Over the months Tom and I have been in Chattanooga, we have taken several opportunities to explore The Grand Canyon of Tennessee: The Tennessee River Gorge. The Tennessee River Gorge is a 26 mile stretch of the river cut into the Cumberland Plateau as it winds from Tennessee into Alabama.
Prior to the completion of Hales Bar Dam in 1913, the Gorge was a deep and treacherous part of the river that made it almost impossible to navigate. Here is a map, taken from the Wikipedia Web page that shows the obstacles in the river. After the Hales Bar, and subsequent dams, were built, the river was deeper and more navigable.
Once the first dam was built, the land along the river became prime real estate, with many wealthy people buying land to build houses on the bluffs above the river. Alarmed that this beautiful natural area would be destroyed, the Tennessee River Gorge Trust was founded in 1981 to purchase land and return it to its pristine condition to be enjoyed by all. The Gorge has 27,000 acres and 17,000 of those acres have been set aside for preservation by the Trust.
We saw the Gorge in two different ways. We rode the Tennessee River Gorge Explorer, a catamaran speedboat with a naturalist guide. The Explorer is part of the Tennessee Aquarium and tickets are purchased through them. You ride from downtown Chattanooga about halfway into the gorge on this two-hour cruise. This was a beautiful and easy way to see the Tennessee River Gorge. They have tours that go through the whole gorge, but they only do those on weekends and Tom and I were not able to take one of those.
The second way we explored the Grand Canyon of Tennessee was by hiking. The Tennessee River Gorge Trust has a variety of hiking trails along the Trust side of the Gorge. Signal Mountain, which borders the other side of the gorge, also has many hiking trails that let you get up close and personal.
Another way to hike the Grand Canyon of Tennessee is by taking the Cumberland Trail. Tom and I hiked part of the trail but were not able to do the whole thing. When it is finished, the Cumberland Trail will be more than 300 miles. Right now there are sections in the Tennessee River Gorge that are completed and good for hiking – with plenty of ups and downs! The Cumberland Trail starts at the Signal Point section of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
The Grand Canyon of Tennessee: The Tennessee River Gorge is a gorgeous and challenging place to explore. But it is also next to Chattanooga, so after a hard day of exploring, there are plenty of good restaurants where you can refuel.