More than 50,000 miles of winding, enchanting rivers and streams – along with more than a half-million acres of pristine lakes and eco-diverse marshes – make Tennessee a paradise for those drawn to the wonders of water. If you’re wanting to plan a water-filled weekend, keep these lakes, rivers and water activities on your radar.
From the deep, clear waters of Cherokee, Douglas, Norris and Watauga lakes in East Tennessee to Center Hill, Dale Hollow, Cordell Hull, Old Hickory and Tims Ford midstate and farther west to the sprawling Pickwick, Kentucky and Barkley impoundments, lakes are accessible to you for all types of recreation. Among the most scenic, Reelfoot Lake, nestled in the northwest corner of the state, is famous for its year-round fishing, wildlife watching (including eagle-viewing excursions) and lakeside dining.
Water-skiers, fly-boarders and jet-skiers have boundless acres of water from which to choose. You can bring your own equipment or take advantage of rentals at many lakes. If whitewater rafting gets your adrenaline flowing, the Ocoee and Pigeon rivers are two of the region’s premier waterways, with stretches of rapids suited to every skill level. Leisure and serious paddlers have plenty of options when paddling in Clarksville. Blueway Adventure offers 2-14 miles of various routes along the Blueway system in Clarksville.
You may like a peaceful, easy feeling when you’re on the water. The Caney Fork, Little Pigeon, Duck, Barren Fork and Buffalo rivers provide more tranquil canoeing, kayaking, tubing and stand-up paddle boarding if you want a slower pace. On most of the rivers, such as the scenic Harpeth, canoes and kayaks can be rented for short or long trips with local outfitters providing drop-off and pick-up services. The Red River is 25 water miles flowing from Port Royal State Historic Park into the Cumberland River.
Towering, tumbling, mist-spraying – words used to describe some of the magnificent waterfalls that grace the state. From the churning Bald River Falls to the relatively placid Crockett Falls in David Crockett State Park, the state has numerous beauties for you to discover including Foster Falls, Ozone Falls, Carmac Falls, Greeter Falls, Elrod Falls, Twin Falls, Jackson Falls and Fall Creek Falls. Hiking trails lead to scenic overlooks or to swimming/wading pools at the foot of the falls, but take care – some of the paths can be challenging.
Boats ranging from houseboats, pontoons and paddleboats to kayaks, jon boats and sailboats can be rented on most of the lakes and used for fishing, swimming and on-board cookouts. State park lakes such as Montgomery Bell, Fall Creek Falls and Cumberland Mountain also have some fine fishing, too, if you’re a beginner or experienced angler.
If you like to fish, you’re in luck as Tennessee has a diverse collection of fish, of 320 species to be exact. You may enjoy wrestling in monster catfish from the Tennessee River, or matching muscles with tackle-busting stripers on Percy Priest Lake outside Nashville. Field & Stream magazine named the Cumberland River as having some of the best catfishing waters in the world. Or, you may prefer the tranquility of East Tennessee mountain brooks in the Great Smoky Mountains and Tellico Plains, and the rainbow trout that dart in the icy ripples. In Gatlinburg, special trout-fishing packages are available. On Dale Hollow Lake, guided trips can be booked year round. Chickamauga Reservoir near Chattanooga boasts the state-record largemouth and has a growing reputation for lunkers, so make sure it’s on your fishing bucket-list if you’re a bass angler. Speaking of bucket lists, you won’t want to miss the GEICO Bassmaster Classic March 15-17 in Knoxville with tournament waters that include Fort Loudoun and Tellico lakes.
Other Lake Activities
You can opt to be on, in or alongside the water. In addition to boating, skiing, cruising and fishing, most lakes have designated swimming, camping and picnic areas. Most state parks located along lakes and rivers have trails carved along the scenic riverbanks and shimmering shorelines. In Tennessee, the water – and the fun – is usually just a smooth stone’s throw away.
Road Trip Across Tennessee – Scenic Trails & Byways
These 16 self-guided motor routes in Tennessee will take you off the beaten path and through all of the state’s 95 counties.