The cool, clear currents of Middle Tennessee rivers are perfect for exercise and relaxation. Boating, fishing, swimming, paddling and other adventures all await you. Here are five of the state’s central rivers and the fun things you can do on these waterways:
The 695-mile Cumberland River begins near Harlan, Kentucky, and meanders through Middle Tennessee until it joins the Ohio River near Smithland, Kentucky. The upper portion is suitable for both canoes and kayaks. The 68-foot Cumberland Falls is a popular tourist destination, but it isn’t accessible by boat. Bigger boats can easily navigate Lake Cumberland itself, as well as areas below the river’s confluence with the Obey River. The river’s current is usually quite mild. The Cumberland River also flows through downtown Nashville, where a two-mile riverside park offers visitors picnic spots, playgrounds, concert venues and walking paths.
Caney Fork River
Fly fishing is popular on the Caney Fork River, which serves as a major tributary to the Cumberland River. Rainbow, brown and brook trout all swim below the Center Hill Dam. Further west in Smith County, you can fish for striper. The river is great for floating in canoes and kayaks, and its scenic coastal areas make for excellent hikes. Bone Cave State Natural Area, Virgin Falls Pocket Wilderness Area and Burgess Falls State Park provide rugged walks through scenic rock formations, thriving flora and fauna and several archaeological sites.
Find out more about water recreation in Tennessee.
Flowing westbound from Manchester to its mouth on Kentucky Lake, the Duck River is considered one of the most biologically diverse waterways in North America. All 270 miles of the Duck River are calm, making for great canoeing or kayaking. Along the shoreline, look for wildlife such as deer, turkey, beavers, mink, otters, blue heron and kingfishers. In the water, you’ll find 151 species of fish and 60 species of mussels. You’ll also get to float through some history, since the upper portion of the Duck River flows past the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, a 2,000-year-old Native American ceremonial area. Camping is allowed along certain portions of the river, but there is no facility in either the Duck River State Natural Area or the Yanahli Wildlife Management Area.
The Harpeth River begins at Lake Cheatham and winds through parts of Cheatham, Davidson, Rutherford, Dickson, Hickman and Williamson counties. The Department of Environment & Conservation specifically highlights the 49 documented species of plant and animal life you may find within its 863-square-mile watershed. You can also seek out the Narrows of the Harpeth, a 19th-century water tunnel that powered a steel mill, and Hidden Lake, a former quarry. At Harpeth River State Park, you can identify access points for canoeing, kayaking and fishing for species such as small-mouth bass, crappie, bream, bluegill and channel catfish.
The Roaring River in Jackson and Overton counties offers Class I and Class II rapids for more experienced rafters. According to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation, the areas west of the Jackson-Overton county boundary are more tranquil. Boat access by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency — just north of the river on Roaring River Road — allows for kayaks and canoes as well. Five miles downstream is another boat ramp that lets paddlers exit before reaching a low-head dam.
Recreational opportunities abound on Tennessee’s abundant rivers. These five Middle Tennessee rivers offer outdoor enthusiasts ample ways to interact with the state’s natural beauty.
Most outdoor activities have some level of risk, and you may need to consult an expert before engaging in the activity. Always check the current weather conditions before embarking on any outdoor activity.