The early portion of your canoe journey will take you through the beautiful city of Chattanooga, but the primary purpose of the trip is to experience the majestic beauty of the Tennessee River Gorge. The Tennessee River Gorge is sometimes nicknamed
"The Tennessee Grand Canyon" for its tall bluffs rising up around the windy switchbacks of the Tennessee River. This beautiful area of our state includes about 27,000 acres of land and 26 miles of Tennessee River. I have viewed the gorge from many vantage points, all of which were beautiful and rewarding, but to really appreciate what the gorge has to offer, I recommend you view it from a canoe.
Wildlife is plentiful along the Tennessee River Blueway. Don't underestimate the variety of wildlife that can be observed around downtown Chattanooga. The wildlife downtown is different from the wildlife you might spot in the gorge, in that the animals are more habituated to close human activity and you will be able to approach them to a closer range than the wilder gorge wildlife. The majority of my best wildlife photographs were taken between the Chickamauga Dam and Williams Island.
I was able to photograph feeding Osprey, Beaver, Turkey Vulture, Raccoon, Great Blue Heron, Rabbit, Turkey and White Tailed Deer. In the Nickajack Lake area I was lucky enough to spot and photograph a Bald Eagle that flew directly in front of my canoe. That was the most exciting highpoint of my trip.
There is plenty of primitive camping available throughout the Tennessee River Blueway (see the map). The keyword here is primitive. You will need to pack everything in and EVERYTHING out. Some of the campsites are not maintained very well yet. I suggest you pack a tarp to lie down on the tall grass to create a smooth comfortable immediate campsite area.
Some of the campsites are owned and managed by organizations that require prior permission to camp. See the "Contacts" page for contact information to acquire permissions and reservations.
I traveled alone and I was in no hurry. Paddling solo, the trip took me four days and three nights. I started the afternoon of day one and finished the morning of day four. I estimated that I performed about 88,000 paddle strokes to move my little loaded canoe about 50 miles.
Of course there are many restaurants within portage in the downtown Chattanooga area, but after you leave the bridges, you are basically on your own for food and water. You should pack what you need. Replenish your water, drinks and ice at the Sullivan's Landing. I don't recommend you relying on the marina as a source of good food. The Little Store is good for drink and food.
Begin your trip at the Greenway Farm canoe portage dock on the south side of the property. It is above the dam, but the North Chickamauga Creek will take you below the dam. You will not have to go through the locks. End your trip at the Shellmound Campground near the Nick-a-Jack dam. Be sure to visit the map page for more information and coordinances.
I strongly encourage you to go out and create your own experience on the Tennessee River Blueway. I assure you it will be an outing you will not forget. Interesting article for additional reading.