Chattanooga – A Local’s Paddle Bucket List


Chattanooga, TN is a place the locals love dearly. Talk to anyone, a native or a transplant, and they will go on about the unlimited adventures and activities right outside their doorstep. Though, one outdoor adventure continually tops them all, paddling. Interview after interview revealed the following places to be the top paddling adventures around Chattanooga―the “you know you’re a local” bucket list. Starting downtown, you can paddle to this first spot from Coolidge Park, the site of Adventure Fest Chattanooga on May 27, 2017.

Maclellan Island
Maclellan Island, Chattanooga, TN | Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Paddleboards

Downtown Chattanooga – Maclellan Island

Island GPS: 35.05619, -85.30035

Located in the heart of Chattanooga this island is a local favorite. Accessible for all skill levels during the right conditions, launch from Coolidge Park (launch GPS 35.06, -85.30943) and paddle 0.35 miles upriver to a small beach on the south side. Maclellan Island is a unique, 18.8-acre, wildlife sanctuary with 1.5 miles of hiking paths and a diverse population of plants, animals, and birds. While you are ogling at the nesting Osprey or the limestone cliffs, watch out for poison ivy. Take home memories and photos of beautiful views, not an itchy rash.

Chattanooga Paddling
Tennessee River, Chattanooga, TN | Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Paddleboards

North Chickamauga Creek

Launch GPS: 35.12686, -85.21584

Get away from the city without a long car ride. North Chickamauga Creek, North Chick, is only 15 minutes from Downtown Chattanooga and nestled against the TVA Big Ridge Small Wild Area. A favorite of Chattanooga Paddleboards, a SUP specialist outfitter, this is a great family friendly route. Launching from Greenway Farms, you can paddle for 1.5 miles and pullout within Greenway Farms to enjoy the lazy, meandering route of the creek. If you are looking for greater distance, take the North Chick all the way to the Tennessee River for roughly 3.2 miles. For an epic day of paddling, keep going. Take North Chick to the Tennessee River and on to Maclellan Island for a 9.8-mile day. Keep an eye on the barge traffic while on the Tennessee River. You may be a tough paddler with Popeye arms, but your SUP or kayak is no match for 195 feet of steel barreling down on you.

Nickajack Bat Cave
Nickajack Bat Cave, South Pittsburg, TN | Photo courtesy of Bob Butters with

Nickajack Lake Bat Cave

Launch GPS: 34.99251, -85.61282

If you are looking for wildlife encounters with your paddling adventure, the locals know to visit Nickajack Lake’s bat cave at sunset. Considered to be biologically one of the most important caves in Tennessee, an estimated 100,000 bats will emerge in a continuous column lasting 45 minutes. Don’t worry, you won’t relive the bat scene from “The Great Outdoors” on the water. The bats are heading out for their evening meal and couldn’t care less about you. An experienced paddler can launch from the dock or beach (launch GPS 34.99322, -85.61282) at Maple View Public Use Area, and paddle the short distance to the cave entrance.  If you’d like to kick back and have someone else take care of the details, outfitters like Scenic City Safari Shuttles & Outfitters will get your gear prepared, shuttle you to the location, and ensure that you enjoy the experience.

Join us for the most immersive outdoor festival of the year― Adventure Fest Chattanooga 2017!
Tennessee River, TN

Grand Canyon of Tennessee: Tennessee River Gorge

Launch GPS: 35.1092, -85.36376

This 20-mile stretch of the Tennessee River is famous for its amazing views and history. Even for local paddling experts, this trip takes endurance. However, the adventure and views are worth the effort. Tackled in a single day or as an overnight trip, launch from the Suck Creek Ramp. As you follow this stretch of the Tennessee River Blueway make sure to appreciate the history of this place. Formed over 200 million years ago, the sandstone and conglomerate palisades ring the entire gorge. Sometimes referred to as the Suck, the Boiling Pot, the Skillet, or the Pan, this area of the Tennessee River was an extremely dangerous place to navigate. With the construction of dams on the river, the rapids and boulders have been submerged giving the river a calmer appearance. The currents remain formidable despite the modern changes. Anyone less than expert level would be advised to have a knowledgeable guide with them on this amazing blue trail.