As October creeps closer, a myriad of spooky places pops up across Middle Tennessee like goosebumps on a first-grader’s first visit to the dentist. It seems every other plot of eerie earth offers an experience to give you the heebie-jeebies, and you’re paying for it.
(Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
There are haunted houses, haunted woods, haunted trails, haunted caves, haunted cemeteries, even haunted hayrides.
One of the more novel spine-tingling adventures presents itself in Canoe the Caney’s haunted canoe trip, as guides first lead thrill-seekers along a trail for about an hour before embarking on a 45- to 60-minute, paddle-your-own-rental canoe above the dark waters of Center Hill Lake.
The tales begin in the 10-minute bus ride to the trail of terror.
“The Haunted Canoe Trip is unlike any ghost tour you've been on before. Your guided trip begins as a local storyteller takes you through what was once an old military recreation base, where you will hear the disturbing history and first-hand experiences of paranormal sightings and strange occurrences,” said Canoe the Caney commander Jason Carver.
“If you’re brave enough, meander down a path to the water’s edge where the highlight of the tour begins. Here, you will board a canoe and paddle out past the old dock where your guide will prepare you for entering into an area we call Cemetery Cove, known for the unexplained phenomena that occurs there.
“This year’s gonna be different. We are gonna share some new stories, some of them a little scarier than before.”
“There’s nothing gory, no people jumping out at you,” said Billie Davis, director of sales and marketing at Canoe the Caney, which is located in Silver Point, a mile off of Interstate 40’s Exit 273. “On this trip we take a lot of time to explain, especially for the kids. They love it. We recommend children be age 7 or older.”
The haunted canoe trips run Friday and Saturday nights through the first weekend of November with excursions departing at 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 p.m. It cost $40 per adult, $25 for children (age 12 and younger). Reservations must be made in advance.
Davis shared that two to three guides will accompany groups on the trail and five guides will be present while in canoes.
“After hearing the history and the stories of the area leading up to the paddle into the dark cove, the water portion of the trip for many can be the scariest part. Some people are too scared to take the canoe part and just do the walking tour,” said Davis.
“While we don’t stage anything, the cove itself has provided many people with experiences that they share when they return. Many have reported the feeling of the cove pulling them in or even pushing them out, as if there’s a strange current to the water like it would have been on the original river that was there before it was flooded.
“Others have seen and heard things while out there that they can’t explain, and in general, a lot of people have described an overall feeling of uneasiness. Needless to say, as much as everyone looks forward to paddling into the cove, it’s not long before they’re ready to paddle out.”
The business plan
The haunted canoe trips were initiated in 2012 as Carver was searching for a way to extend the season.
“I’ve always enjoyed exploring haunted places and went into a lot of haunted houses when I was young. We have a really major scary place right here. This actually started out as a haunted paddleboat ride, and we restructured it in 2015 because the paddleboats were too slow,” Carver said.
As for the source of light as folks glide along the water, Carver said they have LED lights, “sort of a tiki thing,” on the bow and stern of each canoe. “It gives plenty of illumination and keeps with the feel of the trip.”
For safety precautions the haunted canoe tour takes place on the mostly still waters of Center Hill Lake. “The river is part of the lake,” noted Davis, “so the tour is still technically on the Caney Fork River.”
Carver opened here in 1999 as a boat and jet-ski rental business. He added canoes and rentals nine years later. Nowadays, he employs as many as 50 people.
Born in Rockwood, he spent his childhood in Los Angeles but returned to Tennessee in 1990 and earned an engineering degree from Tennessee Tech. His grandfather inspired him to create Canoe the Caney.
“I was taking him to Nashville for doctor appointments, and we kept crossing the Caney Fork River. He told me how much he wanted to go down the Caney in a canoe. He told me, ‘Little Buddy, I think you need to buy some canoes that you can rent out so lots of people can see how beautiful the river is.’ So, in 2008 we added Canoe the Caney as part of the business. We just took my grandmother, who is 92, in a canoe down the river this summer for the first time since 2012, which was the last time she went on it with my grandfather, who died in 2014.”
Davis, who grew up in Crossville, began working here in 2006, the summer before she graduated from Trevecca Nazarene University with a degree in marketing. The best things about the Caney Fork, she says, include its easy access off Interstate 40, plus, “It’s a beautiful class-one river that features an old railroad bridge, bald eagles and river otters. Minutes after you get on the water, the stress goes away. It’s so peaceful.”
Things were almost too peaceful earlier this year, as Carver explained, “The virus affected us tremendously. We lost all of our spring business and a lot of employees. Then all of a sudden, people wanted to come to the river and we’ve had to turn down a lot of people.”
“It’s been a roller-coaster season,” concluded Davis. “Our season really goes from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Then it goes dead.”
But please, especially those who decide to take the haunted canoe ride, don’t take those words literally.
HAUNTED CANOE TRIP
Canoe the Caney offers haunted canoe trips Friday and Saturday nights through the first weekend of November. The trip departs every hour from 6-10 p.m. Cost is $40 per adult, $25 for children 12 or younger. Recommended for ages 7 or older. Reservations must be made in advance. Phone: 1-800 579-7893; Website: caneythecaney.com; Address: 17055 Smithville Hwy., Silver Point (about one mile south of I-40 Exit 273).