Fish on display at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, TN

The Tennessee Aquarium invites you to explore an underwater rainforest

The Tennessee Aquarium invites you to explore an underwater rainforest, including the Ridges to Rivers Gallery and IMAX theater. Visit today!

If it's been a while since you visited the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga – or if you've never visited at all – make plans to spend a day at this incredible conservation-focused attraction. Named one of the 10 Best Aquariums in the United States in 2023 by USA Today, the Tennessee Aquarium features fascinating new exhibits every year, so there's always something interesting to discover. 

"We pride ourselves in keeping the experience fresh and exciting," says Thom Benson, vice president of Communications for the Tennessee Aquarium. 

Ridges to Rivers Gallery

In March 2023, the Tennessee Aquarium opened its new Ridges to Rivers gallery that invites guests to explore how a single drop of water flows from the mountains to the valley.

"Ridges to Rivers presents an opportunity for our guests to get an up-close look at the underwater rainforest that surrounds us," Benson says. "The gallery's main exhibit replicates a rushing mountain stream with colorful fish most people don't even realize are in our own backyard. We call this area an underwater rainforest because the Southeast has so much aquatic biodiversity."

The Ridges to Rivers gallery spotlights Southern Appalachia's vibrant aquatic life, which mostly goes unseen. The multi-sensory experience allows visitors to see, hear and touch some of these lesser-known species, giving them an idea of what it's like to dip your head into a stream teeming with creatures you never knew existed. 

"More than half of all freshwater fish species live within 200 miles of downtown Chattanooga, and they are every bit as colorful as those you would find in a coral reef, except they are freshwater fish," Benson says. "People in our area love to hike, paddle board, fish and kayak, and the Aquarium gives them the best opportunity to see below the surface to marvel at big species like paddlefish – but also a comprehensive view of the often overlooked colorful fish of our region.”

Committed to Conservation 

By visiting the Tennessee Aquarium, visitors help conservation efforts because the admission fees support the Aquarium’s freshwater conservation programs. The Aquarium raises and releases Lake Sturgeon and Southern Appalachian Brook Trout to restore their dwindling populations. 

Lake Sturgeon can live for more than 100 years and are considered imperiled in 18 states and endangered in Tennessee. The Tennessee Aquarium and its partners have reintroduced more than 330,000 lake sturgeon to their native waters in the Tennessee River system. 

Southern Appalachian Brook Trout is Tennessee’s only native trout and largely disappeared from mountain streams by the 1980s. Since 2012, the Tennessee Aquarium has been helping restore its population along with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and other partners.

“The trout are now reproducing on their own, so we are expanding to new streams. It’s really gratifying to know our active conservation programs are making a difference today and for generations to come,” Benson says. “A lot of threatened species need our help, and we hope to inspire guests to help keep the water clean. It’s beneficial for aquatic animals and humans alike – it’s our drinking water and also our playground. Water is our most important natural resource.”

Animal Exhibits at the Tennessee Aquarium 

Within the Tennessee Aquarium’s two buildings – River Journey and Ocean Journey –  you’ll trace the path of water from the mountains to the sea and get a close look at the fascinating creatures that live there. Guests can watch North American River Otters play, observe how Macaroni Penguins hop and dive, and marvel at big toothy Sand Tiger Sharks. 

“The best part about the Tennessee Aquarium is not one single ‘Wow’ – it’s all the ‘Wows’ along the way,” Benson says. “Our educators deliver more engaging programs out on the floor, so there is lots of surprise and delight among our guests when they bring ambassador animals out. There are reptiles and amphibians, hedgehogs and small mammals, turtles and frogs, and hissing cockroaches – it really runs the gamut.”

Inside the Tropical Cove in Ocean Journey, visitors can spot lemurs from Madagascar and touch several different shark and stingray species at Stingray Bay as they glide through the water. In the nearby Butterfly Garden, you’ll be immersed in a tropical oasis of colorful plants and eleven species of fluttering butterflies. 

In River Journey, the Turtles of the World gallery opened in 2020, featuring many species of turtles, including the Spiny Turtle, Keeled Box Turtle, Four-Eyed Turtle and Chinese Big-headed Turtle. Guests can learn more about these ancient, shelled reptiles and the ways humans can help keep them safe. 

Experience the IMAX 3D Theater at the Tennessee Aquarium 

Dive into new worlds at the Tennessee Aquarium's IMAX 3D Theater, which transports guests to the depths of the ocean and some of the most remote locations on earth through immersive 45-minute nature documentaries. 

"Through our giant screen with bright, crisp colors, schools of fish appear to swim out from the screen. Children reach out to try to touch the fish as they appear to fill the theater," Benson says. "These are thrilling films for all ages, and all our films have a strong conservation message to help people think about the world in new ways."

In January 2024, the Tennessee Aquarium will be bringing “Arctic: Our Frozen Planet” to the IMAX 3D Theater. This BBC Earth production transports audiences to the top of our planet to show how it’s transformed by the annual cycles of freeze and thaw.
Coming in March 2024, the IMAX 3D Theater will introduce a new film called "Blue Whales" just in time for spring break. 

"Our best days are when people leave reviews about us saying they had a great time, but also learned a lot and are thinking more about what they can do to help ensure our most important resource – fresh water – is protected for our use today and for generations to come."