Talk to anyone about Tennessee and the conversation will usually boil down to a back -and- forth about music or barbeque. Well, we're here to tell you that boating should be added to the mix. A grand confluence of mighty rivers and sun-drenched lakes deliver on-board opportunities to all corners of the Volunteer State, with the quality of fishing and cruising rivaling anywhere in the Midwest.
Not only has this scenic city tucked between the mountains of southeast Tennessee and the beautiful Tennessee River been named Best Town Ever by Outside magazine, it's also been voted one of the Top 45 Places to Go and Best Adventure Towns in the U.S. by the New York Times and National Geographic Adventure, respectively. The heaping of praise is a little embarrassing, really, but you won't hear us disagree.
YOU CAN't MISS the Riverwalk, part of Chattanooga's redeveloped waterfront, which connects Coolidge Park, the celebrated Tennessee Aquarium and Ross' Landing near Chickamauga Dam. Hop aboard the aquarium's River Gorge Explorer catamaran, which will take you on a guided tour of the spectacular Tennessee River Gorge, or ride the Chattanooga Water Taxi to Maclellan Island, an 18-acre bird sanctuary with great blue herons and migrating warblers.
TIE UP AT one of the marinas on either side of the Chickamauga Dam, both easy distance to downtown. MarineMax Tennessee River at Ross' Landing (423-266-1316, marinemaxtennesseeriver.com) has a transient dock, gas and diesel, restrooms, groceries and lodging. Erwin Marine operates Chickamauga Marina (423-622-1978, chickamaugamarina.com), off the main channel in an embayment just upstream of the dock, with showers, a store and other services for visiting cruisers.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR for RiverRocks, a free outdoor festival celebrating the natural blessings of the Tennessee Valley, the health benefits of the activities they inspire, and Chattanooga's commitment to environmental stewardship. It's from October 4 to 13 this year, with more than 120 activities such as hot air balloon rides, hang gliding, climbing and obstacle courses.
VISIT NEARBY Lake Winnepesaukah, an amusement park located in Lakeview, GA. Its new, five-acre waterpark has a lazy river, wave lagoon, flume body slides, enclosed tube slides and a splash park for toddlers.
This northeast Tennessee town made a splash as host of the 1982 World's Fair, and World's Fair Park remains a major crowd- pleaser but Knoxville was a draw long before that. The surrounding peaks provided attractive minerals and timber, which lured early entrepreneurs. Today, these same resources bring visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Knoxville is also home to the University of Tennessee and its formidable Volunteer Navy, but more on that later.
YOU CAN't MISS Volunteer Landing, a one-mile promenade scattered with waterfalls and fountains, historical markers and three restaurants. It's also the location of the Star of Knoxville riverboat, offering lunch, dinner and specialty cruises, and the Three Rivers Rambler Railroad, providing train rides along the Tennessee River. Downtown is within walking distance: Take in the 18th century Blount Mansion, Knoxville Museum of Art, World's Fair Sunsphere and Market Square, offering an eclectic blend of open-air dining and entertainment.
TIE UP AT Volunteer Landing Marina (865-633-5004, themarinas.net) to be right in the middle of the action. It carries gas and diesel, and is equipped with electric and water hook-ups, transient slips, pump-out, a store and more.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR for college football season, because there's nothing else like catching a home game with the Vol Navy. Neyland Stadium is one of only two college arenas that are directly accessible by boat (the other is the University of Washington) and up to 200 boats and their pigskin-crazed passengers turn out to tailgate here before and after games.
VISIT NEARBY Lake Tellico, about 30 miles southwest of Knoxville. An extension of Fort Loudon Lake, it establishes a navigational waterway up the Little Tennessee River and creates the potential for non-stop cruising. The lake consists of 373 miles of shoreline and features a number of premier golf courses and resorts.
Unlike its country neighbor to the north we're talking to you, Nashville this southwest Tennessee city has a rock n' roll heart. Its history is defined by the Mississippi River and the soulful culture that developed along its banks as a result of countless travelers. Today, Memphis radiates a mojo that's part old school blues, part New South allure and 100 percent all its own.
YOU CAN't MISS Beale Street Landing, at the foot of the one-and-only street of the same name. The landing is taking shape along the Mississippi as part of the city's riverfront development project, which will connect Tom Lee Park, Cobblestone Landing, a river overlook and pathways for joggers, walkers and cyclists. It will also serve as a docking facility for local and visiting excursion vessels, including the show-stopping American Queen.
TIE UP AT Mud Island Marina (901-525-3808, memphisyachtclub.com) about 1,500 feet up the Wolf River close to downtown Memphis, offering accommodations for vessels up to 135 feet, gas and diesel, pump-out, restrooms with showers, WiFi, a store and restaurant.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR for Elvis Week, running from August 9 to 17 this year, with special tours, concerts, panel discussions, dances and more. The cornerstone events are the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest and the Candlelight Vigil, which brings tens of thousands to the meditation garden in Graceland.
VISIT NEARBY Mud Island, actually a peninsula, just a little removed from downtown. The naturally stunning park is accessible by the Memphis Suspension Railway (a monorail), by foot (via a footbridge on top of the monorail) or by ferry, and is home to a river museum, scale model of the Lower Mississippi, amphitheater, and canoe, kayak and mountain bike rentals.
Country music put Nashville on the map, but it's not this northwestern Tennessee city's only talent. A wide assortment of attractions paint a different picture of this destination from what you might expect stately southern mansions, exciting outdoor activities, inviting museums, galleries and performing arts institutions. But, of course, if country music is your thing, Music City will not disappoint.
YOU CAN't MISS Riverfront Park, which connects the Cumberland River with the city's bustling downtown area. The Nashville waterfront is wrapping up a decade-long restructure and expansion project, and the park reaps the benefits with increased green space, boardwalks, overlooks and plazas. In addition, new docking facilities for the General Jackson showboat mean its daytime country music shows and elegant three-course dinner cruises are here to stay.
TIE UP AT the Nashville Municipal Dock (615-862-8472) in the shadow of the Shelby Avenue Bridge, which ties the Coliseum side of the Cumberland River with downtown. There's electric and water on the west bank dock, electric only on the east bank.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR for August 23 and 24, when Nashville is set to host the Music City Festival & BBQ Championship, combining music and a barbeque cook-off. Attend the delightfully tacky Swine Ball, where pig noses are encouraged, enter the hog calling contest and check out the music on the Grand Ol' Porker Stage.
VISIT NEARBY J. Percy Priest Lake, 10 miles east of downtown Nashville. Measuring 42 miles long, this body of water is well known for its fabulous fishing (bass, crappie, catfish, bluegill, trout) and also for Nashville Shores, a waterpark with a 310-slip marina, mini golf, campsites and lake-view cabins.