The Tennessee watershed is one of Georgia’s 14 major watersheds. The Tennessee Valley Divide snakes through North Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. North of that physiographic feature, Georgia creeks, such as Lookout and Chickamauga, and rivers, including the Toccoa, Nottely-Hiawassee, and Little Tennessee, flow north to eventually become part of the Tennessee River. The Tennessee merges with the Ohio, and the Ohio with the Mississippi, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans.
See all of Georgia’s 14 Major Watersheds
The Tennessee Watershed System
The Tennessee River begins above Knoxville, Tennessee, at the junction of the French Broad and Holston rivers. Its tributaries reach throughout the entire Tennessee River Valley and include Georgia’s Lookout Creek, Chickamauga Creek, Toccoa, Nottely-Hiawassee and Little Tennessee rivers. From its beginning, the Tennessee flows 652 miles, including stops at nine dams, through Tennessee, Alabama, Tennessee (again) and Kentucky and merges with the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky. Between Knoxville and Paducah, the Tennessee drops a total of 513 feet in elevation. The nine dams allow river barges and recreational boats to “climb” up and down a “staircase” of quiet pooled water and controlled current – a continuous series of reservoirs that stretches the entire length of the Tennessee River. From Paducah, the Ohio flows into the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. The Mississippi, carrying water from the creeks and rivers of the North Georgia Mountains, then flows south to empty into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans.
How the Tennessee River Got Its Name
Tennessee was the name of a number of Cherokee towns in present-day Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. The meaning of the word is unknown.
Tennessee Watershed Experiences
Listed below are locations where you can see or experience the Tennessee watershed in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Named for its sheer cliffs of dark crystalline rock (biotite gneiss), Black Rock Mountain State Park encompasses some of the most scenic landscape in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. At an altitude of 3,640 feet, it is the highest state park in Georgia. Numerous scenic overlooks provide 80-mile vistas of the southern Appalachians and several hiking trails afford close-up views of wildflowers, streams and forests.
The Tennessee Watershed Connection: Black Rock Mountain State Park is on the Eastern Continental Divide. As a result, rain that falls on the north side of the mountain flows into the Gulf of Mexico and rainfall on the south side of the mountain flows into the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, Black Rock Mountain is a “triple divide,” meaning that rainfall on the mountain flows into each of Rabun County’s three rivers: the Little Tennessee, the Tallulah and the Chattooga. Water flowing into the Little Tennessee River flows north out of Rabun County, through North Carolina and into Tennessee where it merges with the Tennessee River near Lenoir City. From there, the Tennessee River flows south to Chattanooga, west through Alabama, north through Tennessee (again) and into Kentucky where it joins the Ohio River at Paducah. The Ohio flows into the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. From there, the Mississippi runs south to empty into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans. On the south side of the mountain, the Tallulah and Chattooga rivers join to form the Tugaloo River, which, along with South Carolina’s Seneca, is a principal tributary of the Savannah River. The Savannah forms the Georgia-South Carolina border until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean just east of the city of Savannah.
Located on the western edge of Lookout Mountain, Cloudland Canyon is one of the most scenic parks in Georgia with its rugged geology and beautiful vistas. The park straddles a deep gorge cut into the mountain by Sitton Gulch Creek and elevation differs from 800 to 1,980 feet. The most spectacular view into the canyon is found in the picnic area parking lot; however, additional views can be found along the rim trail. Hardy visitors who hike to the bottom of the gorge find two waterfalls cascading over layers of sandstone and shale into pools below.
The Tennessee Watershed Connection: Sitton Gulch Creek and Daniel Creek, both of which flow through the park, channel water from the park’s steep cliffs into Lookout Creek, which flows north to join the Tennessee River near Chattanooga. From Chattanooga the Tennessee flows west through Alabama, north through Tennessee and into Kentucky, where it merges with the Ohio River at Paducah. The Ohio flows into the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. From there, the Mississippi runs south, carrying water from Cloudland Canyon into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans.
One of Georgia’s oldest and most popular state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neels Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. Vogel is particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow and gold leaves. Cottages, campsites and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations.
The Tennessee Watershed Connection: Vogel is at the base of the north side of Blood Mountain. Rainfall on the park flows north into the Tennessee River system and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans via the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Rainfall on the south side of Blood Mountain also reaches the Gulf of Mexico, but via the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers.
Positioned as it is, high above Chattanooga and looking down on the Tennessee River’s twisting Moccasin Bend, Point Park provides one of the Southeast’s great river views. The scenic route to the overlook, Georgia Highway 157 along Lookout Mountain in the northwest corner of Georgia, also provides some dramatic views and surprising insights into Georgia’s river systems. The streams flowing off the west side of Lookout Mountain flow into Lookout Creek, a creek which flows north to merge with the Tennessee River near Chattanooga.
The main attraction at this freshwater aquarium is the Tennessee River from its beginnings in the mountains of Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia to its convergence with the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky and eventual journey to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi. Other major rivers of the world also receive plenty of attention. Visitors may walk through a spectacular 60-foot canyon and two living forests where they can view over 9,000 animals that swim, fly and crawl in natural habitats.
The Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, site of a long-term ecological research program, studies several watersheds, which drain into the Little Tennessee River, for the effects of logging and other forest management practices on water yields and quality. Roadside signs indicate the experimental areas and explain the experiments. Stop at the office to obtain a map of the area before beginning any exploration. The 14-mile driving tour takes approximately one hour. Tours are available for schools and other groups with advance notice. Directions: From Dillard, Georgia, go north on US 441 4.3 miles to Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory sign. Turn left and follow signs 2.9 miles to the parking lot.