Popular for fishing, boating and swimming, the Chickamauga Reservoir was named for a band of American Indians that split from the Cherokee Nation in the 1700s. Several species of bass will entice fisherman to hit the lake early, and the backwaters of North Chickamauga Creek will have canoeists ready with paddles in hand. Hikers and spring wildflower enthusiasts can also enjoy the lake with a trip to Big Ridge Small Wild Area, a 200-acre hardwood forest situated north of Chickamauga Dam. The area can be viewed from an easy 1.3 mile loop trail.
Watts Bar Lake
Sprawling 38,000 acres above Watts Bar Dam, this lake boasts one of the best sport fisheries for rockfish and bass in the state. Popular for camping, boating, fishing and swimming, Watts Bar Lake even provides land-loving visitors with a panoramic view of the reservoir and surrounding countryside via a scenic overlook near the dam.
The Cumberland Trail is part of the Tennessee section of the Great Eastern Trail Association project, which was instrumental in creating the nation's newest long-distance trail from Alabama to New York. Near the county seat of Dayton is the Laurel-Snow segment of the trail. Nine miles long, a day-hiker can easily access the two breathtaking waterfalls bearing the segment's namesake. Spring City is home to the 10-mile Piney River segment of the trail and boasts two suspension bridges and beautiful hardwood forests. The Stinging Fork segment of the Cumberland Trail also begins in Spring City and gives hikers views of scenic waterfalls and fantastic vistas within a 3-mile trek.
Native American Trail
Congress in 1987 designated the Trail of Tears as a National Historic Trail. In southeastern Tennessee, an area of 10 counties, including Rhea, had been continuously inhabited by the native Cherokee for thousands of years. From downtown Dayton, visitors following the historic trail can access the river site of the first detachment of emigrating Cherokees under the supervision of Principal Chief John Ross.
Civil War Trail
Visitors to Rhea County can follow Tennessee's Civil War trail to explore two of the counties best-known Civil War sites. One of the few pro-Confederate counties in the region, Rhea County produced the war's only all-girl cavalry unit, the Rhea County Spartans. Located just south of Dayton near the Historic Buttram Cemetery, this all-girl Confederate cavalry unit was arrested at the crossroads in 1865 during the final weeks of the war only to be pardoned upon arriving in nearby Chattanooga. Also nearby, history buffs can visit Washington's Ferry, an important crossing for federal troops during occupation of the region from 1863 to 1865.