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Fall Colors Along the Incline Railway

November 06, 2017 Categories: Seasonal Vacation Planning

I always hear people saying “love is in the air” come spring, but to me no time of year is more romantic than autumn. The bold colors alone shout out more passionately than any spring pastel--flaming reds, opulent oranges, vibrant yellows--not to mention the opportunity the chilly air gives you to bundle up close to someone special. Lucky for me, my husband agrees. Since our wedding in September, we had been trying to think of something we could do to give ourselves a retreat this season, something we could both enjoy as newlyweds and that might give us a little break from the whirlwind holiday craziness. I'll admit, though, that I was surprised when he was the one who came up with the perfect idea of visiting Lookout Mountain.

It can be embarrassingly easy to forget the natural wonders you have in your backyard, which is the only excuse I can muster for not thinking of making this trip immediately. I hadn’t been to Lookout Mountain since I was a young kid, but my husband’s brother and his kids still make trips regularly. I loved Lookout Mountain trips when I was younger—playing with gnomes and fairies at Rock City, getting to adventure like a real-life spelunker in Ruby Falls, feeling the thrill when the Incline Railway started moving (that totally felt like a roller coaster to me at the time). Maybe I was afraid I'd outgrown that magic, but I found out on this trip just how ridiculous a thought that was.

Chattanooga isn't too far from our home in Birmingham, but far enough to make it truly feel like a getaway. As we drew nearer to the state line, my husband couldn’t stop marveling over the changing colors, pointing out new patches of blazing leaves every few minutes. Birmingham is beautiful, to be sure, but there's something especially spectacular about the mountain foliage as you climb higher into the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. As the earth begins to rise around you, cupping you in its painted slopes, it's hard not to feel a cozy sense of nostalgia. I immediately remembered being a kid, watching scenery blur past from the window, and couldn't help but think of the traditions my husband and I could be starting that very day.

I think we both agree that this is a trip that bears repeating—doing Lookout Mountain as an adult was spectacular, and just as magical an experience as being a child there. Everything we got to do was a ton of fun, from the breathtaking natural wonder of Ruby Falls to the magical journey of winding through Rock City. My personal favorite of the day, though, was the Incline Railway.

We chose to start “up top” at the Incline’s Upper Station, given its proximity to the other attractions and historic battlegrounds. While we waited to disembark, we knew we couldn’t miss our chance to take in the panoramic view from the observation deck. From this incredible vantage, the majesty of the Tennessee Valley bloomed below us in full color. The hills unfurled beneath us, a magic carpet of warm hues welcoming all the visiting friends and families above. It wasn’t just the cool mountain air that gave me chills—this sight truly was something to behold. We couldn’t resist the opportunity for a photo-shoot, the bursting landscape behind us forming the perfect backdrop to commemorate new memories. Another friendly family of four noticed our attempts at the perfect selfie (we did pretty good, I must say) and offered to snap a few shots for us, a favor we returned happily. I couldn’t believe how well they turned out—and I can’t wait to watch our own family grow in pictures just like this in the future.

It wasn’t long before the next train car arrived, and it was time to begin our trip down the mountain. Now, I remembered the Incline Railway being cool when I was little, but this was beyond just cool. At a 72.7% grade, it truly does feel like you’re sitting straight up—it’s not hard to believe that this is one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. But somehow, it’s not scary at all, even if you’re a bit nervous about heights like me. Surely the stunning view is to thank for that—encased by plenty of windows for a 360-degree view in the trolley car, my husband and I gazed and gawked like excited kids as we traveled down “America’s Most Amazing Mile” side-by-side. We really did feel like we were on top of the world, encompassed by a terrific terrain we couldn’t believe was so close to home.

The fun didn’t stop at the base of the mountain, either; “down below” we found ourselves in Historic St. Elmo, a beautiful and charming town full of things to explore. The Incline’s Lower Station let out into an assortment of shops where I was able to get plenty of my holiday gift-getting done (thanks, as well, to my patient hubby) and pick up a few fun things for myself, as well. When we found ourselves in need of some good grub, we visited the fun and funky Mojo Burrito, a hip local favorite decked out with creative art and delicious Tex-Mex fare. We also made time for a quick taste of the town’s two microbreweries: Mad Knight Brewing Company and Moccasin Bend Brewing Company. We thought there would be a clear winner, but we were so impressed we decided we’d just have to make time to do both on our next trip!

With so much to do, we had to pinch ourselves to get back to the station in time for the ride back up. This time of year, the sun had already set as we rode the railway back up at the end of our journey, but the view was still breathtaking. As we watched the lights dance across the Tennessee Valley, the blue shadows of the trees embracing us as we passed, we both knew this trip had been exactly what we needed. Our first day trip as newlyweds had come to an end, but neither of us had to say much to know that we would be doing this again. Fall may be our favorite season, but we’ll just have to see them all to make sure!