Tennessee is home to a vast assortment of lakes and reservoirs, offering fun-seeking nature lovers bountiful opportunities for outdoor recreation. Whether you want to fish, boat, bird spot, or simply relax and enjoy the view, you’ll find no shortage of ways to enjoy some family-friendly fun at the state’s most popular lake locations. If you’re drawing up plans for your next trip to the Volunteer State, these are the 20 best lakes in Tennessee not to be missed.
20. Old Hickory Lake
Drive just a little north of Nashville and you’ll find Old Hickory Lake. Despite its proximity to the city, it offers outdoor lovers an incredibly peaceful retreat from the crowds and the noise of the downtown. Boating and fishing are both popular pastimes (it’s been named one of the top fishing destinations in Tennessee), as is sunbathing and picnicking on the Old Hickory Beach, which offers a picnic shelter for up to 100 people complete with grills and picnic tables.
19. Reelfoot Lake
There’s plenty of human-made lakes in Tennessee, but Reelfoot Lake is the only naturally occurring one. Stretched across the counties of Obion and Lake, the lake is famous for the breathtaking beauty of its surrounding swampland and cypress tree forests. Bald eagles are known to populate the area, so keep your eyes on the skies during your visit. Asides from birdwatching, other popular pastimes include water-skiing, camping, hiking, paddle boating, swimming, and kayaking. The fishing here is also hugely rewarding, with largemouth bass, bream, and catfish species being the most common spices.
18. Norris Lake
Named by insuringnashville.com as one of the best lakes in Tennessee, Norris Lake is a nature lover’s dream. Ranked as one of the cleanest lakes in the state by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), it offers excellent fishing opportunities (largemouth sea bass, striped bass, walleye, bluegill, and redear sunfish are the most common varieties), and a ton of family-friendly experiences, including picnicking, hiking, boating, or simply relaxing. The lake boasts over 20 marinas, each with a wide range of services and facilities. If you want to extend your visit offer several days, the houseboats offer luxurious accommodation complete with hot tubs and all the comforts and conveniences you’d expect of a hotel.
17. Chickamauga Lake
Set in between the towns of Birchwood and Georgetown on the Tennessee River, Chickamauga Lake is a peaceful, scenic place that makes an ideal destination for a lake getaway. With huge stocks of largemouth bass, small bass, and striped bass, as well as blue catfish, channel catfish, and redear sunfish, it’s ideal for fishing. If you’d rather hike, mountain bike, picnic, golf, or camp, the Harrison Bay State Park and Booker T. Washington State Park on its southern side will deliver the goods.
16. Lake Barkley
Located just to the east of Kentucky Lake is its slightly smaller sibling, Lake Barkley, the lower part of which rests in Tennessee. With large reserves of crappie, largemouth bass, catfish, sauger, and bluegill, it’s the ideal destination for anglers. It’s not exactly a doozy for anyone else either – with 134 miles of shoreline to its name, it’s ideal for swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, and bird spotting. Peaceful, family-friendly, and incredibly scenic, it’s unquestionably one of the best lakes to visit in Tennessee.
15. Nickajack Lake
Nickajack Lake is a large expanse of water stretching from Nickajack Dam to the Chickamauga Dam near Chattanooga. Replete with rustic charm, it’s a peaceful, serene spot that’s ideal for outdoor recreation. If you want to take advantage of the large reserves of largemouth bass, striped bass, smallmouth bass, rock bass, blue catfish, and bluegill that populate its waters, rent a boat at Hales Marina and head out for a few hours of fishing. If the fish don’t bite, mix things up with a bit of waterskiing and tubing. If wildlife spotting is more your thing, keep your eyes peeled for the bald eagles, ducks, geese, and American coots that inhabit the area.
14. Pickwick Lake
If you’re planning a trip to the western region of Tennessee, don’t miss stopping by Pickwick Lane. The lake, which covers 174 square kilometers in total, is renowned for its huge stock of massive catfish and smallmouth bass – if you’ve ever wanted to give fishing a try, this is the place to do it. There’s also some great water skiing, jet skiing, and boating to be had. Swimming is allowed in the designated areas, but just be mindful that there are no lifeguards. The area surrounding the lake is well set up for recreation, with a golf course, a hotel, a restaurant, picnic pavilions, and several campsites.
13. Centre Hill Lake
If you live in Smithville or are planning a visit, be sure not to miss Centre Hill Lake. This beautiful spot boats a host of fun activities to enjoy, from boating and water skiing to fishing and swimming. If you’re in the mood for a lazy day, a picnic, a spot of sunbathing, and a gentle stroll along the shore won’t disappoint.
12. Percy Priest Lake
If you’re in Nashville, don’t miss Percy Priest Lake. A fishing hotspot (expect plenty of sunfish, catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, striped bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, and trout), it offers keen anglers the chance to take part in numerous fishing tournaments throughout the year. If you’re not keen on fishing, there’s still plenty of fun to be had. If you want to explore the water, rent a paddleboard at the Nashville Paddle Company or book a sailing exhibition with the River Queen Voyages. If you’d rather stay dry, take a horseback ride or a hike around the shoreline. Once you’re done enjoying the lake, the joys of Nashville’s downtown area are just a short drive away.
11. Watauga Lake
With its mountain backdrop and peaceful shoreline, few lakes can compete with the calm beauty of Watauga Lake. Located just east of Elizabethtown in the Cherokee National Forest, it offers plenty of fun for outdoor lovers. Rent a kayak with Watauga Kayak, or take a canoe into the depths of the Appalachian Underground. The fishing opportunities are first-rate, with plenty of smallmouth bass, spotted bass, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, lake trout, crappie, channel catfish, bluegill, and walleye to test your wits against. Although it’s worth a visit at any time of the year, the 4th of July boat parade shouldn’t be missed.
10. Cordell Hull Lake
The Crazy Tourist has named Cordell Hull Lake one of the best lakes in Tennessee. It’s hard to disagree. Blessed with gorgeous views and a myriad of recreational opportunities, the lake covers a vast expanse of 613 kilometers of shoreline. Regardless of whether you swim it, boat it, or fish it, you’d guaranteed to come away with a ton of memories.
9. Boone Lake
Located in northeastern Tennessee, Boone Lake is a manmade reservoir created by the damming of the South Fork Holston River. Swimming, water skiing, and boating are all popular pastimes, but it’d be remiss to visit and not get down to some serious fishing – the lake is teeming with largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, black bass, striped bass, carp, and catfish, making it one of the best spots for sport fishing in the state.
8. Douglas Lake
Douglas Lake (or Douglas Reservoir, as it’s sometimes referred to) is located in an idyllic spot close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The lovely resort town of Baneberry sits close by, making it an incredibly popular spot for vacationers. Despite the nearly 2 million tourists who descend on the lake each year, it never feels that you’re jostling for elbow space. The landscape is stunning, while the opportunities for recreation are endless. As well as offering excellent fishing (largemouth bass, bluegill, catfish, and crappie are the most commonly caught fish), it’s also popular for picnicking, camping, birdwatching, boating, and swimming.
7. Radnor Lake
Thanks to its scenic location in Radnor Lake State Park, Radnor Lake is blessed with stunning natural scenery. The lake itself is a great spot for canoeing and kayaking, while the trail that encircles the lake is sure to keep any hiker happy. There are also several observation decks dotted around, offering plenty of opportunities to indulge in some wildlife spotting. Just be aware that as the park is classified as a Class II State Natural Area, camping and picnicking are prohibited.
6. Dale Hollow Lake
Named as one of the best lakes in Tennessee by Flavorverse, Dale Hollow Lake spreads over three counties at the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Camping on the lake’s Geiger Island is immensely popular with vacationers, but most people come here for the fishing opportunities – with smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, gar, catfish, trout, and muskellunge all up for grabs, you’re almost guaranteed to come away with something. If fishing isn’t your scene, the lake also offers some excellent boating, tubing, wakeboarding, water skiing, swimming, camping, and hiking possibilities.
5. Kentucky Lake
Kentucky Lake might start in Kentucky, but it ends in Tennessee… or should that be the other way around? Either way, it’s a vast lake (the largest human-made lake in the eastern United States in terms of area, in fact) with an equally vast list of reasons to visit Located about an hour west of Nashville neat Camden and Waverly, it offers a host of recreational opportunities for nature lovers, including fishing and water skiing. As Tripping.com notes, boats can be rented from the Paris Landing Marina for those who want to explore the water, while those who prefer to keep their feet on dry land can tour the fascinating Fort Donelson. The Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area, meanwhile, offers excellent opportunities for hunting, hiking, or birding. There’s also a lovely observatory for nighttime stargazing.
4. Fort Loudoun
Named as one of the most gorgeous lakes in Tennessee by Only in Your State, Fort Loudoun Lake is an incredibly scenic place to spend a morning, an afternoon, a whole day, or even an entire weekend. Located in east Tennessee on the upper Tennessee River, it’s named after a nearby 18th-century British fort that was built during the French and Indian War. Ideal for fishing, picnicking, and relaxing, it’s unquestionably one of Tennessee’s most beautiful spots.
3. Tim Ford Lake
Located just a short drive from Lynchburg is Tim Ford Lake, a picturesque spot in the foothills of the Cumberland Plateau in south-central Tennessee. Set in the 3,546-acre Tims Ford State Park, the lake offers a myriad of top recreational activities to enjoy, including golfing, hiking, paddling, and swimming. If you’re an angler, you’re in luck – according to tnstateparks.com, the lake is widely regarded as one of the best spots for bass fishing in the Southeast. If you want to extend your stay over a few days, the lake offers RV, tent, and backcountry campsites, along with cabins.
2. Watts Bar Lake
Set in an idyllic stretch of countryside between Chattanooga and Knoxville, the mammoth 117km Watts Bar Lake sits in four counties in eastern Tennessee. The fishing opportunities are legendary, with black crappie, crappie, spotted bass, and largemouth bass being the most common varieties of fish caught here. The birdlife is just as varied, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled and your camera at the ready. The lake is home to various rental cottages and camps, making it a great place for an extended weekend. As an added bonus, you can also rent houseboats, pontoons, and fishing boats to really help you make the most of the experience.
1. Cherokee Lake
Alternatively known as the Cherokee Reservoir, the Cherokee Lake is a human-made lake that was created by the Cherokee Dam along the Holston River. Covering over 28000 acres, it promises a ton of family-friendly fun, from fishing and skiing to sunbathing on the deck. If you want to learn more about the area, consider signing up for an Appalachia Lake Tour, which will give you a guided tour of the lake’s main points of interest. Once you’re back on dry land, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in the attached Panther Creek State Park, which boasts numerous picnic spots, wildlife spotting opportunities, and trails.