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For a look at some of Tennessee’s most beautiful landscapes, take a drive along Highway 64 east of Chattanooga. You’ll cruise through the scenic Cherokee National Forest, alongside the churning Ocoee River and through the badlands of the Copper Basin.
From Chattanooga, take Interstate 75 north toward Cleveland and then take Highway 64 east to the Georgia border (take the bypass around Cleveland). From outside the town of Ocoee, Highway 64 runs east through 24 miles of the Cherokee National Forest alongside the Ocoee River.
The river, which hosted the 1996 Olympic Whitewater Competition, lures daring paddlers to one of the premier white-water runs in the country. A series of Class III and IV rapids with nicknames like “Broken Nose,” “Diamond Splitter,” “Tablesaw” and “Hell Hole” hints at the river’s reputation as one of the Southeast’s greatest white-water runs. The acclaimed white water lies between two dams built and managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for hydroelectric power. The TVA can dry up or “turn on” the white water as easily as turning a spigot.
Two dozen outfitters around Ocoee lead guided rafting expeditions downriver for half- or full-day excursions; try Nantahala Outdoor Center, Ocoee Outdoors or Southeastern Expeditions. Connect with the outdoors in a more laid-back fashion at the Parksville Lake Recreation Area, which is 11 miles from Ocoee off Highway 64. The park offers a nice spot for picnics, boating or camping in stands of pine and dogwood trees. Enjoy a few leisurely hours here before continuing on to the Copper Basin.
Between Ducktown and Copperhill at the Georgia border, the Copper Basin gets its name from the copper mines that flourished here in the 1800s. Unfortunately, the industry clear-cut the forest and generated copper sulfide fumes that devastated what was then left of the local environment, creating a stark desert out of the once-lush forested terrain. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was sent in to restore the area; and after five forgiving decades and active land reclamation, the Copper Basin is beginning to recover.
The Ducktown Basin Museum, 1/4 mile north of Highway 64 on Highway 68, tells the story of the copper industry. The remains of the town’s first copper mine are nearby, as are the towns of Copperhill, Tennessee, and McCaysville, Georgia - both of which have historic districts worth a visit. From downtown Copperhill, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, an antique locomotive with a red caboose, takes passengers to Blue Ridge, Georgia. There are several restaurants and caf_s right across the street from the depot.