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9 Best Kayaking Spots in the Tennessee River Valley

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The waterways of the region offer paddlers many choices of rivers to paddle. Your experience can range from churning whitewater to a driftway of smooth water surrounded by lush foliage and water birds.

Whatever your kayaking or paddling skills, there is a river to explore.

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Whether you are looking for a leisurely paddle or a white-water adventure, the beautiful Tennessee River Valley is full of fantastic kayaking spots. Here are our top 9 spots for paddlers who want to recreate responsibly:

  • Bear Creek Floatway: The Bear Creek Lakes in northwestern Alabama are some of the most pristine waters in the south. The Floatway is a great place for novice kayakers to practice rapids and currents. The 24-mile course has a Class I classification, except for Upper and Lower Factory falls, which are Class VI and not suitable for anyone other than the most experienced paddlers.
  • Buffalo River supports a great diversity of animal life, and you might even see some of its namesake along the banks. The middle and lower parts of the river are best for kayaking because of their scenic beauty and their accessibility year-round. For a Class I-II trail with some fun rapids, the 10 mile stretch from Ponca to Kyles Landing is ideal.
  • Pellissippi Blueway- The name ‘Clinch’ means ‘winding waters’ in the Cherokee language, and the river has some great spots to meander. The best spot for kayaking is along the Pellissippi Blueway near Knoxville. Along the route, you’ll enjoy a breathtaking array of limestone bluffs, coves, islands and navigable creeks. This waterway is mostly calm but has some Class II rapids.
  • Elk River Scenic Floatway- Elk River begins in the mountains of Grundy County and flows towards Alabama until it feeds into the Tennessee River. There are multiple launch points both in Tennessee and Alabama. This waterway is mostly calm, but has a few white-water rapids, so look out for these.
  • Duck River Blueway- Duck River provides an abundance of pristine and secluded kayaking spots that are great for a leisurely float. The river has some of the most diverse flora and fauna in North America, and at 284 miles is also the longest river located entirely in the state of Tennessee.
  • Lower Tennessee River Blueway- The Tennessee River Blueway became a designated National Scenic River Trail in 2002. It flows through Chattanooga and the Tennessee River Gorge and is a fantastic spot for extended trails. These will take you through wildlife preserves and the entertainment district of downtown Chattanooga. On longer kayaking trips, safety is paramount, so make sure experienced kayakers accompany you.
  • Ocoee River- The Ocoee River is a great spot for those looking for more adventure. The river offers over 20 continued rapids throughout the Cherokee National Forest. Many of these are Class III and IV, so supervision is essential. The Ocoee is also the only natural waterway to have hosted an Olympic event during the 1996 Summer Olympics.
  • North Chickamauga Creek-* The North Chickamauga Creek begins on the Cumberland Plateau and is downhill whitewater rafting until it hits the Tennessee River Valley. These Class IV and V rapids are not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced. For a safer and calmer paddle, start at the community of Hixson.
  • Pigeon River-* Pigeon River is another great spot for the more adventurous kayakers. Book your adventure with Wildwater, the oldest outfitter in the southeast. Choose from a variety of river trips for both beginners and experienced kayakers looking for something wild. The scenery will not disappoint either.

**Important Kayaking Safety Tips **
As you can see, the Tennessee River Valley is a paddler’s paradise. No matter what your experience level, there’s a spot that you can take to the water and spend some time exploring.
But before you set out, it’s important to know how to stay safe. Following these safety tips will ensure you enjoy your paddling session to the full:

● Wear a life jacket or personal floatation device (PFD).
● Learn how to right your kayak and climb back in if you capsize.
● Look out for boats and other hazards. Kayaks sit low in the water, so you need to keep watch on your surroundings.
● Make yourself and your kayak as visible as possible. Wear high visibility clothing and add neon or reflective strips to your paddles.
● Check your route before you set off, especially if you have minimal experience. Know what class of rapids you’ll encounter so you don’t get caught off guard.
● Research the weather and be aware of water temperatures and currents.

Once you’ve checked these tips off your list, you’re ready to explore the Tennessee River Valley’s waterways. Happy paddling!

Author Bio: Mark Armstrong is a full-time globe-trotting kayaking junkie. Making his way across the world, one rapid at a time. When he's not out paddling on the water, he's the chief editor for Kayak Guru, where he writes about anything and everything kayak, fishing, and SUP related.