Water trails offer miles of paddling

Water trails offer miles of paddling

January 31st, 2014 by Andy Johns in Getout--paddling

What's the best part about days when it's too cold to go out and paddle? It gives you a chance to plan out your warmer weather trips.

If 2014 is going to be the year where you take on a long-distance paddle, or if you'd just like to bite off a few segments of a longer route, here are a few suggestions to get your planning starting. Keep in mind, Tennessee River Blueway here in Chattanooga offers plenty of miles to paddle and designated campsites.

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area Water Trail

Length: 48 miles

Location: Atlanta area, 2.5 hours from Chattanooga

Info: Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area 678-538-1200

This North Georgia paddling trail starts just below Lake Lanier and takes paddlers into Metro Atlanta. Pay attention to the release schedule for Buford Dam. When the dam is not releasing water, the Hooch is calm "flat water" with an occasional class I/IIII shoals or rapids. Though it goes into an urban area and there are backyard views of million dollar homes, the river feels farther away from a metro area than you might think.

Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail

Length: 189 miles

Location: Coastal Georgia, 6.5 hours from Chattanooga

Info: secoastpaddlingtrail.com

If you're into sun, barrier islands, isolated campsites, sandy beaches and marine wildlife - and who isn't? - the Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail (GCSPT) should give you plenty of what you're looking for. It starts in the city of St. Mary's and passes several islands, including Cumberland Island National Seashore before terminating at Tybee Island close to Savannah. The trail bills itself as open for paddlers of all skill levels, but due to strong tides, a guide or plenty of research ahead of time is recommended. If you finish and still want more, the trail links with the 800-mile Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail, which goes all the way to Virginia.

Alabama Scenic River Trail

Length: 631 miles

Location: Weiss Lake to the Gulf Coast, 1.5 to 6 hours from Chattanooga

Info: alabamascenicrivertrail.com

Drive less than two hours from Chattanooga, launch your boat and paddle to the Gulf. Sound like fun? Better bring the sun screen. Though you do have seven dams to portage, the Alabama Scenic River Trail gives you more than 600 miles of paddling from Weiss Lake (the Crappie Capital of the World) to Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay. The float, which start off on the Coosa River until it forms the Alabama by merging with the Tallpoosa north of Montgomery, will give you a unique look at the Heart of Dixie.

French Broad River Paddle Trail

Length: 140 miles

Location: Western North Carolina, 4 hours from Chattanooga

Info: wnca.org/paddle

One of the newest water trails in the Southeast is the French Broad River Paddle Trail, which takes canoeists and kayakers from Rosmam, N.C. to Tennessee's Douglas Lake. Paddlers-only campsites spread out every 12 to 15 miles mean you won't have to interrupt your voyage to find a hotel.

Congaree River Blue Trail

Length: 51 miles

Location: Near Columbia, SC, 5 hours from Chattanooga

One 51-mile paddle on the Congaree River Blue Trail can take paddlers from downtown in South Carolina's capital city to the wilds of a national park. Start off along the Columbia Riverwalk and head straight for the Congaree National Park or explore many of the side creeks. A take out at Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve gives you a high vantage point to survey your progress and see what's ahead.