The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is 6,000 acres (2,500 acres of land and 3,500 acres of water) located on Chickamauga Lake at the confluence of the Hiwassee River and Tennessee River. Beginning at Hwy 60 (over the Tennessee River, about river mile 499.5), the refuge stretches to around river mile 505 at Armstrong Bend and from the mouth of the Hiwassee River upstream to Hwy 58 at Agency Creek (about river mile 7.4). Included is Hiwassee Island (400 acres). Of the land area, approximately 30% (750 acres) is agricultural land that is cropped. The crops include corn, wheat, soybeans, milo, varieties of millet, and buckwheat. Most of the refuge is farmed by TWRA personnel. The remaining 70% of the land area (1,750 acres) is a wooded mix, mainly of pine and hardwood forest. A wildlife Observation Platform is open year-round to visitors.
This site has the largest winter flock of Sandhill Cranes in the southeast United States outside of Florida. Up to 75% of the entire eastern population of Sandhill Cranes winter or spend time at Hiwassee.
From the platform, visitors can view Sandhill Cranes and an occasional endangered Whooping Crane in winter. Peak numbers of cranes occur in January. Waterfowl are common in winter, including Mallard, American Black Duck, and Northern Shoveler. Bonaparte's Gull and Ring-billed Gull are common in winter. Great Blue Heron numbers are substantial in winter. On the Hiwassee Christmas Bird Count (CBC) (between 2001-2005), there were an average of 192 birds with the high of 253 birds. The Bald Eagle (a Tennessee in need of management species), numbers in winter rank among the top five in the state. In the period 2001-2005, Hiwassee CBC counts of Bald Eagles were: January 1, 2001 (20); January 1, 2002 (20); January 1, 2003 (26);January 1, 2004 (15); and January 1, 2005 (20); for a 5-year average of 20.2 birds. One pair of Bald Eagles nest on the refuge and several pairs nearby.
Whooping Cranes winter on the refuge, but are less frequently seen. Golden Eagles are irregular winter visitors that are occasionally seen by lucky visitors.
On I-75, take exit number 25 in Cleveland, Tennessee. Travel north on Highway 60 through the town of Birchwood. Approximately 1.7 miles north of Birchwood, turn right on Shadden Road. Go one mile and turn right on Blythe Ferry Road. Take the next left on Priddy Lane and follow signs.
Best Time for Viewing: Winter
Best Months and Seasons for Viewing: Nov - Feb