Paddling the Tennessee River means towering limestone cliffs, dramatic mountain views and the 26-mile section through the Tennessee River Gorge, known as the Little Grand Canyon. There's remarkable beauty in any season. In the spring and summer, bald eagle and osprey sightings are common. In the fall the mountains seemingly glow from the changing leaves, and the winter offers a quiet serenity.
The most popular spot to launch a paddle board is in downtown Chattanooga, which offers city skyline views and the city's iconic "four bridges" perched a dizzying 140 feet above you. The mouth of the Gorge begins several miles downstream, just beyond Williams Island. If you wanted to do a point-to-point paddle, there are numerous take out points for a paddle board including Suck Creek, Racoon Mountain, Sullivan's Landing and Hale's Bar Marina.
Barges are a common sight on the Tennessee River, so keep your paddle board close to the shoreline. During the weekends, particularly in warm weather, you can expect to share the river with recreational traffic. The ideal paddle board spot for beginners is the calm water found in the Chickamauga Dam Recreation Area.
The Tennessee River offers numerous launch points for a paddle board, but it also has four dams to plan around. Chickamauga Dam Recreation Area is a great launch point for upriver paddles, particularly toward the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. Another popular spot is Coolidge Park, located in Chattanooga's Northshore district. For paddle board options through the Gorge, reference TVA's map of the area.
SUP THE STATE OVERVIEW
The Tennessee River is the final leg of Whorton's SUP the State journey, taking three days to complete. It includes having to navigate two large lakes – Watts Bar and Chickamauga – as well as three dams.
The Tennessee isn't challenging really other than navigating the many tributaries and negotiating barge and boat traffic below Watts Bar. It's easy to get off course – never assume you know where you're going.
It's surprisingly rich in wildlife. Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is one of my favorite places because of the birds that gather there.
What a beautiful place! Chattanooga has amazing opportunities to get outdoors, paddle board, keep healthy while enjoying the beauty of nature. Stay tuned for the next iteration soon!