Waterfalls and Whitewater in Southeast Tennessee

Waterfalls and Whitewater in Southeast Tennessee

Photo credit: Bob Butters, the Nickajack Naturalist

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Southeast Tennessee is simply one big outdoor adventure. Rushing rivers weave through the mountains and valleys within the region, sculpting the forested landscape along the way. This is the place where scenic trails lead hikers to spectacular waterfalls, raging rapids beckon to adventurous kayakers, and gently flowing waters encourage families to grab an inner tube and float the day away.

Whitewater Fun

Perhaps the most famous of rivers in Southeast Tennessee is the Ocoee River, site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater competitions and well-known as one of the premier sport destination rivers in the United States. Whether you’re shooting the rapids along the 5-mile long Olympic whitewater course or through whitewater on the 5-mile middle section, this Ocoee River promises unbeatable thrills — and views to match.

Ocoee Whitewater Center
The Ocoee Whitewater Center in Copperhill, Tenn, is situated alongside the Ocoee River and serves as a visitor center and day use recreation area. 

Guided Ocoee River excursions, which can be scheduled March through October, take you through a beautiful gorge within the Cherokee National Forest. Make a weekend out of it by staying in one of the charming nearby towns, such as ClevelandBentonDucktown and Copperhill.

The U.S. Forest Services offers guided snorkeling excursions for groups of 11 to 25 people on the Hiwassee River Blueway & Conasauga River. 

Take your pick of family-friendly water recreation on the Hiwassee River Blueway, which passes through the Cherokee National Forest and the historic towns of Reliance, Delano, Charleston and Calhoun before emptying into the Tennessee River at Blythe’s Ferry.

The Hiwassee River Blueway offers 55 miles of river adventure in Southeast Tennessee. The upper section of the river flows through the Cherokee National Forest. 

The upper section of the Hiwassee River is designated a State Scenic River and features fast-moving Class I-III whitewater for thrill seekers, while the middle and lower sections offer stretches of flat water ideal for stand-up paddle boarding and motor boating. Outfitters in the area offer raft, funyak and tube rentals each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day (seven days a week) and on Saturdays through October. The Cherokee National Forest also offers guided snorkeling trips for groups by reservation.

Ocoee River Rafting

The Ocoee River, which flows through a beautiful gorge within the Cherokee National Forest, is open for commercial rafting adventures from March through November.  

#1 in the US for whitewater rafting
The Ocoee River River is ranked #1 in the United States for whitewater rafting. Site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater competition.

Located within a short drive of the river, the towns of Benton, Etowah, Athens and Cleveland also offer dining, shopping and overnight stays.

Climb on board a retired vintage passenger train for a ride through the beautiful Hiwassee River Gorge and over the historic Hiwassee Rail Loop on the Hiwassee River Rail Adventure. 

Waterfall Wonder

For those looking to enjoy waterfront beauty with their feet on solid ground, Southeast Tennessee also offers some of the state’s most easily accessible waterfalls, ranging from veils of water plunging over steep bluffs to gently flowing cascades tumbling down rock outcroppings.

A 2.6-mile round-trip hike along a section of the popular Fiery Gizzard Trail within South Cumberland State Park takes you past Bluehole Falls (9 feer) and Black Canyon Cascades. 

Take a hike through Cherokee National Forest in Southeast Tennessee to discover some of its most popular waterfalls, including Benton Falls (65 feet), Gee Creek Falls (12 feet), Coker Creek Falls (45 feet) and Turtletown Falls (30 feet and 40 feet).

Dog at Cherokee National Forest

 A 3.5 mile loop trail within the Cherokee National Forest follows Turtletown Creek and features overlooks of two major waterfalls. 

Fall Creek Falls
Fall Creek Falls State Park, located 18 miles from historic Pikeville Tenn, features one of the tallest waterfalls in the eastern United States, Fall Creek Falls (256 feet).

Or, explore South Cumberland State Park, which consists of 11 distinct sections of park scattered along the gorgeous Cumberland Plateau. You’ll discover an array of hiking trails to choose from, many of which feature waterfalls, panoramic overlooks and scenic rock outcrops. Don’t miss some of the park’s many gorgeous waterfalls, including Foster Falls (60 feet), Sycamore Falls (12 feet) and Bluehole Falls (9 feet); Suter Falls (50 feet) and Horsepound Falls (25 feet); Greeter Falls (50 feet) and Boardtree Falls (30 feet); Laurel Falls (25 feet), Ranger Creek Falls (30 feet) and Savage Falls (30 feet), and more.

Dream up your perfect escape with the Build an Adventure feature on the Southeast Tennessee website, or get even more vacation ideas with the digital visitors guide

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