In Chattanooga, the Tennessee River beckons to flatwater paddlers with its accessibility and urban charm. But for those looking to explore off the beaten path, so to speak, a network of smaller streams surround the city, replete with emerald waters, mini gorges and now more navigable miles than ever.
After eight years and 1,900 volunteer hours, for the first time, the North, South and West Chickamauga creeks are now cleared of all obstructions for the entire length of each with enough water to paddle. The narrowness of the creeks plus their forested embankments make them susceptible to river-wide log jams.
The cleanup involved everything from litter removal to chainsaw work and was largely organized by Eric Fleming, Chattanooga paddler and 28-year member of the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club.
"A huge shoutout and thank you to everyone who has helped over the past eight years," Fleming recently told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "Of course, new blockages can happen at any time from driftwood and trees falling in from bank erosion and storms. Happy paddling, everyone."
Ready to explore the new stretches? Whether you're an experienced paddler looking for a challenge or just learning, here are a couple options for each.
North Chickamauga Creek
Total miles*: 18
Explore the whole section: Launch at Thrasher Pike in Soddy-Daisy and take out just below the Chickamauga Dam on the Tennessee River.
Make it a quickie: Not ready to commit to a double-digit day? Hixson's Greenway Farms has two access ramps on its property. Launch at the upper put-in near the dog park and take out at the lower put-in. The paddle is around 2 miles, but the parking lots are close together, making it easy to get back to your car. Greenway Farms is free to the public and closes at dusk.
South Chickamauga Creek
Total miles: 34
Explore the whole section: Launch at Ringgold City Park and take out at Tennessee Riverwalk Greenway Dock on the Tennessee River. But be warned: The average beginner kayaker paddles at a speed of 2 miles per hour, so only ambitious experts should expect to complete 34 miles in a day. (Chattajack training, anyone?!)
Make it a quickie: For a relaxing, low-commitment float, visit Audubon Acres nature sanctuary, where the creek bisects the property. Along its path, multiple access points afford paddlers a milelong float without ever leaving the property. Daily admission is $6 per adult and includes water access.
West Chickamauga Creek
Total miles: 21
Explore the whole section: Launch at Lee and Gordon's Mills in Chickamauga, Georgia, and take out at South Chickamauga Creek at Camp Jordan.
Make it a quickie: With multiple access points, Camp Jordan is the simplest place to make an easy day of the creek. Launch at Ramp 1 near the disc golf course and take out at Ramp 2, where West Chick meets South Chick. While the ramps are a quick walk from each other, the creek loops away from the park, so the paddle is a little over 1.5 miles.
*navigable flatwater miles