The best fall color scenes usually include a peaceful lake in the foreground. So what do the scenes look like if you are in the lake? There's only one way to find out.
Feeding Harrison Bay and the Tennessee River, Wolftever Creek is known for its fishing. But in the fall, the creek can also provide great views of the changing foliage for paddlers. There are plenty of houses farther up the creek, but as you near the mouth the shorelines clear up to show off the brilliant hardwoods. Put in at the TWRA boat ramp at Snow Hill Road or Shore Drive and float to the mouth of the creek at the TWRA ramp at the Highway 58 bridge. If you've still got energy and daylight left, paddle under the bridge out to the islands in the bay. The flat water in the wide creek makes it a good choice for beginners or kids, but watch out for motor boats.
While the Ocoee is known for pounding paddlers with rapids as it weaves through the Cherokee National Forest, a dam slows the river right off of Highway 64 forming Parksville Lake. The water, dotted with islands and peninsulas, is surrounded by the forest, which provides a top-notch backdrop for paddling. To make it an overnight trip, the Forest Service has several campsites in the area including Thunder Rock, which is on the river, and Chilhowee, on a mountaintop site that overlooks the lake.
When Carter's Lake was formed by damming the Coosawattee River in North Georgia, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prohibited private docks or houses near the water. What that means for paddlers is more than 60 miles of undeveloped shoreline, which allows the trees to shine in October. For an overnight trip, reserve a campground at one of the Corps of Engineers campgrounds by calling 706-334-2248.
Caney Fork River
Snaking through the Cumberland Plateau, the Caney Fork River offers a little more moving current for leaf-seeking paddlers. Much of the 26 miles from Center Hill Dam to the river's mouth at the Cumberland River is guarded on both sides with trees that turn all shades of orange, red and yellow during the fall. Look for boat ramps at the dam, Happy Hollow, Betty's Island and downstream at South Carthage.
Tennessee River Gorge
You don't have to go far to marvel at fall colors. Some might argue that the best fall color around for water-based viewing is right here in Chattanooga. Commercial boat companies offer leaf tours through the gorge during the fall, so why not take your kayak or canoe and go at your own pace. Put in at Suck Creek or Raccoon Mountain to take in wall-to-wall color or start downtown for a longer float.