The routines of everyday life – endless driving, too much scheduling – can easily build a wall between us and the natural world. Fortunately, nature is a refuge that always welcomes us back. Taking the time to immerse yourself – and your family – in the outdoors can be wonderfully restorative and can help make the day-to-day grind easier.

If you, your family or your marriage could use a nature adventure this spring or summer, Southeast Tennessee offers a wide range of family and beginner-friendly flatwater paddling options. Make plans to visit the following waterways in the Chattanooga area as the weather warms and nature calls:

North Chickamauga Creek at Greenway Farm in Hixson:  North Chickamauga Creek is one of the main tributaries of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. Its upper stretches are popular for whitewater kayaking during parts of the year, but the lower section that empties into the Tennessee River is perfect for beginning paddlers. The water in North Chickamauga Creek offers chilly relief in the summer, as it is fed by a large underwater spring, which once served as the main water source for the town of Hixson.

A 2.5-mile flatwater section of North Chickamauga Creek wraps around Greenway Farm, a 180-acre city park in Hixson, located off Hamill Road. Greenway Farm offers two boat launches: one across from the dog park and the other behind the Outdoor Chattanooga Outventure Barn.

Lookout Creek at the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center:  Historic Lookout Creek offers gentle waters for beginning paddlers. The creek flows back and forth, depending on Nickajack and Chickamauga Dam operations, but the creek is generally shallow at normal flow.

History buffs will enjoy pondering this ancient waterway. Several Cherokee towns once lined Lookout Creek, and remnants of the Federal Road, built in 1804, can be found along its banks. Union and Confederate troops camped along a portion of the creek in 1863.

A public boat launch is available at the bridge over Lookout Creek on Cummings Highway, and the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center rents canoes to explore Lookout Creek. Canoe rentals are free for CANC members, and a fee is charged for nonmembers. First-time paddlers are required to watch a 15-minute orientation video about paddling techniques, equipment, personal flotation devices and paddles.

Paddlers Perch at the Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center

Harrison Bay State Park:  Launch from Harrison Bay State Park to explore John Patten Island and a number of other islands within Chickamauga Lake. During low waters, particularly in the winter, paddlers can find evidence of the towns and villages that existed prior to the completion of Chickamauga Dam in 1940.

“Paddling around the islands in Harrison Bay is really fun,” said Ruthie Thompson, Outdoor Chattanooga events and marketing coordinator. “Mornings are a good time to go because there tends to be fewer powerboats out at that time of day.”

Nickajack Cave on Nickajack Lake:  Nickajack Cave is a partially flooded cave on Nickajack Lake in New Hope, Tenn. The cave is home to thousands of endangered gray bats that come out to feed on summer evenings at dusk. Paddle to the mouth of the cave to enjoy the spectacle from the water. Please note that the cave is gated to protect the bats within the cave, and no caving or climbing is permitted.

Paddling to the mouth of Nickajack Cave on Nickajack Lake to watch the evening emergence of endangered gray bats is a popular family paddle trip. (Photo: Outdoor Chattanooga)     

Access Nickajack Cave from the TWRA Macedonia Road Boat Launch off TN-156 near New Hope. Keep in mind that bathroom facilities are not available at this site.

Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County, Tenn.:  The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is located on Chickamauga Lake at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers. The area is rich in Cherokee history and a great spot for birdwatching. Hiwassee Island, located within the refuge, is a favorite stop each fall and late winter for more than 50,000 migrating sandhill cranes. The refuge is managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Boat launches can be found on either side of the refuge at Blythe Ferry Road or Shadden Road.

Sequatchie River in the Sequatchie Valley:  The Sequatchie River flows through 70 miles of the Sequatchie Valley, the long and narrow divide between the Cumberland Plateau and Walden’s Ridge. The river features two Class II areas, but the rest of the waterway is Class I or slower with flat currents.

Scott Pilkington is the former owner of the infamous Canoe the Sequatchie, which operated along the Sequatchie River for 34 years until closing in 2011 after he suffered a back injury. He suggests the following access points for family-friendly paddling trips on the Sequatchie River:

  • A 3-mile paddle trip begins at an access point near the Sequatchie County Courthouse in Dunlap and ends at the Old York Highway Bridge on Highway 127.
  • A 4-mile paddle trip begins at the Old York Highway Bridge on Highway 127 and ends at the Stove Cave Road Bridge.
  • A 6-mile paddle trip begins at the Old York Highway Bridge on Highway 127 and ends at the Frank Tate Road Bridge.

Pilkington’s launch site at the Old York Highway Bridge on Highway 127 is located in the middle of the most canoe-able section of the river through midsummer. He said his grandson, a college student, will likely reopen the Canoe the Sequatchie business this summer (2014). If so, in addition to canoe rentals, he expects that fees will be charged to park at their launch site at the Old York Highway Bridge on Highway 127.

Equipment Rentals & Purchases:  If you do not own a canoe or kayak, Outdoor Chattanooga offers a list of purveyors in the Chattanooga on their website. Outdoor Chattanooga also offers family-friendly guided paddling trips throughout the year, with boats and equipment included.

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