15 Best Lakes In Tennessee For Relaxing By The Water

Book a pontoon for your next girls’ trip, grab your fishing pole, or take the kiddos for a lakeside stroll.

Radnor Lake State Park, Nashville
Radnor Lake State Park is a natural getaway from Nashville's busy social scene. Photo:

Malcolm MacGregor/Getty

Tennessee is home to 30 large reservoirs that provide ample opportunities for boating and other watersports. Beyond that, you’ll find roughly 200,000 ponds and small lakes throughout the state, adding more than 100,000 acres of waterways perfect for a weekend fishing getaway. A variety of agencies manage these waterholes, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), US Army Corps of Engineers, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Many are steeped in not only scenic landscapes but also rich history of the region’s development.

Whether you’re looking for a day of fun on big water or time to reflect next to a quiet pool, Tennessee is the perfect spot for your lakeside travels. You’ll be able to find lakes that offer swimming beaches, great campgrounds, hiking trails, boat rentals, scenic overlooks, and plenty of other amenities to make your next lake day your best one yet.

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Norris Lake

Norris Lake

Tennessee Toursism

Norris Lake was formed by the first dam TVA ever built, which was completed in 1936. The dam and lake get their name from Nebraska Senator George Norris, who wrote the legislation to create TVA. This 33,840-acre lake has 809 miles of shoreline, which include many hiking trails. The 3.1-mile River Bluff Trail is a perfect option for wildflower lovers, and mountain bikers will love the Loyston Point trail system. Rent a boat for the day from one of the lake’s many marinas and resorts, and don’t forget to bring your fishing pole to catch one of its 14 species of fish.

Location: Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Grainger, and Union counties in Tennessee

02 of 15

Douglas Lake

Douglas Lake

Tennessee Tourism

Douglas Lake is situated in the foothills outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Douglas Dam forms this popular reservoir on the French Broad River. TVA began construction on the dam in 1942 and set a world record for projects of equivalent size by completing it in just 12 months and 17 days. While visiting the lake, make sure to stop by the Douglas Dam Overlook for panoramic views and an exhibit on TVA’s history in the region. The lake’s 513 miles of shoreline are ideal for birdwatchers. When the reservoir is lowered for winter flood control, it becomes a hotspot for migratory birds that enjoy the lake’s muddy edges. The lake is also a popular fishing spot, especially for largemouth bass and crappie. You can rent a pontoon for the day from Mountain Cove Marina.

Location: Jefferson, Cocke, Sevier, and Hamblen counties in Tennessee

03 of 15

Dale Hollow Lake

Dale Hollow Lake

Dawn Quarles

The US Army Corps of Engineers began dam construction on the Obey River in 1943, which formed Dale Hollow Lake. This 27,700-acre reservoir stretches into Kentucky and offers several campgrounds and group picnic areas along its 620 miles of shoreline. It’s a popular spot for scuba divers, who enjoy exploring the sunken foundation of the historic Willow Grove Schoolhouse and Diver’s Rock at the outlet of Sulphur Creek. 

Location: Clay, Pickett, and Overton counties in Tennessee, and Cumberland and Clinton counties in Kentucky

04 of 15

Cordell Hull Lake

Cordell Hull Lake, TN

Eileen McCartney

Cordell Hull Lake is a US Army Corps of Engineers project, which dammed the Cumberland River. It was named for a Tennessee statesman born in the Cumberland Mountain foothills who received a Nobel Prize in 1945. The lake has three day-use areas with swimming beaches, picnic shelters, playgrounds, and more, as well as campgrounds and trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. About 40 miles east of Nashville, the lake covers around 12,000 acres and is great for canoes, kayaks, sailboats, fishing boats, stand-up paddleboards, and other watercraft.

Location: Smith, Jackson, and Clay counties in Tennessee

05 of 15

Reelfoot Lake

Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee

Robert C Nunnington/Getty

Located in northwest Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake is the only large natural lake in Tennessee. It was formed by strong earthquakes in 1811 and 1812. It covers around 15,000 acres, with a maximum depth of 18 feet. Given how shallow most of the lake is, much of the area is marshy and includes flooded forests with impressive cypress trees. The lake and grounds are part of Reelfoot Lake State Park and the National Park Service designated it as a National Natural Landmark in 1966. February is a great time to visit for the annual Reelfoot Eagle Festival, as the park is home to thousands of American bald eagles, and autumn brings hundreds of migrating white pelicans to the lake. The park also offers deep swamp canoe trips and pontoon boat tours at different times of the year.

Location: Lake and Obion counties in Tennessee

06 of 15

Nickajack Lake

Hales Bar Floating Cabins
Hales Bar Marina & Resort

TVA constructed Nickajack Dam on the Tennessee River in 1967 in a southeastern part of the state. The reservoir is 10,370 acres with 179 miles of shoreline. It holds the world record for the largest freshwater drum, caught in 1972 by Benny Hull. Visitors will find boat ramps and fishing berms on both sides of the river below the dam. There is also a concrete fishing pier with footbridges and a wheelchair accessible ramp, as well as campgrounds and picnic areas. The lake is home to the partially flooded Nickajack Cave. Access into the cave is prohibited to protect its colony of endangered gray bats from a deadly disease called white-nose syndrome. However, from late April into early October, visitors can watch from a viewing platform as thousands of bats emerge from the cave to feed. Plan to stay a while and book a floating cabin on the lake at Hales Bar Marina & Resort.

Location: Marion and Hamilton counties in Tennessee

07 of 15

Pin Oak Lake

Natchez Trace State Park

Courtesy of Tennessee State Parks

Pin Oak Lake is in West Tennessee and part of a TVA cluster of eight reservoirs on the Beech River created to reduce flood damage, offer outdoor recreation to the area, and support water supply to the region. Each of the other lakes in this group also take their names from trees (with the exception of Lost Creek, a detention-only reservoir with no permanent pool): Cedar, Dogwood, Beech, Pine, Redbud, and Sycamore. The 690-acre Pin Oak Lake falls entirely within Natchez Trace State Park and is popular for catching bass, bluegill, and catfish.

Location: Henderson County in Tennessee

08 of 15

Chilhowee Lake

Chilhowee Lake

Nicola Patterson/Getty

The 1,743-acre Chilhowee Lake impounds the Little Tennessee River and has Great Smoky Mountains National Park on one side and Cherokee National Forest on the other, making for endless Appalachian scenery. US 129, also known as the Tail of the Dragon, runs alongside the lake and is a popular drive for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts. Chilhowee Lake’s dam and powerhouse are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a great spot for some quieter paddling, fishing, or camping in the mountains.

Location: Blount and Monroe counties in Tennessee

09 of 15

Fall Creek Falls Lake

Fall Creek Falls Lake

Tennessee Tourism

Fall Creek Falls State Park is best known for its beautiful waterfalls, but it also offers opportunities for lakeside lounging and fishing. Its 345-acre lake is home to state record catches for channel catfish and bluegill. Park visitors can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes from April through October. Aluminum jon boats can be rented year-round, but you need to bring your own trolling motor and battery. No personal boats or gasoline motors are allowed on the lake, but you can bring your own kayak or canoe. There are also seasonal guided pontoon boat tours. If you need a little land time but want to stay close to the water, enjoy a lakeside hiking trail before resting your head at The Lodge at Fall Creek Falls.

Location: Van Buren County in Tennessee

10 of 15

Bays Mountain Lake

Bays Mountain Lake, TN

Tennessee Tourism

Bays Mountain Lake is a quaint 44-acre pool located within Bays Mountain Park, the largest city-owned park in Tennessee. Visitors can take a 45-minute barge ride on the lily-pad-laden lake with a naturalist to learn about the park’s history and catch some wildlife sightings, such as deer, turtles, herons, and beavers. In addition to this kid-friendly excursion, families can enjoy the 3,550-acre nature preserve’s planetarium and animal habitats. The park also boasts an adventure course with low ropes, high ropes, and zip line options, as well as more than 40 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, including some around the lake.

Location: Kingsport, Tennessee

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Fort Loudon Lake

Fort Loudon Lake

Henryk Sadura/Getty

TVA operates nine reservoirs throughout the Tennessee River's 652 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Paducah, Kentucky, to create a navigable channel. Fort Loudon Lake is the first reservoir along this water trail and has 379 miles of shoreline along its 14,600-acre water surface. You can rent a kayak from Knoxville Adventure Collective to enjoy Knoxville’s downtown skyline or Ijams Nature Center’s urban wilderness from the water. Further downstream from the city, you’ll find multiple marinas and excellent opportunities for camping, fishing, and various watersports.

Location: Blount, Knox, and Loudon counties in Tennessee

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Percy Priest Lake

Percy Priest Lake

Paul Vera/Getty

Just 10 miles east of downtown Nashville, the US Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Stones River in 1967, which created the 42-mile-long, 14,000-acre Percy Priest Lake. Given its close proximity to Music City, Percy Priest Lake offers an easy lakeside rest day during your girls’ trip or bachelor party weekend. The land around the lake is home to multiple campgrounds if you choose to stay a while. This lake is perfect for boating, fishing, and swimming on a long summer day.

Location: Davidson, Rutherford, and Wilson counties in Tennessee

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Center Hill Lake

Rock Island State Park

JimVallee / Getty Images

Center Hill Lake is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers just west of Cookeville, Tennessee, on the Caney Fork River. The area has a temperate climate, giving the lake a long recreation season. The lake is 64 miles long and covers 18,220 acres. Three state parks fall along the reservoir’s shoreline: Edgar Evins, Burgess Falls, and Rock Island. This makes it the perfect lake to visit for travelers looking to check off all of Tennessee’s 57 state parks.

Location: DeKalb, Putnam, White, and Warren counties in Tennessee

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South Holston Lake

South Holston Lake

Tennessee Tourism

South Holston Lake is the outdoor playground for Bristol, Tennessee. TVA completed its dam on the South Fork Holston River in 1950, creating this 7,580-acre reservoir, which stretches 24 miles east into Virginia. Over half the lake’s shoreline borders Cherokee National Forest, providing stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fishing is a top activity on the lake, especially for smallmouth bass. The tailwater side of the dam is a fly fishing paradise, with an abundance of native brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout. Visitors can also walk across a footbridge from the parking lot below the dam for a 1.8-mile wildlife loop trail on Osceola Island.

Location: Sullivan County, Tennessee, and Washington County, Virginia

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Radnor Lake

Radnor Lake State Park, Nashville
Radnor Lake State Park is a natural getaway from Nashville's busy social scene.

Malcolm MacGregor/Getty

Radnor Lake State Park lies within the Nashville metropolitan area, close to all the happenings of downtown Music City and the charming town of Franklin. Before becoming the wildlife sanctuary that it is today, Radnor Lake was originally created in 1914 by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company for watering steam trains and providing water for shipped livestock. Now, city dwellers flock to the lake’s 1,368-acre park to enjoy ranger-led programs like canoe tours, wildflower walks, and astronomy night hikes. The park’s Lake Trail is also accessible to people with all-terrain wheelchairs.

Location: Davidson County, Tennessee

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