Monday, June 5, 2017

Cruising the Tennessee River!

At the beginning of Laurie’s sister’s visit here in East Tennessee, they’d decided that they wanted to go on a river cruise after we picked them up after their arrival at Chattanooga’s airport.

So after viewing the river, bridges and downtown area from Art Bluff and from the premises of the Hunter Museum of American Art, we were off to Chattanooga’s riverfront for our river cruise. 

FYI…Our river cruise didn’t involve either of the boats/ships shown above!

We’d offered a number of other sightseeing options to Bonnie and Karole.  These included: The Hunter Museum of American Art; the top notch Tennessee Aquarium, and; the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park with Lookout Mountain.  The beautiful weather cinched the deal…

This smaller boat was the one we chose for our Tennessee River Gorge Tour.  The “River Gorge Explorer” is an adjunct attraction of and it belongs to the Tennessee Aquarium.  The Aquarium needed a boat that could accomplish in 2 hours what a normal boat would take 4+ hours to do.  This high tech catamaran is powered by 4 water jets and she cruises comfortably at about 50 miles per hour.

The 65 foot long River Gorge Explorer was designed by an engineer from New Zealand and it was built in 2008 by All American Marine based in Bellingham Washington.  She will carry up to 70 passengers in a climate controlled cabin.   

As tour guide and chauffeur, I took responsibility for taking photos of the three sisters.  In this instance, they were waiting to board the River Gorge Explorer.  From the left…we have Karole, Laurie and Bonnie.
The riverboats and the Chattanooga Aquarium are located in Ross’s Landing Park along the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga.  Ross's Landing is the site of the original settlement of Chattanooga and it is also considered to be the embarkation point of the Cherokee “removal” on the Trail of Tears.  The landing was named for John Ross, later a principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.  In 1816 Ross had settled at the site along the Tennessee River above Chattanooga Creek.  There he established a trading post on the northern border of the Cherokee Nation, across the river from the United States of America.  Ross’s Landing is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This photo from our pier shows the Chattanooga Aquarium along the riverfront.  It was a terrific aquarium when we visited it years ago and it has expanded and improved since then.  It’s on Laurie’s and my list of important things to do in Chattanooga!

To learn about this Aquarium, you can go to or to  

Another option for a riverboat cruise on the Tennessee River is the Southern Belle.  The Southern Belle was built in 1985 only 20 miles downriver where she is now based.  Quite a variety of cruises are offered on the Belle.  They range from sightseeing, lunch and dinner options to special charters and special cruises such as for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter.  The Southern Belle has a maximum capacity of about 500 passengers.   For information about cruises on the Southern Belle, check out Pier 2 @ The Landing…listed just 2 photos down from here.

Yet another Tennessee River cruise option is the Chattanooga Ducks.  The designation of DUKW is not a military pun.  The name comes from the terminology used for military vehicles in World War II.  The D indicates a vehicle designed in 1942, the U meant “utility (amphibious)”, the K indicated all-wheel drive and the W indicated two powered rear axles.

During WWII DUKW’s (aka ‘Ducks) were used for the transportation of goods and troops over land and water.  They excelled at approaching and crossing beaches in amphibious warfare attacks.  Over 21,000 “Ducks” were built between 1942 and 1945.  Many survivors, like this one, are still in use primarily as tourist transport in harbor and river cities.  The river was up after recent rains and this Duck’s progress upriver was slow…

Part of the fun of a “Duck” tour is the fact that they can start on land and drive to the water for a tour.  For more information about Chattanooga Ducks, go to

This large 'boat' is not really a river boat!  Pier 2 @ the Landing was purchased in June of 2006 and brought to Chattooga from a scrap yard right outside of St. Louis, Missouri where it was almost ready to be scrapped for metal.

This casino barge/boat was once known as the President and it was docked in Louisiana…eventually making its way to Davenport Iowa where after christening in 1992, it once again operated as a casino.

This former casino barge now serves as a pier for the Southern Belle riverboat.  After being reconditioned and renovated in New Hope Tennessee it is now available as an event center.  The 3rd Deck Burger Bar, a gift shop and the banquet/Chandelier deck provide visitors and guests with a unique view of the city and the river. 

To learn more about the Southern Belle Riverboat and Pier 2 @ the Landing (event center), just go to

Although it’s beautiful, the Tennessee River Gorge is not a wild and lonely place!  All along the river through the gorge one can view homes that vary from castle-like structures like this one high on the bluff all the way down to small homes and cottages on the river itself.

In reality, this stretch of the Tennessee River along the Gorge all the way upriver to the Chickamauga Dam, is part of Nickajack Lake/containment reservoir which was formed by Nickajack Dam in 1968 when it replaced its predecessor, the old and leaky Hales Bar Dam.

We saw several Osprey nests along the river as well as a couple of Osprey that were looking for fish.  Osprey tolerates a wide variety of habitats, nesting in any location near a body of water that can provide an adequate food supply.  I didn’t realize that the Osprey is found on all continents except Antarctica, although in South America it occurs only as a non-breeding migrant.

The Tennessee River Gorge is a 26-mile (only 8 miles as the crow flies) canyon formed by the Tennessee River.  The Gorge is the fourth largest river gorge in the Eastern United States.  It is cut into the Cumberland Plateau as the river winds its way into Alabama from Tennessee.  The Tennessee River Gorge is home to a variety of endangered species and many archaeological sites have been discovered as well.  People have been dwelling in the canyon for at least 10,000 years.

Prior to the completion of Hales Bar Dam in 1913 and the subsequent raising of the water-level, the stretch of the Tennessee River flowing through the Gorge was notorious for its navigational hazards, whirlpools, eddies, shoals, and one huge rock.  To learn more, go to

Here and there closer to Chattanooga, there is a bit of industry on the river.  These companies…handling bulk items such as scrap metal, gravel quarries and the like, they ship much of their product via river barges.

Using the Tennessee River as a starting point, commercial traffic and pleasure boaters alike can reach such widespread ports as Pittsburgh, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Mobile, St. Louis, Kansas City and New Orleans.  The Great Lakes and the North Atlantic Ocean (via the St. Lawrence Seaway) as well as the Gulf of Mexico are all accessible via a network of inland waterways.  

What the heck!  It was a beautiful day so why not spend it on a rock in the sunshine watching the Tennessee River with its boat traffic roll by…

FYI…To get to the Tennessee River Gorge, the River Gorge Explorer would accelerate to about 50 miles per hour slowing down whenever passing other river traffic or industrial areas and then re-accelerating.  The fun came whenever the boat decelerated!  From 50 mph to stop in a hurry causes a big splash.  Passengers ride in the cabin while the boat is getting to the gorge and then once it slows down, almost everyone goes outdoors on the upper deck to sightsee and take photos… At high speeds the ride is smoother than in a car on an expressway.

Laurie took this photo of her sisters Bonnie and Karole with yours truly on the upper deck of the River Gorge Explorer. 

More wildlife!  It’s a Blue Heron and a turtle getting some sun along the riverbank. 

Despite the occasional ‘castle’ along the Gorge, much of this land has now been protected.  The Tennessee River Gorge Trust was founded in 1981 and incorporated in 1986.  Ongoing development in the mountains bordering Chattanooga and the Gorge had people worried.  Since then, through the cooperation of landowners, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the State of Tennessee and the local community, the trust has been able to protect more than 17,000 of the 27,000 acres in the Gorge.

To learn more about the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, go to

Not all the homes along the river through the gorge are castles.  Many are more modest but all of them have a great view in a great setting!

Here and there along the gorge, creeks and small streams enter the Tennessee River.  One of them, Suck Creek, (I didn’t make that up!), created a whirlpool in the early days that was simply called “The Suck”.  Other hazards in the gorge were called “The Frying Pan”, “The Pot”, “The Kettle”, “Suck Shoals”, “Holston Rock” and “Tumbling Shoals”.

All in all the Tennessee River Gorge is a beautiful place.  It must be especially spectacular in the fall season when the leaves change colors. 

FYI… Our tour of the gorge was skillfully narrated with videos, maps and photos used to highlight the information discussed.  We heard about shipping on the river, the gorge’s geologic history, it’s wildlife, how the gorge was created, Native Americans in the gorge as well as a bit about the Civil War battles fought in the area. 

We only saw one river towboat in action during our cruise.  As we neared our pier at the end of our tour, the “Stan Humpreys” pushed on down river.  This tow boat is 110 feet long and it is one of 22 towboats operated by the Magnolia Marine Transport Company in Jackson Mississippi.  The Stan Humphreys’ home port is New Orleans.  Magnolia Marine specializes in the transportation of asphalt, crude oil, process oils, fuel oil and additional products on the Mississippi River and on the intra-coastal waterways of the Gulf of Mexico.

Well…That’s about it for our Tennessee River Cruise.  We had a great time!  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for the tour!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. I've wanted to see the gorge from the river

  2. Beautiful photos, Dave, and it looks like a great time had by all! Osprey nests! Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this lovely tour!

  3. Amazing that I have lived in this area for so long and have never taken any of the river tours in Chattanooga... It's a neat little city --and we need to go there more often...

    We have taken the Nashville Boat Tour a few times on special occasions (sunset cruise, dinner, musical).... NICE.


  4. Love the original names of all those hazards! We really like Chattanooga, but have never taken a riverboat tour. The gorge must be a great sight from the river. And all the houses look great because of their river views. We've taken a lot of riverboat tours and really enjoy them. Looks like we need to visit TN soon! Thanks for sharing, great photos, Dave!

  5. Hi David how are doing? Are happy to be together all the sisters ??
    The pictures are beautiful and I love the boat, lovely!