July 1 2015
Chattanooga is a city that prides itself on its river. Only a short trip from downtown, the Tennessee River Gorge is one of the most biologically diverse areas of the country. Over 200 bird species call the gorge home, nesting in the 27,000 acres of virtually undisturbed forest. And one of the best ways to see this wonder of nature is by riverboat. Conveniently, there are three options for rolling on the river.
The Tennessee Aquarium built their River Gorge Explorer from the ground up, working with architects, engineers and even the Coast Guard to design a boat that could reach the gorge in half the time as traditional boats. Reaching speeds up to 56 mph, passengers spend most of the travel time in the climate controlled cabin, watching the land zip by through oversized windows. But, when it reaches its destination, people are encouraged to ooo and aaa at the scenery from the observation deck. An aquarium naturalist ensures you don’t miss a thing, pointing out wildlife and history along the way.
There's also the Southern Belle, designed to mimic the luxury riverboats that cruised Chattanooga’s waterways in the 1800s. This triple decker riverboat holds up to 500-passengers, and cruising options abound. Short sightseeing excursions are perfect for a downtown river view (1 ½ hours) while longer journeys venture up the Tennessee River Gorge (only available in October and November as Fall Leaf Cruises). But the most popular options are the dinner cruises, which include a live band, Bingo and door prizes. Dinner cruises run almost every day of the week (barring any special events – check the calendar for details).
Take a ride aboard the Chattanooga Ducks, an authentic WWII amphibious landing craft built specifically for the D-Day invasion. This historic tour (1 hour) takes you through the heart of downtown Chattanooga. Just when you think you've seen it all, the vehicle splashes into the Tennessee River at Ross' Landing for a historical and ecological tour of the river and the Chattanooga Riverfront.
New in 2016: Chattanooga Cycleboats, a 14-passenger vessel, is the newest way to experience the beautiful Tennessee River. The Captains will tell you engaging facts of Chattanooga’s history and the Tennessee River’s ecology. Each cruise lasts one or two hours. Passengers are allowed to bring any food and beverages they would like. There are 10 pedaling stations and a 4-seat bench for those who want to relax. Ticketing, loading, and unloading is at Ross’s Landing Pier.
No matter how you choose to navigate a Chattanooga riverboat vacation, chances are you’ll be singing its praises for years to come.