Photo contributed by Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association

Many Americans found relief from COVID restrictions in the last year by escaping to the outdoors. Participation in running, cycling, hiking, bird watching, and camping activities increased significantly since March 2020, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

The greater Chattanooga region of Southeast Tennessee has seen this surge in visitors at area parks and waterways. Record-breaking crowds sought out nature in places such as the Cherokee National Forest, South Cumberland State Park, Fall Creek Falls State Park, the Hiwassee and Ocoee rivers, and other trails and waterways. State Parks reached historic highs for camping in 2020, recording four of the top 10 months ever.

In March, the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association launched the #AdventureSmartTN educational campaign with the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, Polk Co. Chamber and Meigs Co. Chamber. The educational campaign features five videos - starring Angelo Giansante, Park Manager at Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park – that promote trail safety, water safety, packing out trash, planning ahead, and family-friendly behavior.

Proper planning can make or break a trip


Plan Ahead

Tell someone where you are going, plan for the weather and temperature changes, carry water and snacks, and know before you go about cell service and access to public bathrooms.


Water Safety

Use appropriate watercraft for water conditions (whitewater vs. slow-moving streams), wear a life vest, be aware of strainers and low-head dams on waterways before launching out, and tell someone where you are going.

Photo Gallery

Record-setting adventures


Trail Safety

Stay on designated trails, always tell someone where you are going, plan for weather and temperature changes, and carry water and snacks.


Pick Up Litter

Always pack out what you carry in with you and practice Leave No Trace principles.


Family-Friendly Behavior

Practice family-friendly behavior in public spaces out of respect for nature and others.

Angelo Giansante, Manager at Hiwassee / Ocoee State Park, says he has witnessed a dramatic increase in water rescues on the Hiwassee and Ocoee rivers in the last year. He and his limited staff, as well as Polk County emergency personnel, have spent hundreds of hours rescuing visitors in watercraft inappropriate for whitewater situations on the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers.

"While we do want our guests to come and explore the treasures of our area and look forward to meeting you, we would prefer to not have to meet you on a rock in the middle of the river," says Angelo Giansante, Park Manager at Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park. "Please wear your life jackets and research where you are going and what type of watercraft it requires," says Giansante.

"Increased visitation to the region's parks and waterways has been great, but it has certainly created some challenges," says Jenni Veal with the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association. "State park staff and rural county governments have seen record increases in litter, emergency rescues and overcrowding along trails and in parking areas. All of this has brought to light the need for education about outdoor safety and planning, which is why we decided to launch this #AdventureSmartTN educational campaign."

Instagram and Facebook: @adventuresmarttn