel with his family, the on-site model trains in particular. So, for Christmas 2015, I bought him a stay in one of the Pullman Train Cars at the hotel via Groupon Getaways. I purchased the voucher on the website in early December and we redeemed it the first week of January 2016.

Since we were due to check in after 3:00pm on January 9th, we decided to make a full weekend of the trip by visiting a few Chattanooga area attractions: the Lost Sea Adventure, the Cherohala Skyway and the summit of Lookout Mountain/Point Park. We started our trip at the Lost Sea Adventure.

I had previously experienced the Lost Sea Adventure on a school field trip in high school and always planned to return one day. I was pleasantly surprised to see the venue was exactly the same as my 15-year-old self remembered it.

So, what is the Lost Sea? It is America’s largest underground lake as well as a registered national landmark. Located in bucolic Sweetwater, Tennessee, there is a general store, ice cream parlor, gem mine & glassblower on-site (but the glass blower was closed during our visit). However, the Cavern Kitchen (which offers great southern barbecue) was open for business!

Our adventure began with a guided 3/4 mile tour of the caverns en route to the underground lake. Our tour guide was super knowledgeable and personable to every member of the tour group. Consisting of somewhat rocky terrain and sloping pathways (that you will have to hike up upon return), you should definitely make sure to bring comfortable shoes and a light jacket as the temperatures underground are at a constant, but pleasant, 58 degrees Fahrenheit. On the way to the lake, the tour guide detailed the cave’s geological development, displayed the immense cavern rooms and showed off rare rock formations.

About 45 minutes later, we finally reached the one of the coolest natural occurrences in the Southeast: The Lost Sea (which is America’s largest underground lake)! Located 140 feet below ground level, the tour will take you on a boat ride across the lake covering more than 4 acres. Keep your eyes peeled for rare anthodites like Cave Flowers!

After viewing the natural wonders of the underground lake and ascending the caves, we explored the woods of the Sweetwater Village and grabbed a quick bite of barbecue. The journey through the wooded terrain was definitely a joy for any nature lover or photographer!

Once we finished our meal and broke a light seat, we decided to drive up the Cherohala Skyway and take in the amazing views of Tennessee. Located about 30 minutes southeast of Sweetwater in Tellico Plains, the Cherohala Skyway has breathtaking views that should be added to any Tennesse roadtrip. Make sure to allow up to 2 hours to travel the 40+ miles of the Skyway and make stops along the way. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob. Although we didn’t drive to the North Carolina state line (since it was getting dark), we were still able to enjoy the rivers, mountains and wildlife.

Finally, it was time to make our way to the goal of this trip: the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel. Although Joel is never one to have a giant reaction to gifts, I saw his face light up like a kid in a candy store as we pulled up to the hotel. As the neon red sign illuminated the car and bounced off the rain drops, Joel started smiling from ear to ear.

One thing we learn as we checked in to the hotel was that parking (and breakfast) is not included for hotel guests. So if you plan on staying at the hotel, make sure you set aside at most $10/day for on-site parking.

The Pullman Train Car we stayed in was phenomenal! With a queen size bed, a large bathroom, ample heating (it was below freezing during our visit), a TV and a desk, it was as accommodating as any hotel room, but with the nostalgia of the days of railroad dominance.

Once we got settled in our room, we decided to explore the attraction after grabbing a bite at the on-site Silver Diner Pizza Car. It was the first time either of us had eaten an extra large pizza in one sitting; it was so good! We then went inside the former train station to look for the aforementioned model train museum, but unfortunately, it was removed in early 2015. Even though we didn’t get to enjoy that part of Joel’s childhood, we were able to embrace our inner child by viewing the hotel’s Christmas decorations (which were still up)! I always love viewing Christmas decorations, so I was particularly excited that they were still on display in January!

After running around the lobby for an hour, it was time to head back to the train car & grab some sleep before our 2nd day of exploring chilly Chattanooga!

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