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13 Best Lakes in Tennessee For a well-earned Vacation

By | Last Updated: 13th January 2024

Tennessee is known for its beautiful lakes, most of which are human-made, with the state having just one natural lake (Reelfoot Lake). Most artificial ones are a part of the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) project built during the construction of a particular dam. Each of them is unique in their way because of their serene ambiance and breathtaking landscape. A trip to these lakes would undoubtedly drive away all your blues, refreshing you to the fullest.

Lakes in Tennessee

Lakes in East Tennessee

1. Watauga Lake

Watauga Lake in Tennessee

Watauga Lake, the local name given to the Watauga Reservoir, lies to the eastern part of Tennessee’s Elizabethton city. It is an abode of beauty mostly due to the picturesque locale of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest within which it lies. One could access the reservoir’s Hampton side by availing public or private fee-based boat ramps. The 4th of July boat parade conducted by owners of houseboats is a sight to behold.

Fishing: Smallmouth bass, spotted bass, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, lake trout, crappie, channel catfish, bluegill, and walleye are the common species

Other Activities: Swimming (in the Watauga Point Recreation Area), kayaking, white water rafting, sunbathing, and picnicking

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2. Cherokee Lake

Cherokee Lake in Tennessee

Alternately known as the Cherokee Reservoir, it developed during the construction of the Cherokee Dam on Rive Holston. This is one of Tennessee’s largest lakes, lying at the Clinch Mountains foothills, approximately 30 miles to the eastern part of Knoxville.  The vast mountainous terrain and green farmlands encompassing the lake is sure to leave one in awe. Its shoreline possesses the Panther Creek State Park alongside other parks, picnic spots, boat docks, campground, and wildlife management area.

Fishing: The most prevalent species includecrappie (early spring or late autumn), walleye (January – May), smallmouth bass, largemouth bass (March – April), and striped bass.

Other Activities: Swimming, sunbathing, boating, water skiing, alongside horseback riding, and camping in the nearby trail.

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3. Norris Lake

Norris Lake in Tennessee

Norris Lake bordering the counties of Campbell, Grainger, Claiborne, Union, and Anderson was developed on the Cove Creek Site, along the Clinch River, as a part of the Norris Dam Project. The Smoky and Cumberland Mountains that border it generates a panoramic view to the fullest. It holds credit for being Tennessee’s clearest and cleanest lake and an ideal place for a fun-filled family vacation. The lake houses more than 20 marinas and also houseboats with accommodation for approximately 16 people. Some houseboats even possess luxury amenities such as satellite radio, sound system, hot tub, etc. The Norris Dam State Park, Chuck Swan State Forest, and Cove Creek Wildlife Management Area also provide various recreational facilities.

Fishing: Crappie, smallmouth bass, walleye, largemouth bass, and spotted bass are the prominent species found here.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, tubing, wakeboarding, water-skiing, scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking along the Lakeside, and Hootin Hollow Trail, and camping

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4. Chickamauga Lake

Chickamauga Lake in Tennessee

This reservoir lake, a part of the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), was created during the Chickamauga Dam development. The lake primarily occupies the Hamilton, Meigs and Rhea counties, having a shoreline of 810 miles (1303 km). Several recreational activities occur around its vicinity, particularly its southern end because of the high population density in that area. The lake has the Harrison Bay State Park, and the Booker T. Washington State Park nearby, perfect for hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, golfing, and camping.

Fishing: It is popular for its bass population, including the largemouth bass, small bass, and striped bass. It is advisable to start early in summer since the bass species retire to the deep waters as the day progresses. Other available fish include blue catfish, channel catfish, and redear sunfish.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, sailing, water-skiing, bird watching and wildlife viewing in the surrounding areas, and hiking along the nearby trails.

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5. Douglas Lake

Douglas Lake in Tennessee

Alternately known as the Douglas Reservoir, this lake is a part of Tennessee’s Sevier County, located close to the Gatlinburg area as well as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Its northern shores house the Baneberry resort community, making it a highly-populated area. Every year about 1.7 million visitors come here because of the serene landscape and immense amount of recreation the place has to offer.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, bluegill, catfish, and crappie are the most popular finds here.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, bird watching (late July – early October), camping (in any one of the 100 sites of the Douglas Lake Campground), and picnicking

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6. Nickajack Lake

Nickajack Lake in Tennessee

The lake created as a part of the Nickajack Dam project borders the Hamilton and Marion counties. It stretches from the Nickajack to the Chickamauga Dam, crossing the Chattanooga city. The rustic beauty surrounding the place, alongside the various interesting activities provided here makes it a sought-after vacationing spot. Bald eagles, ducks, geese, and American coots often frequent the adjacent areas.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, striped bass, smallmouth bass, rock bass, blue catfish, and bluegill are few among the many species found here.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, waterfront camping, and bird watching

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Lakes in Middle Tennessee

1. Percy Priest Lake

Percy Priest Lake in Tennessee

The Percy Priest Lake in Tennessee’s north-central part covers the Wilson, Davidson, and Rutherford Counties. The Nashville Shores, located in its vicinity, makes for a perfect entertainment spot providing for a host of water rides. The adjacent areas have three campgrounds, twelve boat launching ramps, and eleven picnic areas, all of which are managed by the Natural Resource Management Office. Certain boating and sailing organizations such as the Nashville Rowing Club, Tennessee Boat Club, and the Percy Priest Yacht Club are located here.

Fishing: Sunfish, catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, striped bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, and trout are majorly found in the waters of Percy Priest Lake.

Other Activities: There are designated places for swimming, though prohibited in marinas, mooring points, public docks, and launching ramps. Other activities include canoeing, horseback riding, hiking, and camping.

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2. Old Hickory Lake

Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee

Old Hickory Lake situated on Cumberland River is situated in the north-central parts of Tennessee, covering the counties of Davidson, Sumner, Trousdale, Smith, and Wilson. This lake formed during the development of the Old Hickory Lock and Dam is a prominent fishing hub, also providing for several recreational sports. The Old Hickory Beach, located along the lake’s shoreline, has a large picnic shelter for about 100 guests, also equipped with picnic tables and grills. On their visit to this lake, one is sure to cherish the array of birds like the waterfowl, snowy egret, and blue heron that throng here.

Fishing: Bass, crappie, and catfish are the prominent species.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, jet-skiing, bird watching, and camping (in the surrounding campgrounds like Cedar Creek Campground, and Cages Bend Campground)

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Lakes in West Tennessee

1. Pickwick Lake

Pickwick Lake in Tennessee

Pickwick Lake, a TVA project created during the development of the Pickwick Landing Dam occupies the Hardin County.  Besides Tennessee, the other two states in which the lake is situated include Mississippi and Alabama. The Tennessee part of the lake has the Pickwick Landing State Park, which is a prominent camping destination. The Yellow Creek Waterfall housed within the Yellow Creek Cove is a preferred site for boaters

Fishing: Catfish species like the blue catfish and channel catfish are mostly available in summer. Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and crappie are also found.

Other Activities: Swimming happens in the designated areas of the Sandy Beach, and Circle Beach, though there are no lifeguards.  Boating, hiking along the surrounding trails, as well as golfing and camping in the state park premises are the other activities.

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2. Kentucky Lake

Kentucky Lake in Tennessee

The largest human-made lake of the eastern United States in terms of area, the Kentucky Lake touches Tennessee and Kentucky, covering five counties each in both the regions.  In Tennessee, it borders the counties of Benton, Henry, Houston, Humphrey, and Stewart.  Its northern shore and western shore has the Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park, and Kenlake State Resort Park. The Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge is situated in the adjacent area. It provides one the scope of ample wildlife viewing, and bird watching.

Fishing : The lake excels in catches of yellow perch, buffalo carp, and white bass, with other species being crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill, redear, and catfish.

Other Activities: Swimming (in designated areas),boating, hiking, camping, and picnicking

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Lakes in North Tennessee

1. Dale Hollow Reservoir

Dale Hollow Reservoir Lake in North Tennessee

The Dale Hollow Reservoir occupying the Kentucky-Tennessee border touching upon the Overton, Clay, and Pickett counties was formed during the Obey River’s damming. Fishing is the lake’s most prominent activity, alongside other things. The Geiger Island, a part of this reservoir, is a camping destination that one certainly ought not to miss.

Fishing: Smallmouth bass is the commonest find, alongside other species like the largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, gar, catfish, trout, and muskellunge.

Other Activities: Boating, tubing, wakeboarding, water skiing,swimming (in the designated areas though no lifeguards remain present), camping, and hiking

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2. Reelfoot Lake

Reelfoot Lake in North Tennessee

Tennessee’s only natural lake is situated in the northwestern part in the counties of Obion and Lake. The lake, majorly covered with swamplands, is renowned for its scenic beauty generated by bald cypress trees in its surrounding areas, mostly occupied by bald eagles. The National Park Service credits it with the National Natural Landmark designation. The Reelfoot Lake State Park lying adjacent to it hosts many activities to keep visitors entertained.

Fishing: Crappie is the commonest, while some of the several species found include largemouth bass, bream, and catfish species.Spring and fall are the ideal fishing seasons.

Other Activities: Swimming, kayaking, paddle boating, jet-skiing, water-skiing, bird watching, camping, and hiking

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3. Lake Barkley

Lake Barkley in North Tennessee

Lake Barkley, with a surface area of 58,000 acres (230 sq. km), occupies parts of Kentucky as well as Tennessee (Houston and Stewart counties). It was developed after the construction of the Barkley Dam named, in honor of Alben Barkley, the U.S. Vice President. It connects to the Kentucky Lake at about a mile above the Barkley Dam, with both lakes running parallel for over 50 miles. Its eastern shore has the Lake Barkley State Resort Park, where one could avail of a whole lot of activities for a fun-filled holiday.

Fishing: The lake records the largest yellow bass catch, while the other available species include white bass, largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and catfish. 

Other Activities: Swimming (everywhere excepting the posted areas, launching ramps, and mooring points), boating, water-skiing, bird watching in the state park area, and hiking along the nearby trails

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The majority of the lakes are dog-friendly, though leash for the pet is a mandate.


Best Lakes for Fishing: Chickamauga Lake, Kentucky Lake, Percy Priest Lake

Best Lakes for Swimming: Old Hickory Lake, Percy Priest Lake, Cherokee Lake

Cleanest Lakes: Norris Lake, Percy Priest Lake, Chickamauga Lake

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