Something amazing has sprouted in the woods behind Ruby Falls.
The longtime tourist attraction, famous for its 145-foot underground waterfall and, more recently, a tree-shrouded ziplining course and climbing wall, has ventured into the forest again to add three luxury treehouses. The addition, which debuted in mid-July, is a partnership with Flintstone, Georgia-based Treetop Hideaways, which already offers two treehouse retreats elsewhere on Lookout Mountain.
Available for overnight rentals, the treehouses would seem to have naturally occurred in Ruby Falls' old-growth forest, their weathered wood exteriors and tin roofs so easily blending into the habitat that they look like they've been in place for years. In fact, construction started about 18 months ago, and their seamless integration into the woods was a key component of their design, said Jaclyn Lewis, public relations specialist for Ruby Falls.
"Ruby Falls and Treetop Hideaways share many of the same goals for environmental sustainability, which was important as materials were sourced, and the treehouses were placed sensitively on the land to avoid disturbing large-growth trees," she said.
Ruby Falls President Hugh Morrow said several ideas had been floated over the years for the possible development of the unused property, everything from a tiered parking garage to residential housing.
"I'm so glad this is where we ended up," he said of the treehouses. "Up on this hill, you don't even know they're here."
The woodsy camouflage that conceals their exterior pivots to a feast for the eyes once inside the treehouses.
"I see something new every time I'm in here," said Morgan Lee, digital media specialist for Ruby Falls, as she pointed out a yardstick incorporated into the wood grain of a repurposed coffee table.
Treetop Hideaways owner Enoch Elwell said he and his wife, Hannah, sourced the furnishings and decor from their travels as well as places around Chattanooga. Items not added to their personal collection were tucked into storage.
"We're always thinking about what would be good for the next treehouse," he said.
They're particularly drawn to objects that tell a story.
"We've spent our whole life collecting things of that nature," he said. "We try to find things that are worn in, not worn out. You want to be able to feel the love and care that go into making it."
The larger themes of the treehouses' story are similar for each structure. Outside, Adirondack chairs, stone benches or hammocks await beside each fire pit, where a complimentary bottle of wine may be enjoyed at sunset. Inside, views of the Tennessee River and the city of Chattanooga dominate the floor-to-ceiling front windows.
Elwell's "rustic and refined" plan for the decor gives each space an upscale look, yet each treehouse has a distinct personality.
Redbud, which includes a faded, barn-style mural of the Ruby Falls logo on its approach side, is meant to evoke memories of old barns, haylofts and blanket forts. Among its best features are rough-sawn barnwood oak, reclaimed tin ceilings and trim, a working 1900s phonograph, a wrought-iron fence railing securing the loft and curtains made of vintage quilts, some held aloft by trimmed tree branches.
Wood Lily is designed to bring the outdoors in, with an abundance of ferns, vines and other plants. It's highlighted by cork floors, a petrified wood sink on a black-walnut countertop in the kitchenette and a bookcase that turns out to be a secret door hiding a closet stocked with extra supplies. The wraparound deck has multiple trees growing through it.
Dogwood blends the playfulness of a rustic treehouse with the flair of a boutique. Guests will discover a custom vanity with a gold swan faucet, a writing desk and a vintage theater spotlight mounted on the antique iron railings.
Dogwood is also wheelchair accessible. Yes, a treehouse where a wheelchair can go.
That unexpected accommodation is thanks to a ramp entrance that veers off the shared walkway leading from the parking lot. The ramp added substantial cost, Morrow said, "but I'm so glad we were able to do it."
Although the treehouses are near each other, they're situated for privacy. Curtains and the natural foliage add further screens for the indoor/outdoor showers and Redbud's outdoor soaking tub.
Collaborating with Ruby Falls "is such a perfect partnership," Elwell said. "They have this land that they're not going to develop. It's just sitting there. Building treehouses there was a perfect fit. It's a way to use the land while adding value and honoring the beauty of the forest."
If You Go
— Treetop Hideaways at Ruby Falls is at 1708 Scenic Highway, just past the entrance to Ruby Falls. Each treehouse can sleep four to five guests. Overnight stays start at $450. Find booking information at rubyfalls.com.