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The Ultimate One-Tank Road Trip

June 12, 2018 Categories: Seasonal Vacation Planning

In my family, we start dreaming about summertime as soon as the National Championships are over. But even as visions of barbecues and beaches dance through our heads, so do the dollar signs. With three kids, we really have to think about all the school supplies we’ll need to buy come August, not to mention the gas money it takes to cart our rambunctious family all over the country. Even in an efficient car, it can be tough to find something big on fun and easy on the wallet, but fortunately for us, we’ve got an ace up our sleeve: Lookout Mountain.

I live in Huntsville, my sister lives in Atlanta, and we can both make it up to Lookout Mountain for a fun-filled family getaway on one tank. There are so many affordable lodging options, and all the cousins love it—it’s really a win-win for everyone. Plus, there’s so much to do all packed into one convenient location; there are miles and miles of good times to be had without running on fumes.

This year, we hit the [under]ground running with our first stop at Ruby Falls. From the new Village Plaza at Ruby Falls, we took in the spectacular view while enjoying a lemonade and did a little shopping at the gift shop before our descent into the coolness of the cavern. No matter how many times we go, we always manage to see something new, and the kids are always dazzled by the light show on the water. Then we did something we had never done before, right next door. Zipping and climbing through the trees at ZIPStream Aerial Adventure was a blast! On a hot summer day, there’s nothing like feeling the wind rush past you while zooming through the shady mountain forest overlooking the Tennessee Valley. And they have courses for all ages and skill levels (someone has to go with the little ones, right? I’m a hero, really…).

Next, we grabbed lunch in Historic St. Elmo, a very short drive to the next world of adventure. Parking, eating, and riding up the Incline Railway are all super affordable and charming to boot. This leaves us every reason to grab some Clumpies ice cream for dessert while we wait for the Incline Railway and pause for a photo op along the way. The kids always get a rise (pun intended) out of just how steep the slope gets as it steadily climbs the mountainside. After some time in the gift shop, my artsy sister can snap some incredible photos from the observation deck, and our history-buff hubbies have plenty to take in at the nearby Battles for Chattanooga museum (it’s within walking distance, so we can walk off the dessert and save the fuel).

We always save Rock City Gardens for our second day because there’s so much we love to do there. While you can easily do it in a couple of hours, we like to take our time on the 4,100 foot walking trail, studded with sculptures, gorgeous plant life, and incredible natural formations. Not to mention the gift shops, the open-air Café 7 restaurant with its delicious Southern favorites, and the See Seven States view from Lover’s Leap—with so much to do and see in the different park locations, there’s no need to drive anywhere else!

Of course, eventually, we have to head home. But with all the money we save on our one-tank trip to Lookout Mountain, I suspect it won’t be long before I’m able to talk everyone into going back for round two. Perhaps my sister and I will make the trip on our own—after all, we could use a girls’ weekend to refuel before the mad rush of school and sports. Anyway, what are you waiting for? Rev up your engines and set out on your own one-tank adventure!