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Kayaking In Tennessee (Amazing Places to Paddle!)

Mark Armstrong
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If you’re thinking of going kayaking in Tennessee then you probably want to know where to find the best spots. The Volunteer State has plenty of fantastic places to paddle, with stunning scenery and lots of wildlife.

Whether you’re looking for a short trip that’s ideal for kids or you want to embark on a kayak camping trip, you should be able to find it. We have put together a list of some of our favorite Tennessee paddling locations to help you choose your next trip.

5 Best Places To Kayak In Tennessee

1: Cumberland River

Cumberland River KayakingPin
Courtesy: sk on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Cumberland River can let you paddle along a scenic and historic waterway, and can give you a fantastic view of the Nashville skyline. The river flows west through Nashville and you can choose to paddle both upstream and downstream, although it can be quite tricky to paddle upstream if you’re a beginner.

You should also be aware of other boat traffic, as the river is used by larger motorized vessels.

There are various spots where you can launch your kayak in Nashville, meaning you don’t have to travel far from the city to get out on the river. You’ll also find several kayak rental and tour companies in the area if you’re looking for an experienced guide.

2: Percy Priest Lake

Percy Priest Lake can be found to the east of Nashville and can be a great place to paddle if you’re looking for plenty of space and good access to the water. It can be ideal for all levels, including beginners. However, if you’re looking for calmer waters, you may be more comfortable staying close to Hamilton Creek Recreation Area.

There are a few rowing clubs that are based at Hamilton Creek Marina because of the calm waters.

There are various access points to this 14,000 acre lake, including public boat ramps. You’ll also find lots of little islands and coves to explore. It’s even possible to extend your trip into an overnight adventure and camp on some of the islands.

Some areas can become a little choppy, especially if it’s windy.

3: Duck River

Duck River KayakingPin
Courtesy: U.S. Department of the Interior on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Duck River is a designated Scenic River and is the longest river that flows completely within the state of Tennessee. Stretching for 284 miles, this beautiful river has several access points along its route, including at Carpenter Bridge, Leftwich Bridge, Howard Bridge and at Henry Horton State Park, where you’ll find a visitor center and hiking trails.

The river can be a great paddling location for both beginners and more experienced paddlers, with the long length of the river being ideal if you want to go kayak camping. There are also some areas of shallow, mild rapids.

There is also plenty of wildlife to spot along the way, with the river being considered the most bio-diverse river in North America.

4: Caney Fork River

Caney Fork River KayakingPin
Courtesy: Eli Braud on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Caney Fork River can sometimes be a busy river, especially during the summer, but it can be a great place for paddlers of all ages and abilities. There are several put-ins and take-outs, making it ideal for beginners looking for a shorter trip.

The river is slow moving, allowing for a relaxing paddle surrounded by natural scenery and lots of birdlife. However, there is a dam at Center Hill that can affect the speed and level of the water, so you may want to check the release schedule before you head out, although this can sometimes change without notice.

Caney Fork River can also be a good spot for trout fishing but you will need a Tennessee fishing license to fish from your kayak.

5: Old Hickory Lake

Old Hickory Lake KayakingPin
Courtesy: Lisa Zins on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Old Hickory Lake covers over 22,000 acres and is just a half hour drive northeast of downtown Nashville. The lake is part of the Cumberland River and can be a great spot if you’re looking for flatwater.

While it can be pretty busy at certain times of the year, there are plenty of coves, creeks and little islands to explore. But be aware that motorized recreational vessels also use the lake.

There are lots of places and parks where you can access the lake with a kayak or canoe, including at Shutes Branch Recreation Area and Rockland Recreation Area where there are also picnic areas.

The lake is home to a variety of wildlife and can be a great spot for fishing and bird watching.

What Are The Tennessee Kayak Laws?

US Coast GuardPin
  • PFDs – there must be a suitably sized PFD on board for each person on the vessel. Children under 13 years of age must wear a PFD at all times while on a kayak.
  • Boating Under The Influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal in Tennessee. It is also illegal to be in possession of drugs or alcohol while paddling or boating.
  • Registration – if your kayak has a trolling motor it will need to be registered and you need to have your registration card with you while you are onboard.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around Tennessee

There are many places to rent kayaks in Tennessee, including on site at some of the state parks. Some outfitters also offer guided tours. 

Final Words

With opportunities for year round paddling, Tennessee can be a great place for kayakers of all skill levels. Beautiful scenery, relaxing waterways and historic landmarks can all be found. But remember to make sure you have a PFD with you. It’s recommended that you wear it for your own safety.

Be aware that some waterways may be busy at certain times of the year, both with anglers and boat traffic.

Let us know what you think in the comments and let us know if you have a favorite spot we didn’t mention. Help out your buddies and share this with them.

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