The One With The Tennessee River Side Trip

I have a big secret to share.

I’m terrible at reading a map. I know. Super ironic, right? Assuming I’m not the only one who needs a little review, I wanted to start this post about the Tennessee River side trip by sharing a map. I (roughly) outlined our Loop in red. And then highlighted the Tennessee River in yellow.

As you can see, the Tennessee River runs from Knoxville, TN to Paducah, KY. However, only about 217 miles of the river are actually ON the Loop. That makes the other 435 miles of the river an official “side trip.”

In my last post, The One With The Vol Navy, I mentioned that our main motivation for backtracking from Fort Myers and doing this side trip was the opportunity to be in Knoxville for some home football games. The huge bonus to our adventure was getting to experience so many awesome stops along the way!

Recently our family was asked to share highlights, tips and information about the Tennessee River side trip at the AGLCA Fall Conference.

Originally I thought we got a pretty easy topic. Some of the other presentations covered a thousand miles or more. Or all of the Bahamas. The Tennessee River seemed simple in comparison. But then we started putting our presentation together. Over and over we had to remind ourselves, we only have an hour!

Slowly we narrowed our highlights down to 4 major stops, and about 10 can’t-miss destinations. For the conference, I put the presentation together in the order that made sense in my head. Unfortunately, we learned quickly that it didn’t make sense to anyone else.

Brent swears he will never let the girl who is terrible reading maps put together a geographical presentation ever again! Thankfully, he saved me by sending out his detailed spreadsheet that included all the river mile markers.

This post would be insanely long if I shared everything, but here are a few highlight from our summer on the most beautiful river in the world:

Mile 217 The Waterfall Anchorage: This will forever be one of our favorite spots! We have incredible memories of anchoring here with our buddy boats the year we did the Loop. And, again, this summer it’s been our favorite place to spend time.

Mile 256 Florence, AL: There is no shortage of amazing places to see in this town. We visited Muscle Shoals Recording Studio, Helen Keller’s birthplace, and a really cool restaurant in a cave (The Rattlesnake Saloon.)

Mile 334 Huntsville, AL: There’s really only one marina in Huntsville, Ditto Landing. Surprisingly, this was our family’s first time in Huntsville. All of us were extremely impressed with the US Space and Rocket Center. One cool thing to note when boating through the area is that you can actually see the rockets from the water.

Mile 378 Goose Pond: This stop is talked about for 2 reasons: the channel into the marina and a infamous store down the road. Entering the channel you’re asked to turn off your depth finder and trust the dockmaster. You drive through what kind of looks like land, but it’s really just very tall grasses. And the reason most people do this is to visit the Unclaimed Baggage Store.

Mile 464 Chattanooga: Entering this city you boat through a massive gorge. Many boaters refer to this as the Grand Canyon of the East. It’s incredible to see the towering rock on either side of your boat as you make your way into the city. Chattanooga has several city docks (we like the Bluffs one) that make accessing downtown very convenient.

It is very common for Loopers to turn around at this point on the river; However, some of the best boating is yet to come!

Mile 487 Shady Grove: This was a special stop for our family for several reasons. We were greeted with the most incredible southern hospitality. We also filled our boat with the most affordable diesel that we pumped all summer. And, finally, Miller ate his weight in ice cream. His cuteness paid off and every time we turned around he had more ice cream in his hand.

Mile 603 Little Tennessee River: Here we took a side trip, on our side trip. The Little Tennessee River is navigable for about 30 miles and it truly takes you right up to the base of Smoky Mountain National Park. The water coming off the mountains is freezing, but it’s also crystal clear. We took the opportunity to visit Fort Loudoun too and loved learning a little more about the history of the area.

Mile 647 Knoxville: I highlighted this stop in my last post, The One With The Vol Navy. This isn’t just a stop for Vol fans, although I don’t recommend visiting on the day of a home football game unless you are prepared for the crazy.

Mile 652 Headwaters of the Tennessee: This is technically the start of the Tennessee River where the French Broad and the Holston come together. As a Looper, if you started on the river in Paducah, KY then boating to this point will be a completion of this river.

Of course what’s not mentioned yet is the incredible anchorages found all along this route.

We did our best to test out as many of them as possible. Some summer nights we even worked a full day from one anchorage, only to pull anchor and move 5 or 6 miles to a different one. I will share, several items made our time on the Tennessee River extra good: our paddleboard, a long line to tie to land from our stern in several tight anchorages, Starlink, fun floats, and our Battle Born lithium battery setup.

Admittedly, I really didn’t love the rivers when we came down them on our Loop. But I am beyond thankful we chose this adventure on the Tennessee this summer/fall! The memories we’ve made are priceless!

As always, thanks for keeping up with our family. You may also enjoy reading:

A Guide To Attending The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The One About Our Lithium Batteries

The One Where I Admit I Was Wrong

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  1. Harvey Alligood on February 24, 2024 at 9:06 pm

    Grateful you shared your journey and would greatly appreciate any all of Brent’s spreadsheets to review and gain practical insight to our future loop dream adventure. Thank you!

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