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Chickamauga Reservoir and playground area

Chock-full of Fun

Chickamauga Reservoir Prime for Recreation

Children shouted with excitement. Sunbeams reflected off splashing water. A wisp of smoke rose off a grill where a family cooked burgers and hot dogs.

These were the telltale signs of a perfect sunny afternoon at Chickamauga Reservoir, near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Ask residents of the Valley region and they’ll confirm it – Chickamauga is a prime reservoir for swimming, fishing, picnicking and family fun.

Here are five ways to make for an unforgettable day at the reservoir:

A woman sketching at Chickamauga Reservoir beach

Soak up the Sun

From May to October, swimming is far and away one of the more popular activities at Chickamauga Reservoir. With a roped-off swimming area of about 1 acre, there’s plenty of room for visitors to enjoy a dip.

At Chickamauga and all TVA reservoirs, swimmers should follow the rules and guidelines that are designed to keep them safe.

For those who don’t want to get wet, onshore fun awaits. Visitors can bring lawn chairs, blankets or towels to set up a relaxing spot on the grassy beach.

Behnaz Oskoui-Vlahos, who moved to Tennessee from northern Germany, spent an afternoon working on a landscape drawing along a grassy swath of Chickamauga’s shoreline.

“It’s so beautiful here,” she said. “This lake is amazing.”

Paddleboarders exploring near downtown Chattanooga

Gather the Family

After swimming, stroll over to one of the many picnic tables to cook a hot meal on a grill, or just bring along a home-prepped meal for a quick and quiet lunch break.

When the reservoir water is cooler, greenspaces allow for a nice alternative to swimming.

The area features a pavilion available free to the public, making it a perfect location for family and friends to gather for birthday parties and special events.

“I love to have a picnic here,” Kate Hixon, a Lookout Mountain, Georgia, native said on a recent visit. “It’s not far from home and we love getting to spend time outdoors.”

The reservoir is a short hop from downtown Chattanooga, where there’s no shortage of top-notch restaurants, shops, museums and cultural sites.

Every Saturday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the city hosts a free summer concert series, Riverfront Nights, at Ross’s Landing.

A map and informational sign at Chickamauga Reservoir

Connect to Nature

If walking or biking is your idea of the perfect day, look no further than Chickamauga’s day-use area.

It features a walking trail that stretches from the dam’s headwater side to the tailwater side, and it provides convenient access to restrooms, parking, fishing and the Tennessee River Park.

“This trail provides great connectivity,” Jimmy Lemmond, TVA West recreation manager, said. “It connects TVA’s recreational assets to the city of Chattanooga’s.”

For those with an affinity for exploration, there are 200 acres of mature upland hardwood forest in the Big Ridge Small Wild Area, which also features a moderate 1.3-mile loop. Springtime visitors can enjoy the sight of wildflowers such as bloodroot, toothwort, larkspur, trillium and mayapple.

The city of Chattanooga also maintains a host of public parks throughout its downtown and surrounding areas.

Looking for a more high-octane thrill? A short drive east of Chickamauga will take you to the Ocoee River and all its whitewater glory.

Chickamauga boat ramp

Life on the Water

If you’re looking to feel the wind in your hair or you just want to spend some quality time with fishing buddies, nothing beats a day of boating on Chickamauga Reservoir.

The renovated Taylor boat ramp provides an easy entry point to the reservoir, and it’s conveniently located next to the restrooms.

Once on the reservoir, boaters can explore more than 36,000 acres of water surface. And the fishing won’t disappoint – Chickamauga Reservoir is ranked among the best bass-fishing locations in the Southeast.

For visitors in late autumn, Chattanooga’s stretch of the Tennessee River also plays host to the Head of the Hooch Regatta, one of the biggest rowing events in the world. 

A family playing at Chickamauga Reservoir's playground area

Accessible and Adaptable

After enjoying a dip in the water, Chickamauga’s youngest visitors can spend an afternoon of fun at the playground. It’s ADA accessible and it's one of the few playgrounds featured in TVA’s day-use areas.

After Phillip Mansueto and his daughters, Luca and Rosalia, visited the reservoir for swimming, they capped off their visit by heading straight to the playground, one of their favorite features.

They spent the day exploring play areas, an obstacle course, slides and rock sculptures.

TVA added the playground a few years ago, with ADA accessibility top of mind. It’s part of the enterprise’s long-term effort to remove barriers to ensure everyone can access outdoor recreation.

“We really make sure we’re doing everything possible to make (these features) accessible to the largest amount of folks,” said Clay Guerry, TVA’s senior recreation strategy specialist.

While that often means ensuring ADA accessibility, it also involves creation of trails or recreational amenities classified as adaptive, Guerry said.

Adaptive features provide recreational opportunities to people of varying abilities, ensuring they can enjoy their preferred level of adventure and challenge. Someone using a hand-powered mountain bike, for example, may still want to ride on unpaved trails and steep terrain. An adaptive trail offers that.

“The Valley region remains one of the best places in the nation to live, work and play,” Guerry said. “At Chickamauga and the many other incredible sites throughout TVA’s seven-state service area, we work hard to ensure our land and water resources are available for everyone to enjoy.”

Chickamauga Dam

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Learn about places to swim, fish, birdwatch and more at TVA's Recreation page.

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American lotus

Clever Casting 

Anglers who’d like to sharpen their knowledge and techniques can explore TVA’s aquatic plant ID guide, which provides useful insights on aquatic plant locations and growing periods.

Clicking on a plant name – American lotus, for example – prompts a page that highlights seasonal techniques to help land the perfect catch near that particular plant. A summer tip for fishing near the American lotus: “The formation of large leaves is the perfect opportunity to dissect large holes between leaves. An open understory can hold monster bass awaiting a meal.”