A revitalized riverfront is the springboard for things to do in this picturesque and diverse Southern town. It connects to parks, restaurants, shops and downtown attractions like the nationally recognized Tennessee Aquarium — home to 10,000 animals, an IMAX theater and the River Gorge Explorer excursion boat. Whether you’re a history buff, art lover, foodie or outdoor enthusiast, you can’t go wrong with the amazing combination of man-made and natural treasures here. No wonder Chattanooga has made the must-see lists of Outside magazine, Travel+Leisure, Southern Living and many others. Dock at MarineMax Chattanooga (423-266-1316) or Chickamauga Marina (423-622-8919).
New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s one of our most culturally rich cities, and its boating charms include access to the Intracoastal Waterway, the Mississippi River, and countless backwaters for exceptional fishing and wildlife. Of course, the town itself takes center stage, offering a mix of food, music, history and art unlike anywhere else. Organized tours are a great way to experience New Orleans, and there are a lot of them: garden tours, culinary tours, plantation tours, riverboat tours, voodoo tours. Schedule your visit around an event like the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival or Mardis Gras, or just hit the French Quarter on any given night and laissez les bon temps rouler. Dock at South Shore Harbor Marina (504-245-3152) or Orleans Marina (504-288-2351).
The Vermilion River, which flows into Lake Erie, endows this town with more than 1,000 boat slips and ramps, earning it the title of “Largest Small Boat Harbour on the Great Lakes.” No other place in Ohio has so many beautifully maintained captains’ homes — with styles from the Victorian, Italianate, Arts and Crafts, and Queen Anne eras — plus there’s a 16-block historic downtown with shops, waterfront restaurants, art galleries and more. Vermilion is located on the Lake Erie Circle Tour, the Back Roads & Beaches Bike Route and the Shipwrecks & Maritime Tales of Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail. Dock at Vermilion Municipal Docks (440-967-7087) or Maple Grove Marina & Park (419-503-0097).
Grand Rivers, Kentucky
Called “the village between the lakes,” Grand Rivers sits strategically on both Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, and at the north entrance to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The town’s rustic charm transports visitors back in time with a stroll down Main Street, where you can browse a variety of antique and boutique shops, or catch a family friendly variety show at the Badgett Playhouse. Patti’s 1880’s Settlement is a recreated log cabin village featuring downhome cooking, beautiful gardens, winding streams, gift shops, a miniature golf course and coin-operated remote-control boats. Dock at Green Turtle Bay Resort & Marina (800-498-0428) or Lighthouse Landing Resort & Marina (270-362-8201).
Think of Pittsburgh only as a hub for coal mining and steel production? Take another look at this city that was voted among the “Top 15 Places to Go in 2015” by Condé Nast Traveler magazine. Due to its location at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers where they form the Ohio, Pittsburgh has played a big part in U.S. history and boasts the museums, markers and battlefields to prove it. Catch a Steelers, Pirates or Penguins game, or get sporty on you own using the 13-mile loop of riverfront parks and trails. Afterward, take in a show at one of the many theaters, galleries and public art installations here. Dock at Fox Chapel Marine Sales & Service (412-967-1500) or South Side Marina (412-967-1500).
“The Playground of the South” has a lot going for it, not the least of which are world-class beaches, warm breezes and year-round temperate seas. A relaxed lifestyle complements the island’s beautiful neighborhoods and outdoor charms (it’s a top location for birding). Modern attractions include Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Moody Gardens, a resort theme park that includes an aquarium, rainforest habitat, and rope course and zip line. Rides like the Iron Shark Roller Coaster and Texas Star Flyer let you soar over the Gulf of Mexico at the Pleasure Pier amusement park — a sure hit with the kids. Dock at Galveston Yacht Basin (409-765-3000), Moody Gardens Marine (800-582-4673) or Pelican Rest Marina (409-744-2618).
At the meeting point of three great American rivers — the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri — the Alton region is as scenic and authentic as they come. The area is blessed with stunning bluffs, rolling countryside and abundant wildlife, with quaint towns and friendly people throughout. Start your journey with Lewis and Clark at their Wood River launch point (complete with replica fort), visit the 180-foot Confluence Tower in Hartford and explore the National Great Rivers Museum at the Melvin Price Locks & Dam. Looking for something a little different? Try Alton’s Historic Museum of Torture Devices or the Grafton Zipline. The 33-mile-long Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway ties it all together. Dock at Alton Marina (618-462-9860) or Grafton Harbor (618-786-7678).
Fringing the Gulf of Mexico in northwest Florida, Destin is famed for its sugar-white sands, emerald-hued waters and — thanks to its plentiful underwater population — world-class fishing. Indeed, it’s widely known as the “world’s luckiest fishing village.” Destin Boardwalk has everything you need for a fun-filled day, with more than 150 fishing charter and recreational boats for rent, great restaurants, shops and a multitude of activities, including the ever-popular dolphin cruises and parasailing. The town also touts some of the best resorts, retailers, golf courses and dining anywhere. Dock at Destin Marina (850-837-2470), Harborwalk Marina (850-337-8250) or Treasure Island Marina (850-269-1133).
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Is there anything more splendid than a town where autos are outlawed and transportation is by foot, bike, horseback or horse-drawn carriage? Mackinac is timeless and pristine, with a Revolutionary War fort that offers historic re-enactments, tours and a restaurant. The 3.8-acre island is also home to the Grand Hotel, a magnificent 1880’s resort with the world’s longest porch, which overlooks the straits of Mackinac. There are golf courses and shopping within walking distance, and lots and lots of things to do — museums, spas and salons, tours and presentations, art galleries and a state park. Bonus: The island is known for its fudge. Dock at Mackinac Island State Harbor (906-847-3561).
Country music put it on the map, but that’s not this Cumberland River city’s only talent. A multi-faceted character paints a different picture of this destination from what you might expect — re-dressed waterfront, vibrant shopping and cuisine, exciting outdoor activities, and inviting museums, galleries and performing arts institutions. Cheer on the Tennessee Titans or Nashville Predators, or travel to The Parthenon (replica) in Centennial Park. Of course, if country music is your thing, “Music City” will not disappoint with the Grand Ole Opry, the County Music Hall of Fame and numerous megawatt events that bring the stars out. Dock at Nashville Municipal Dock (615-862-8472) or Rock Harbor Marine (615-356-1111).
Grand Haven, Michigan
It’s one of the most historic towns in the state and has a rich relationship with Lake Michigan. Stroll along the 2.5-mile boardwalk that spans downtown Grand Haven and ends at the south pier and its two lighthouses, established in 1839. The Tri-Cities Historical Museum and the Train Depot help you learn through photographs and fun exhibits with an “old-time” feel. Gorgeous sand beaches and towering dunes encourage relaxing and exploring, or experience the adventure of sailing on the 63-foot, double gaff-rigged schooner Wind Dancer, which departs from Chinook Pier. Dock at Grand Isle Marina (616-842-9330), Wharf Marina (616-842-5370) or Southern Grand Marina (616-842-1078).
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of HeartLand Boating