Beyond The Horizon: 9 Best Kayaking In Tennessee

Tennessee is known for its music and beautiful nature. It also has fantastic kayaking opportunities in the southeastern part of the United States. Tennessee sits between the Great Smoky Mountains and the powerful Mississippi River, offering lots of exciting kayaking adventures.

Whether you’re calmly paddling along the Tennessee River or braving the thrilling rapids of the famous Ocoee River, you’ll be in awe of Tennessee’s stunning landscapes.

In this guide, we’ll show you the top 9 places to kayak in Tennessee, taking you on an exciting journey through the state’s wonders.

Best Kayaking In Tennessee

The 9 Best Places to Kayak in Tennessee

Tennessee is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering breathtaking landscapes and a plethora of waterways perfect for kayaking. Whether you’re a seasoned paddler or new to the sport, the state has something to offer everyone.

From tranquil rivers and serene lakes to thrilling whitewater rapids, here are nine must-visit locations for kayakers in Tennessee.

#1. Tennessee River Gorge

Tennessee River Gorge kayaking

The Tennessee River Gorge is a remarkable natural wonder often called the “Grand Canyon of Tennessee.” Over countless years, the Tennessee River has carved this stunning gorge, featuring tall cliffs and thick forests. It’s a protected area full of diverse wildlife, making it a peaceful and immersive experience for kayakers who love nature.

At the top of my list of the best kayaking spots in Tennessee, the Tennessee River Gorge is truly captivating. Its steep cliffs and lush plants create a beautiful backdrop for kayakers looking for a peaceful escape into nature’s wonders. Paddling on its calm waters gives you a sense of tranquility that’s hard to find elsewhere.

One of the most captivating things about the gorge is its stunning scenery. The combination of tall cliffs and green plants creates a mesmerizing view wherever you look. As you move along the river, surrounded by this natural beauty, you’ll feel like you’re in an enchanting world of peace and serenity.

The calm waters in the gorge are perfect for kayaking enthusiasts. You can enjoy the scenery with gentle currents and peaceful areas without any distractions or challenges. It’s a chance to connect deeply with nature while you paddle calmly on the water.

Besides its scenic beauty, the Tennessee River Gorge is home to a lot of wildlife and different ecosystems. As you paddle through this pristine environment, be on the lookout for deer grazing on the banks or eagles flying above. The rich variety of plants and animals makes your journey even more rewarding as you paddle along.

And for those who want to discover hidden treasures in this natural wonderland, several islands in the gorge are waiting to be explored.

#2. Cherokee National Forest Waterways

The Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee is a great place for kayakers. It has many different types of waterways for all kinds of preferences. You can find calm and flatwater areas or more exciting routes with challenging rapids in this big forested area.

One of the best things about kayaking in the Cherokee National Forest is that you can choose the level of rapids you want to tackle. If you’re looking for an exciting adventure that gets your heart racing, rivers like the Ocoee offer thrilling whitewater experiences. Navigating these challenging rapids will give you an unforgettable adventure.

But if you’d rather have a peaceful and quiet kayaking trip, there are plenty of options in the forest for that, too. Calm lakes, serene rivers, and beautiful waterfalls provide a lovely backdrop for your paddling journey. As you glide along these clear waterways, surrounded by lush forests and big mountains, you’ll feel like you’re really connected to nature.

The Cherokee National Forest has such a variety of waterways that every kayaker can find the perfect route. You’ll find something here whether you like calm stretches where you can take it easy and enjoy the scenery or tough rapids that test your skills. That’s why it’s one of Tennessee’s best places for kayaking.

Besides the natural beauty, the Cherokee National Forest also has places where it’s easy to start your kayaking adventure. State parks and public access points are all over the area, so you can easily put your kayak in the water and start your trip. These designated entry points make it simple for kayakers to explore different parts of the forest’s waterways without any problems.

While paddling through these untouched wilderness areas, be ready to see all sorts of unique plants and animals you can only find in this region.

#3. Ocoee River

Ocoee River kayaking Tennessee

If you’re looking for an exciting adventure, head to the Ocoee River’s Olympic whitewater course. Here, you can tackle challenging Class III and IV rapids, which made this river famous during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

The Ocoee River is a thrilling destination for experienced kayakers who want to take on the best whitewater challenges in Tennessee. It flows through the Cherokee National Forest near Copperhill and offers an adrenaline-packed adventure that will get your heart racing. Let’s explore why the Ocoee River is Tennessee’s third-best place for kayaking.

One of the main attractions of the Ocoee River is its renowned whitewater rapids. It has intense Class III and IV rapids, making it a playground for experienced kayakers seeking a challenge. The Ocoee Whitewater Center, located on the river, is famous for its exhilarating rapids. Many thrill-seekers from all over come here to paddle through its intense waters.

What makes the Ocoee River stand out is its Olympic history. In 1996, this river was used for kayaking events during the Olympic Games. Today, kayakers can paddle the same rapids where Olympic athletes once competed. This historical significance adds to the attraction of this remarkable destination.

Aside from its sporting history, the natural beauty around the Ocoee River is stunning. You’ll navigate through forests and enjoy breathtaking mountain views, immersing yourself in the wonders of nature while conquering exciting rapids. It’s a chance to appreciate both thrilling action and serene natural surroundings.

If you plan to kayak on the Ocoee River, it’s essential to be aware of scheduled water releases from nearby dams. These releases are made for recreational purposes but can affect water levels and flow rates on specific dates or times throughout the year.

#4. Douglas Lake

Douglas Lake is a beautiful reservoir formed by the Douglas Dam on the French Broad River. It stretches across scenic valleys and is a fantastic place for kayaking and an excellent spot for fishing, especially if you’re targeting bass and crappie. The calm waters and stunning views make it a popular destination for people looking to relax and enjoy fishing adventures.

The peaceful waters of Douglas Lake offer a tranquil setting for kayakers to experience breathtaking sunsets from the water. Picture yourself gliding on the calm surface while the sky turns shades of orange and pink above you. It’s a truly awe-inspiring sight that you can fully enjoy while in the middle of the lake.

Douglas Lake is an excellent choice if you’re seeking a relaxing kayaking experience on calm waters with beautiful views. As you paddle through this picturesque lake, surrounded by rolling hills and hidden coves, you’ll feel completely immersed in the beauty of nature. Explore peaceful inlets and discover secluded spots where you can soak in the tranquility of your surroundings.

Douglas Lake is also perfect for combining kayaking with camping. There are several campgrounds located around its shores, making it easy to plan overnight trips or longer stays. Imagine waking up to the sound of birds singing and sipping your morning coffee while looking out at the shimmering lake—truly an ideal way to start your day.

Douglas Lake offers plenty of opportunities for those who love fishing to catch impressive fish, particularly bass and crappie. Cast your line into these clear waters and try your luck at catching some trophy-sized fish. Whether you’re an experienced angler or just starting out, this lake will surely satisfy your fishing cravings.

In addition to kayaking and fishing, Douglas Lake provides a serene getaway that offers a mix of outdoor activities and relaxation.

#5. Hiwassee River

Hiwassee River kayaking Tennessee

The Hiwassee River, located in the Cherokee National Forest, is great for kayaking. It offers a mix of Class II and III rapids, making it exciting for kayakers. Whether you’re an experienced paddler or a beginner, this river has something for everyone. You can enjoy peaceful paddling in beautiful landscapes or tackle some mild rapids.

One of the best things about kayaking on the Hiwassee River is the balance it strikes between stunning scenery and manageable rapids. The river suits all skill levels, so you can have a leisurely trip through lush forests and scenic farmland. It’s a chance to connect with nature and find tranquility on the water.

If you’re looking for more excitement, the Gee Creek Gorge section of the Hiwassee River has thrilling Class III rapids. While navigating these rapids, you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking scenery, adding an extra thrill to your kayaking adventure. It’s a perfect blend of adrenaline and natural beauty.

What makes the Hiwassee River unique is its abundant wildlife. Keep an eye out for bald eagles soaring overhead and otters playing in the water as you paddle along. Encountering such diverse wildlife adds to the magic of kayaking here.

The Hiwassee River is also easily accessible for kayakers. Whether you’re planning a day trip or a longer vacation, you’ll find convenient access points to launch your kayak and explore its scenic routes. It’s a great place to escape and enjoy some time on the water.

#6. Watauga River

The Watauga River is a fantastic place for anglers (people who like to fish) and kayakers (who enjoy kayaking) in Tennessee. It’s known for its excellent trout fishing and beautiful scenery, making it a special destination that combines adventure and peacefulness. The river starts in the Appalachian Mountains and provides a stunning backdrop for your kayaking trip.

One of the main attractions of the Watauga River is its fantastic trout fishing. Anglers love this river because it’s full of trout, making it a top choice for those who want to fish while kayaking. Picture yourself gliding on the water, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, and enjoying the excitement of catching prized fish. The Watauga River lets you do both kayaking and fishing at the same time, offering a unique experience.

Besides its fishing opportunities, the Watauga River offers a visually stunning kayaking experience. As you paddle downstream, you’ll be treated to breathtaking mountain views, especially beautiful when the leaves change color during the fall. Each stroke of your paddle takes you deeper into a natural masterpiece where colors reflect on the water’s surface, creating a truly magnificent sight.

While you navigate this captivating river, be on the lookout for wildlife. The Watauga River is home to various animals like deer, otters, and many bird species that live along its banks. Spotting these creatures in their natural habitat adds an extra layer of excitement to your kayaking adventure.

For those seeking an adrenaline rush, the Watauga River has thrilling rapids that will get your heart racing. Hold tight as you navigate exciting sections with fast-moving water and twists and turns. It’s an exhilarating experience for adventurous kayakers.

#7. Tellico River

Tellico River kayaking

Tellico River in Tennessee is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a kayaking spot that offers calm waters and beautiful forest scenery. This river provides a peaceful kayaking experience surrounded by nature’s beauty.

Tellico River is known for its gentle waters, making it perfect for kayakers who prefer a serene environment. While paddling, you’ll be surrounded by lush forests that create a stunning backdrop against the clear waters. The tranquility of the river allows you to fully enjoy nature and escape from the noise and busyness of daily life.

But Tellico River isn’t just for kayaking; it’s also a popular fishing destination. Anglers come here for a variety of fish species, including trout. Whether you’re an experienced angler or just like fishing occasionally, Tellico River offers great fishing opportunities as you paddle along its scenic route.

If you enjoy both kayaking and fishing, Tellico River is an ideal place. You can peacefully glide through the water while keeping an eye out for fish. It’s a perfect spot to relax and enjoy outdoor activities at your own pace.

It’s important to know that parts of Tellico River have special fishing regulations. Some areas are designated as “delayed harvest trout waters,” meaning there might be times of the year when fishing is not allowed to protect the fish population. As a responsible kayaker, it’s crucial to be aware of and respect these rules to avoid conflicts with anglers who share the river.

As you explore Tellico River, get ready to see breathtaking sights, including beautiful waterfalls that add a magical touch to the landscape.

#8. Wolf River

The Wolf River, near Memphis in western Tennessee, offers a great kayaking experience for people who like adventure and nature. This beautiful river has different types of landscapes, from exciting rapids to calm areas, making it good for all kinds of kayakers.

The Ghost River section is one of the best parts of kayaking on the Wolf River. It’s known for being a natural and untouched place where you can have a remote and unspoiled experience. As you paddle through this peaceful part of the river, you’ll be surrounded by dense forests and wetlands and see lots of different and beautiful scenery.

For those who enjoy the excitement of challenging rapids, the Wolf River has some thrilling ones. But it’s important to know that the rapids can change depending on the water levels. Before you start your kayaking trip, check how the water is right now and understand how intense the rapids will be to ensure you’ll be safe and have a good time.

Apart from kayaking, the Wolf River is also a good place for fishing. People who like fishing can try to catch bass, catfish, rainbow trout, and other fish living in this river. So, while you’re paddling through the river’s pretty currents, bring your fishing gear with you, and you might catch some impressive fish.

While you’re kayaking through the different parts of the Wolf River, like swamps, wetlands, and hardwood forests, you’ll see lots of wildlife on the riverbanks. Keep your eyes open for special animals like the Ivory-billed Woodpecker – seeing one is a cool experience showing how many different and special creatures live in this area.

#9. South Holston Lake

South Holston Lake kayaking

South Holston Lake is a hidden treasure in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, and it’s a perfect place for kayakers who want a calm and peaceful experience on the water. This large lake is surrounded by stunning mountain views, giving you an immersive outdoor adventure.

One of the best things about South Holston Lake is its calm and clear waters. When you paddle on this lake, it feels really peaceful and serene, like being embraced by nature. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced kayaker; this lake is great for a relaxed and easy paddling trip.

If you’re into fishing, South Holston Lake is a paradise. The water here is so clear, and you can find different kinds of fish, like smallmouth bass and trout. Try your luck at catching these prized fish while you enjoy your kayaking adventure. This lake is an excellent choice if you want both a relaxing time and some fishing fun.

As you explore South Holston Lake, you’ll be amazed by the beautiful scenery around you. The lake is surrounded by rolling hills and fantastic mountain views, making it a feast for your eyes. While you paddle along the shore, you’ll have plenty of chances to enjoy the beauty of nature and feel the calmness all around.

You can also do other water activities during your kayaking trip on South Holston Lake. You can take a swim in the clear blue waters, or you can have a leisurely picnic by the lake’s edge. There’s something for everyone to enjoy in this natural paradise.

South Holston Lake is a fantastic choice because it offers calm waters, breathtaking scenery, and great fishing opportunities, giving you an unforgettable outdoor experience.

5 Secret Kayaking Spots To Escape Crowd in Tennessee

Most people go to the popular places for kayaking. But if you want a quieter, more nature-focused experience, you should explore some hidden spots. These secret kayaking places will take you away from the crowds and let you enjoy beautiful natural surroundings.

  1. Reelfoot Lake: This lake is in the northwest part of the state. It’s a peaceful escape from the busy city. You can paddle through the lake’s cypress-filled waters and see different kinds of wildlife, like bald eagles and herons.
  2. Hiwassee River: This river goes through the Cherokee National Forest. It’s a calm and scenic journey with lots of greenery and big mountains around. Keep an eye out for playful otters as you paddle through the gentle rapids.
  3. Obey River: Found in Middle Tennessee, the Obey River is a great place for kayaking if you want peace and quiet. It has clear water and impressive rock formations. It’s good for both beginners and experienced paddlers.
  4. Hatchie River: Kayaking along the Hatchie River lets you experience the charm of the South. It winds through the pretty countryside of West Tennessee, and you’ll see lots of animals, like turtles on logs and deer by the river.
  5. Duck River: Duck River has more than 270 miles of water you can kayak on. Whether you’re new to kayaking or have done it before, it’s a good choice. It’s known for having a wide variety of plants and animals, and you’ll see beautiful scenery like greenery, tall cliffs, and sandbars where you can have picnics.

A Brief To Kayaking Regulations In Tennessee

Before you go kayaking in Tennessee, knowing the rules is important. This helps keep you safe and makes sure you’re following the law while enjoying the state’s kayaking spots.

Here are some important things to know:

Permits: You might need a permit depending on where you want to kayak in Tennessee. Some places like state parks or wildlife management areas require permits for activities like kayaking. Check with the authorities or their websites to see if you need one for where you’re going.

Water Rules: Different places might have their own rules about how fast you can go, where you can’t make big waves (no-wake zones), and where you can’t go at all. It’s really important to learn and follow these rules. It helps you stay on the right side of the law and be respectful to other people and animals in the water.

Safety Gear: Safety is a big deal when you’re on the water. Tennessee has rules about the safety gear you need while kayaking. You should have a personal flotation device (PFD) for each person on your kayak. You should also have signaling devices like whistles or horns. These are important in case of an emergency to let others know where you are.

Besides the state rules, other rules might apply to certain areas in Tennessee. It’s a good idea to stay informed about local restrictions when kayaking.

Final Words

As we finish talking about the best places for kayaking in Tennessee, we hope this guide has excited you to explore the state’s beautiful places. Tennessee has a lot of different places to kayak, from the city waters in Nashville to the wilds of Nantahala National Forest. No matter how experienced you are at kayaking, there’s an adventure here for you to enjoy.

About Addison

Hark! Fellow seekers of adventure! 

I'm Addison, a passionate adventurer from Oregon's captivating Pacific Northwest. Alongside my brother Ronin, we founded PaddleWiggle, a kayaking website. On my page, you'll find thrilling stories of my kayaking expeditions.

So, join me as I explore wild rivers and hidden coves, sharing the raw beauty of nature through PaddleWiggle's expedition section.

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