The Sequatchie River winds 116 miles through the Sequatchie Valley before emptying into the Tennessee River near the Alabama line. Throughout time, the river has played a major role in the cultural and natural history of the Sequatchie Valley. Today, this waterway offers “gentle thrills” for paddlers, and the chance to enjoy the Sequatchie Valley’s breathtaking landscape by water!
HISTORY & ORIGINS
Daniel Smith, who explored the Sequatchie Valley in 1792, made a map on which the Sequatchie River appears as “Crow Creek.” Crow Creek appears in some of the old deeds, as well. According to Sequatchie: A History of the Southern Cumberlands, an ancient Native American trail known as the Sequatchie Trail followed the Sequatchie River to its confluence with the Tennessee River. The trail is said to have split off from the historic Black Fox Trail about 5 miles south of present-day Pikeville, near the former site of ancient villages and mounds.
Two highways generally follow the river all the way through the valley: US–127 from Pikeville to Dunlap and TN–28 from Dunlap to Jasper. Some of the smaller waterways that empty into the river are the Little Sequatchie, Brush Creek, Coops Creek, Hicks Creek and Woodcock Creek.
The Sequatchie River originates from a spring known as the Head of the Sequatchie, located at Cumberland Trail State Park, just north of Pikeville. But the mystery is in the river’s origin. Although it gushes from the spring, the source of that water has been studied and debated for years. Nearby, Devilstep Hollow Cave preserves nationally significant cave art. It is the only cave in the southeastern United States that contains mud glyphs, petroglyphs and pictographs.
PADDLING THE SEQUATCHIE RIVER BLUEWAY
A blueway or water trail is a designated water-based recreation route on a navigable waterway (rivers, streams, bays, etc.) that is designed for people using kayaks, canoes, rowboats and stand-up paddleboards. First promoted in the 1960s, blueways have developed across the country to help improve water recreation opportunities for residents and visitors and to provide economic boosts to communities with little investment.
In 2018, the concept of developing the Sequatchie River into a blueway was launched through the support of local governments, local residents and outdoor recreation enthusiasts who hope to improve access and conservation of the river throughout the Sequatchie Valley. The project is on-going; participants are working to help improve public access on the river and decrease trespassing on private property and farms. The group is also hoping to decrease the trash on the river and educate the public about aquatic biodiversity on this special waterway.
A public boat ramp is located under the Hwy 30 bridge near its intersection with Hwy 127 in Pikeville. Pikeville is also working to develop a public river access site along Upper East Valley Road across from the historic Pikeville AME Zion Church.
- Old Mill Dam Outdoor Adventures, based in Pikeville, Tenn., assists with paddling trips and shuttle service on the river. Call Tim Campbell at 423-447-6304 for more information.
A new Sequatchie River Public Access site is located at 751 Old York Highway in Dunlap. The following paddle trips can be coordinated from that location:
- 3 mile paddle trip: Sequatchie River Public Access site on Old York Hwy in Dunlap to the Hwy. 127 Bridge at the intersection of John Burch Rd. and Ridge Rd. in Dunlap (formerly Canoe the Sequatchie). The Pilkington family operated Canoe the Sequatchie for 34 years until closing in 2011. The family allows public access and parking for $3.
- 7 mile paddle trip: Sequatchie River Public Access site on Old York Hwy in Dunlap to Stove Cave Road Bridge.
- 16 mile paddle trip: Sequatchie River Public Access site on Old York Hwy. in Dunlap to the Mt. Calvary Road Bridge near its intersection with Hwy. 28 in Whitwell.
- Contact Willis Farm Kayak & Canoe Rental in Whitwell, Tenn., at 423-827-8765 for information about renting canoes and kayaks.
- 11 mile paddle trip: Mt. Calvary Road Bridge to Ketner’s Mill in Whitwell. However, there is a dangerous low-head dam at Ketner’s Mill that should be avoided at all costs – many people have drowned in the dangerous hydraulics below the dam through the years. After passing under the bridge at Ketner Mill Road, exit on the left side of the river upstream from the mill and low-head dam. From there, you can walk a short distance to a put-in area below the dam.