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.
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.
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 Cleveland, Benton, Ducktown and Copperhill.
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 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.
The Ocoee River, which flows through a beautiful gorge within the Cherokee National Forest, is open for commercial rafting adventures from March through November.
Located within a short drive of the river, the towns of Benton, Etowah, Athens and Cleveland also offer dining, shopping and overnight stays.
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.
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).
A 3.5 mile loop trail within the Cherokee National Forest follows Turtletown Creek and features overlooks of two major waterfalls.
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.