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9 Lakes & Rivers to Explore in Tennessee

Tennesseans know you don’t need a coastline to enjoy the water. Here are 9 Tennessee rivers and lakes where you can boat, fish, paddle, picnic or just enjoy the scenery.

Chickamauga Lake

Created by Chickamauga Dam in 1940, this Chattanooga-area lake is perfect for recreation of all kinds from swimming to boating to paddleboarding. It also offers some of the best fishing in the area year-round.

Ocoee River

Whitewater rafters across the country love the challenging ride on the Ocoee River, home of the mile-long course used in the 1996 Olympics whitewater competition. Experienced rafters can test their skills, and adventurous beginners can get a guided tour.

Duck River

According to The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee’s 269-mile Duck River has more species of fish than all rivers in Europe combined. It also has more varieties than any other river in North America, and the best to catch there is the smallmouth bass. Plus 37 miles of the river in Maury and Marshall Counties have been designated as state scenic river areas.

Harpeth River

Less than 20 miles west of Nashville, the Harpeth River is a small body of water that’s perfect for a swim or float trip. It’s also full of panfish, which is just what it sounds like: an edible fish that usually doesn’t outgrow the size of a frying pan.

Pin Oak Lake

As part of Natchez Trace Park, this lake is surrounded by options for outdoor activities from hiking to biking to walking trails. Rent a kayak and take a trip out in early fall to see the leaves change from a new vantagepoint.

Radnor Lake

A favorite with Nashville residents, Radnor Lake was created in 1914 to produce steam power for locomotives. The wildlife sanctuary is a hit with birdwatchers and also with hikers, runners and weekend warriors.

Pickwick Landing

The Tennessee River flows into Pickwick Lake, and the Pickwick Landing State Park has a marina that rents all sorts of paddlecraft and boats. Try a peaceful glide across the water on one trip or productive day of fishing for striped bass on the next.

Reelfoot Lake

Nestled into the northwest corner of the state, this 15,000-acre natural lake is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Autumn is the time to see hundreds of pelicans stop by for a snack as they make their way south to warmer climates. Pontoon cruises are also popular for all ages, especially to see the fall foliage.

Wolf River

The spring-fed Wolf River flows from Mississippi through Shelby County to join the Mississippi River in Memphis. Spanning 90 miles of forests, fields, and communities, the river is not only a great place for recreation, but it also protects the pure drinking water in Memphis. Paddle it yourself to experience it.

Keeping rivers and lakes beautiful

Most people respect the natural beauty of Tennessee, but litter is still a problem. You can help by volunteering for clean-up events at lakes and rivers all across the state. Check here for information about activities at a lake or river near you.

For a deeper dive into 12 of the best Tennessee lakes, click here.

Nancy Henderson

Nancy Henderson

Nancy Henderson, a writer and editor originally from New York, moved to Nashville more than 25 years ago and considers herself more Tennessean than Yankee these days. As Content Producer/Writer at bohan Advertising, she has written about health care and wellness for a variety of publications.

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