There are so many things to love about the state of Tennessee. It's the home of The Grand Ole Opry, Graceland, the Smokey Mountains, the Dollywood theme park, and more. But did you know it's also home to its own Grand Canyon?
That's right. Some of you may know that outside of Arizona, there is a Grand Canyon of the Pacific and Grand Canyon of the South, but the Tennessee River Gorge is Tennessee's Grand Canyon. Known locally as "Cash Canyon," the 26-mile gorge through the Cumberland Mountains is in the top 5 longest river gorges in the country. The Cumberland Plateau was created over time as the water from the Tennessee River passed through from Tennessee into Alabama. Archaeologists have even discovered that there were potentially people living in the gorge up to 10,000 years ago through charcoal drawings that were found on cave walls.
The Tennessee River Gorge Trust was founded in 1981 to preserve 17,000 of the 27,000 acres of land through the gorge as well as the endangered species that live in the area (like the mountain skullcap flower). They also provide educational programs in the Chattanooga area. According to their website, there are some hazardous parts on the river. Early settlers in the area referred to them as "the Suck, the Boiling Pot, the Skillet, and the Pan," which all seem like self-explanatory names. But that hasn't stopped the gorge from becoming a popular spot for outdoor activities and visitors.
The Tennessee Aquarium even offers a boat tour that will take you along 24 miles of the Tennessee River through the gorge, where you'll witness all kinds of wildlife like cranes and bald eagles. This area of the river was designated the Tennessee River Blueway in 2002 and runs from Chickamauga Dam to Nickajack Dam.
Prentice Cooper State Forest is situated along the river and offers 35 miles of hiking trails, Davis Pond and Hunter's Check Station campsites, and even seasonal turkey hunts.
Snooper's Rock is a lookout point with an easy 30-minute hike that gives you the fastest way to overlook the views of the river canyon. If you're looking for something a bit more challenging, consider Pot Point Loop for an 11.2-mile hike that loops you through the Prentice Cooper Wildlife area for an elevation over 1,300 feet.
If you're looking for a great camping location just outside of downtown Chattanooga, consider Raccoon Mountain Caverns and Campgrounds, where you'll get views of Lookout Mountain and Raccoon Mountain.
This article was originally published in 2020.