The Incline Railway is closed for seasonal repairs and will reopen March 2020


The Incline and Lookout Mountain History

The Incline Railway attracts people from around the world and has carried millions of residents and tourists up and down historic Lookout Mountain. The history of the Incline and Lookout Mountain includes Civil War battles, rivalries, and grand hotels.

Photos courtesy of Picnooga

The Civil War

The Incline’s home, Lookout Mountain, played a pivotal role in the American Civil War. Union forces under the command of William Rosecrans suffered one of their greatest defeats by Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s men in the shadow of Lookout Mountain at Chickamauga, GA. The loss was so great that then Major General Ulysses S. Grant was called in to take over the Union troops while Bragg’s Confederate Army kept an eye on their besieged opponents hiding out in Chattanooga from the top of Lookout Mountain.

The Battle Above the Clouds

Grant tapped Union Generals William Sherman and Joseph Hooker to break up the rebel siege of Chattanooga. The resulting three-day conflict that took place on the face of Lookout from the foothills to just below the top of the mountain would later be known as the “Battle Above the Clouds.”

After the War

Following the Civil War, more and more tourists flocked to the sites of these famous battles. However, the two-dollar, four-hour buggy ride up Lookout Mountain to attractions such as Whiteside Park, the Natural Bridge, and Lula Lake prevented many from enjoying the mountain’s natural beauty and rich history.

The Inclines

Surprisingly, the Incline Railway in operation today was not the first incline on Lookout Mountain.

Photos courtesy of Picnooga

The Incline No. 1

The Incline No. 1 was built in 1885 and was constructed to provide an alternative route up Lookout Mountain. Until its construction, travelers were forced to use the Whiteside Turnpike and pay increasing fees, imposed by its owner, Harriet Whiteside, to access the road. The Incline No. 1 and the Point Hotel (constructed at the top of its track) provided travelers with access to areas of Lookout Mountain that Whiteside had restricted.

To learn more about the Incline No. 1 and the rivalry with Harriet Whiteside, read RootsRated’s in-depth article.

The Incline No. 2

Opened in November 1895, the Incline No. 2 was constructed by John Crass and the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway Company. The track was built at a steeper 72.7% grade to transport visitors up Lookout Mountain. The cars originally operated on coal-burning steam engines, which were upgraded to two 100-horsepower motors in 1911. While the Inclines did operate in tandem for a period, the No. 2 eventually purchased and demolished the No. 1. Today, the Incline No. 2 is still in operation in St. Elmo.

Historic Lookout Mountain Hotels

Lookout Mountain has been a popular tourist destination in Tennessee and Georgia for centuries. Over the years, several businessmen have built hotels on the mountain to allow visitors to experience its attractions and breathtaking views. A few of these hotels had a direct impact on the Incline Railway’s history.

The Point Hotel

The Point Hotel, constructed in 1888, had 58 rooms and was perched at the top of the Incline No. 1 track, just below Point Lookout. The hotel was known for its verandas and spectacular views of the valley below. A narrow-gauge railway also serviced the hotel and offered transportation to Sunset Rock and the Natural Bridge. The hotel was eventually torn down between 1910 and 1920.

The Lookout Inn

Perched at the top of the Incline No. 2 (the same Incline in operation today), The Lookout Inn was constructed in 1890. The opulent, expansive hotel had 450 rooms, two towers and an impressive ballroom. Although it was rumored to be fireproof, the hotel was destroyed by a fire caused by a defective flue on November 17, 1908.

Photos courtesy of Picnooga

The Lookout Mountain Hotel

Built in 1928, the Lookout Mountain Hotel was known as “The Castle in the Clouds.” Famed for its elegant furnishings and spectacular ballroom, it was a popular summer resort into the 1940s and 1950s. In 1964, the hotel building became part of Covenant College.

Photos courtesy of Picnooga

The Fairyland Inn

A 40-room clubhouse built by Garnet Carter (the founder of Rock City) and Oliver B. Andrews, the Fairyland Inn is located on the east brow of Lookout Mountain. Today, the building houses the Fairyland Club.

For more information on the historic Lookout Mountain hotels, see Part 1 and Part 2 of David Moon’s series on

Funicular Railways

Learn more about funicular railways and how the Incline is America's steepest funicular railway here.