The wide range of creeks, rivers and lakes in the Chattanooga area offer a variety of opportunities for exploring and enjoying the region by water. If you are just getting started in paddling, Outdoor Chattanooga recommends the following waterways in the area that offer safe, flatwater fun for beginners and families.


If you are paddling with children, keep in mind that all children 12 years of age and younger are required to wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device while on the open deck of a recreational boat in Tennessee.

“Coast Guard-approved equipment”is equipment that has been approved by the commandant of the U. S. Coast Guard and has been determined to be in compliance with U.S. Coast Guard specifications and regulations relating to the material, construction and performance of such equipment.

North Chickamauga Creek at Greenway Farm in Hixson
North Chickamauga Creek is one of the main tributaries of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. Its upper stretches are popular for whitewater kayaking during parts of the year, but the lower section that empties into the Tennessee River is perfect for beginning paddlers. The water in North Chickamauga Creek offers chilly relief in the summer, as it is fed by a large underwater spring, which once served as the main water source for the town of Hixson.

A 2.5-mile flatwater section of North Chickamauga Creek wraps around Greenway Farm, a 180-acre city park in Hixson, located off Hamill Road. Greenway Farm offers two boat launches: one across from the dog park and the other behind the Outdoor Chattanooga Outventure Barn.

Lookout Creek at the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center
Historic Lookout Creek offers gentle waters for beginning paddlers. The creek flows back and forth, depending on Nickajack and Chickamauga Dam operations, but the creek is generally shallow at normal flow.

History buffs will enjoy pondering this ancient waterway. Several Cherokee towns once lined Lookout Creek, and remnants of the Federal Road, built in 1804, can be found along its banks. Union and Confederate troops camped along a portion of the creek in 1863.

A public boat launch is available at the bridge over Lookout Creek on Cummings Highway, and the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center rents canoes to explore Lookout Creek. Canoe rentals are free for CANC members, and a fee is charged for nonmembers. First-time paddlers are required to watch a 15-minute orientation video about paddling techniques, equipment, personal flotation devices and paddles.

Harrison Bay State Park
Launch from Harrison Bay State Park to explore John Patten Island and a number of other islands within Chickamauga Lake. During low waters, particularly in the winter, paddlers can find evidence of the towns and villages that existed prior to the completion of Chickamauga Dam in 1940.

“Paddling around the islands in Harrison Bay is really fun,” said Ruthie Thompson, Outdoor Chattanooga events and marketing coordinator. “Mornings are a good time to go because there tends to be fewer powerboats out at that time of day.”

Nickajack Cave on Nickajack Lake
Nickajack Cave is a partially flooded cave on Nickajack Lake in New Hope, Tenn. The cave is home to thousands of endangered gray bats that come out to feed on summer evenings at dusk. Paddle to the mouth of the cave to enjoy the spectacle from the water. Please note that the cave is gated to protect the bats within the cave, and no caving or climbing is permitted.

Access Nickajack Cave from the TWRA Macedonia Road Boat Launch off TN-156 near New Hope. Keep in mind that bathroom facilities are not available at this site.

Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County, Tenn.
The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is located on Chickamauga Lake at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers. The area is rich in Cherokee history and a great spot for birdwatching. Hiwassee Island, located within the refuge, is a favorite stop each fall and late winter for more than 50,000 migrating sandhill cranes. The refuge is managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Boat launches can be found on either side of the refuge at Blythe Ferry Road or Shadden Road.

Equipment rentals, purchases
If you do not own a canoe or kayak, Outdoor Chattanooga offers a list of purveyors in the Chattanooga area online.Outdoor Chattanooga also offers family-friendly guided paddling trips throughout the year, with boats and equipment included.

If you want to invest in a kayak or canoe for flatwater paddling, your first decision must be what types of waterways you will want to explore. There are many canoe and kayak options on the market today, and used boats can often be found with a little online searching.

“There are lots of choices,” Outdoor Chattanooga Executive Director Philip Grymes said. “Sit-on-top kayaks are stable and easy to paddle; decked kayaks are partially enclosed and offer some sun protection. It’s really a personal choice.”

Canoes are another option.

“We make 18 models of canoes-half for flatwater and half for whitewater,” said Richard Guin of Chattanooga-based Mohawk Canoes. “For flatwater, you want a boat that is pretty flat on the bottom with a little bit of a shallow ‘V’ to it.”

For more information about padding in the Chattanooga area, click here.

Jenni Frankenberg Veal is a freelance writer and naturalist living on Walden’s Ridge. She enjoys writing about the natural world and exploration opportunities found within the southeastern United States, one of the most biologically and recreationally rich regions on Earth. Visit her blog at