In Chattanooga, life revolves around the Tennessee River. Literally. The broad waterway bisects downtown, and many people cross one of its four bridges multiple times each day. With riverside parks, waterfront restaurants, and plenty of recreation opportunities, the Tennessee River is the lifeblood of the Scenic City, and there’s no better way to experience it than to get out and go paddling. Here’s everything you need to know about getting on the water in Downtown Chattanooga, from access points all the way to post-paddling refreshments.
Getting Your Gear
First thing’s first: If you don’t own a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or canoe, you’re going to need to rent one. Luckily, Chattanooga has several local outfitters that can get you all set up for the day. Located conveniently in Coolidge Park, L2 Outside offers stand-up paddleboard and kayak rentals and an excellent launch point right beneath the Market Street Bridge. Due to the popularity of the location, it’s best to reserve your rental online before your trip. If you prefer a more structured experience, L2 also offers guided sunset tours every Friday and Saturday throughout the summer.
A few miles upriver, Rock/Creek Rentals provides stand-up paddleboard and kayak rentals on a less populated section of the river. From this access point, you can easily paddle into the peaceful waters of South Chickamauga Creek, a quiet tributary of the Tennessee River. Rock/Creek Rentals also offers guided paddling trips each Saturday morning during the summer, and it can make special accommodations, like shuttle service, upon request.
For rental service that comes to you, book ahead with Chattanooga Paddleboards, which will bring SUPs to the location of your choice. This is a good option if you have a large group looking to get on the water together, and it offers more flexibility than other rental services.
Launching and Paddling
The most popular spot to paddle is where the Tennessee River runs through downtown, giving you access to the surrounding bridges, parks, and city scenery. Accessing the river from Coolidge Park couldn’t be easier, as there’s ample paid parking and a ramp down to the water. From the put-in beneath Market Street Bridge, you can easily make a wide circle around the river and experience many of the top attractions.
By paddling directly across the river from Coolidge Park, you can reach Ross’s Landing, a waterfront amphitheater at the foot of the Tennessee Aquarium. Take in the huge spraying fountain, the fun splash pool, and a glimpse of The Passage, an art installation honoring Cherokee history.
Head upstream from Ross’s Landing to paddle alongside the tall white bluffs that seem to jut skyward out of the river, forming the base of the Bluff View Art District. For the adventurous, these bluffs are a favorite place to practice deep water soloing, which is when rock climbers scale cliffs with no rope and simply plunge into the water when they fall or let go.
From the bluffs, turn and head back toward the middle of the river and take a rest on the beach at Maclellan Island. This forested 18-acre wildlife sanctuary is home to a vast array of animals, and it is the perfect place to stop for a picnic or a swim during your paddling adventure. The island is primitive and offers no amenities, making it a true oasis in the middle of the city.
After you’ve stopped to play on Maclellan, it’s worthwhile to continue paddling upstream to make a full loop around the island, which is fascinating to look at from all angles. On your way back downstream toward Coolidge Park, make sure to look up and admire Chattanooga’s iconic bridges from a unique perspective on the water.
Where to Unwind
When you’re ready to get off the water, retire to one of Chattanooga’s many riverfront bars or restaurants for a well-earned pick-me-up. Scottie’s on the River is one of Chattanooga’s newest waterfront restaurants, and it offers a large menu of upscale seafood and a casual atmosphere. The restaurant looks directly out onto the river, and its large patio and roll-up windows will make you feel like you’re still out on the water. Aside from the delicious food, Scottie’s point of pride is that every cocktail from the bar is at least a double.
Just upriver, you’ll find one of the city’s most unique dining experiences at the 3rd Deck Burger Bar. This classic burger and sandwich restaurant is on a boat—the Southern Belle Riverboat—which allows you to enjoy your meal and drinks from 40 feet above the river. Another all-time Chattanooga favorite is the Boathouse Rotisserie and Raw Bar, which is located on a heavily trafficked section of the Riverwalk. While the menu offers everything from po’boys to fried catfish, the Boathouse is best known for its delicious fresh shucked oysters and an excellent view of the sparkling Tennessee River.