Island Life

No matter how far a cyclist pedals or how hard a climber climbs, there are some corners of the great outdoors they just can't reach.

On islands, like the ones in Harrison Bay, are explored only by those who can get to them - and the best way to do that, is in a canoe or kayak.

The largest island in the bay is Patten Island, which Harrison Bay State Park Manager Don Campbell says is plenty big enough to feel disconnected with the rest of the world even though it's only a 20- or 30-minute paddle from the park. "You kind of think you're the only ones out there," Campbell says. "You could walk around out there and not see anybody. It's kind of neat to be out there."

photo Patten Island topographical map

The park oversees Patten Island, and while Campbell says camping is not encouraged because the island is so isolated, it is home to several primitive campsites. Other islands are owned either by TVA or private individuals, so it's important to know where you are before you pitch your tent.

"What's special about island camping is the same as a backpacking trip," says Tennessee Valley Canoe Club sea kayak trip leader Eric Fleming.

"You have to think minimalist, and you can only take what you can safely carry or get in your boat. You are completely isolated, even if you can see lights on the mainland. It's very quiet, except for nature's sounds."

Campbell says he has seen bald eagles on the island and has even seen a few deer swimming across the river to reach Patten.

The island is accessible from boat ramps at Wolftever Creek, Harrison Point and at the state park marina. Flemming, who camped on the island twice this year, says he prefers the marina ramp because it seems to be a safer place to leave a car overnight.

photo NRS Tuff Sack Dry Bag XXL, 53-liter capacity

Safety is a key notion for island hoppers. Because it is cut off from emergency aid, Campbell and Flemming urge caution. Campbell says there is nothing particularly dangerous on Patten, but the crossing can be tricky. In addition to potentially choppy water, it's easy to get lost among the inlets and sandbars. "The biggest danger is other boat traffic," he says. "A bass boat doing 70 might not see a kayak and that usually turns into a loss for the kayaker."

Trouble finding gifts for paddlers?

Here are some ideas:

Paddling themed Christmas ornaments at $7.95 - $24.95

NRS Tuff Sack Dry Bag XXL 53 liter-capacity $40

Pursuit 40 Waterproof Case from OtterBox $34.95