Downtown Chattanooga aboard River Boats, Catamarans, & Ducks
Chattanooga travel isn’t complete without the Tennessee River. Visitors cruise the downtown waterfront in amphibious vehicles, jet-propelled catamarans, and riverboats.
Whether visitors encounter downtown Chattanooga while strolling across the Walnut Street Bridge or taking a guided cruise, the beautiful Tennessee River that winds its way through the heart of the Scenic City is bound to be a Chattanooga travel highlight. Adventurous guests tour the river on one of the Chattanooga Ducks, a WWII amphibious landing vehicle. Other visitors enjoy a hearty meal on the Southern Belle River Boat. Guests interested in the area’s history and abundant wildlife book tours on the Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer or the Blue Moon.
Chattanooga Travel and Duck Tours
Families board a renovated WWII amphibious landing vehicle for a tour that begins on the streets of downtown Chattanooga. Suddenly, their Duck speeds down a ramp straight toward the Tennessee River, and with a splash, the bus becomes a boat. Guides detail the history and point out wildlife on the Tennessee riverfront as well as MacLellan Island.
Chattanooga Travel and Cruises on the Southern Belle Riverboat
Several times a day, visitors to downtown Chattanooga hear the happy sound of a calliope. The cheerful tunes cause families to pause while enjoying the Aquarium’s plaza, strolling across Walnut Street Bridge, playing in Coolidge Park’s fountain, or hiking along the riverfront and scan the channel for the familiar sight of Chattanooga’s riverboat, the Southern Belle.
The riverboat has become a favorite Chattanooga attraction. Families stream onto the vessel for either of two hour-and-a-half sight-seeing cruises each day. These tours narrate the fascinating history surrounding the river. The Southern Belle also serves a buffet lunch allowing families to catch a bite and see the sights.
The Southern Belle’s prime rib dinner cruises are a great opportunity for families to enjoy a fancier meal and live entertainment on the water. For couples wanting a romantic date on the river, the Southern Belle offers a fabulous meal served on the Pier 2 restaurant and then a moonlight cruise complete with music and dancing.
Tennessee Aquarium and the River Gorge Explorer
In 2008, the Tennessee Aquarium launched a tour allowing families to glimpse the abundant wildlife of the Tennessee River outside the Aquariums two four-story buildings. Guests board a catamaran propelled by water jets to be transported into Tennessee’s Grand Canyon, the 27,000-acre river gorge.
A naturalist from the aquarium is aboard to help guests identify the wide variety of plant and animal life in the gorge. Swimming groups of whitetail deer, wild turkey on William’s Island, circling hawks, nesting osprey, playful river otters, muskrats, and beavers are all commonly spotted from the deck of the River Gorge Explorer.
Guides aboard the River Gorge Explorer give equal attention to the area’s fascinating history. With engaging stories, they narrate the history of the Native American tribes who lived along the river, the early settlers who braved the gorge’s turbulent shoals, and the Civil War battles fought on the Tennessee River’s banks.
To save money, families can purchase combination tickets to visit the Tennessee Aquarium and take a ride on the River Gorge Explorer. Triple combination tickets are available for adding a movie on the ten-story high screen of Chattanooga’s Imax Theater.
Chattanooga Travel and Blue Moon Cruises
March through December the Blue Moon, a 71-foot riverboat, also takes visitors into the heart of the Tennessee River Gorge. Breathtaking natural beauty waits to be explored in this 26,000-acre canyon spanning 26 miles of the Tennessee River. Guides point out great blue herons, kingfishers, hawks, and eagles. Nearly 200 species of birds are native to this Gorge.
Local history and legends are also recounted for guests on the Blue Moon. Visitors travel to one of the 6 known sacred places of the Cherokees, the home to their Maker of Thunder. Guests follow the once perilous path of the first Tennessee settlers. Visitors trace the path of the Cherokee Indians who were forced from their homeland on boats through the gorge. Guests hear of the soldiers who fought along the gorge as the trip takes them near such battle sites as Lookout Mountain, Moccasin Bend, Brown’s Ferry, Kelly’s Ferry, William’s Island, the Haley Trace, and Signal Point. Guests also learn of Chattanooga’s industrial past as they pass by an abandoned coal mine.
From late December to late February, the Blue Moon offers tours of the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. Visitors glimpse some of the 10,000 sandhill cranes that touch down on Hiwassee Island as a stop on their winter migration. Over twenty bald eagles also choose the wildlife refuge as a winter home. One pair has added to their nest for ten years, allowing guests to marvel at the six-foot, one-ton eagle nest.
Visitors who enjoy the breath-taking sights of the Tennessee River will be excited to come ashore for some of the Scenic City’s most popular attractions. Destinations continuing the theme of Chattanooga’s amazing history and natural beauty include the Tennessee Aquarium, Rock City, and downtown Chattanooga.