Bring your kayak or rent one from Tennessee outfitters to have a kayaking adventure on the state's beautiful waterways. Mountain views, night kayaking excursions and even a visit to a bat cave can all be experienced. Check out the waterways below some of the lakes and rivers you can paddle.
You can kayak the oldest lake in the Cherokee National Forest when you paddle Parksville Lake, also known as Lake Ocoee. Enjoy stunning mountain views on the 1,930-acre lake. There are several access points along the lake including the East Parksville Boat Launch (northeastern portion), Kings Slough Boat Launch (western portion) and Parksville Boat Launch (northeastern portion). Nearby Cherokee National Forest has more blueways perfect for kayaking, canoeing and whitewater rafting.
Have a unique natural experience when you kayak on Nickajack Lake. Join Chattanooga outfitters on their Nickajack Bat Cave sunset kayak tour where you can encounter up to 100,000 endangered grey bats beginning their nightly hunt for insects. Tours run from March to October. Kayak 3 miles around Nickajack Lake to the cave entrance and watch the wildlife phenomenon at dusk.
Kayak one of the oldest rivers in the world, the French Broad River which stretches 228 miles and eventually merges with the Tennessee River east of Knoxville. The main location for access points is in Cocke County where you'll find river access points 4-5 miles apart for kayaks. In Knoxville, you can access points that are close to downtown. Have a 4-hour kayak adventure and be close to enough to the city to return to your hotel, freshen up and have a night on the town.
Explore 55 miles of the beautiful Hiwassee River in Southeast Tennessee which flows through the Cherokee National Forest and historic towns Delano, Charleston (one of the most significant Trail of Tears sites in the eastern U.S.), Calhoun and Reliance. You'll see gorgeous scenery and numerous cultural heritage sites like the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park. The Hiwassee River has three sections: the upper stretch has Class I and Cass II whitewater rapids with occasional Class III. The middle and lower sections are flatwater are perfect for beginner kayakers. There are numerous outfitters near the river that offer kayak rentals from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year.
Spend a day flat water kayaking on the Clinch River, perfect for beginners to navigate the Class I and Class II waters. You can see rolling pastures, wooded ridges, rock formations and wildlife. The river has a number of public access points with the popular points being Weir Dam Access, Miller’s Island, Peach Orchard and Songbird Canoe Access among others. Miller’s Island in particular has ample parking and a large “put in” area. For an all-day excursion, roughly six hours, take out at the Highway 61 Bridge.
Watauga Lake offers beautiful mountain views as you kayak its crisp waters. You can paddle to and from the small islands along the shorelines and if temperatures climb to high or if you want a rest, park your kayak and take a dip or sunbathe on the shore.
Middle Tennessee Kayaking Spots
A tributary of the Caney Fork, the Collins River is 67 miles long and makes for a great kayaking spot. In McMinnville, visit MAD MUSKY Water Sports Rentals for kayak rentals, shuttle services and river guided tours. If you have your own kayak, you can park, put in and arrange to be picked up elsewhere on the river when your trip is finished. The Barren Fork is over 23 miles long and eventually flows through McMinnville. You’ll float in the middle of what is naturally a dense hardwood forest and catch a glimpse of its wildly beautiful parts. It’s ideal if you want a smooth, steady current.
Caney Fork River runs for about 144 miles. Put your kayak in or our near downtown McMinnville to enjoy the shopping, restaurants and more of this charming town. If you want a guided experience, outfitters like Canoe the Caney offer kayak rentals and tours ranging from a few hours to all day. They even have a haunted canoe trip offered the end of September to the beginning of November. Your guide will share stories of lost graves, ghostly encounters, unexplained voices and eerie sounds.
The Duck River winds through Middle Tennessee and is one of the most scenic waterways in Tennessee. It’s also North America’s most diverse freshwater river for its abundant variety of freshwater life. Enjoy a 4-5-hour kayak trip beginning from Milltown Dam. It’s an easy five-mile paddle down the wide river. Take your time as you float, stopping for a picnic or sunbathing time. There are plenty of access points along the river so you can decide how long you want your kayaking adventure to last.
Head to the Buffalo River, the longest unimpounded river in Middle Tennessee, for a great summer day on the water. Rent a kayak from one of the outfitters in nearby towns Lobelville, Waynesboro, Hurricane Mills and Linden. While floating, you may see some wildlife including deer, turtles, bald eagles, fish and reptiles, caves, springs, waterfalls, Civil War relics and more. You can even take a night kayaking adventure. The Commodore Hotel in Linden can help you plan your nighttime excursion.
Where to Kayak in West Tennessee
See stunning wetland views when you paddle the Ghost River section of the Wolf River. There are a number of outfitters who offer kayak rentals; and, Ghost River Rentals offers shuttle services along the Wolf River while Wolf River Canoe Trips provides shuttle service in Fayette County. The put-in for the Ghost River section is on Yager Drive south of La Grange. The Wolf River can be challenging as there can be a number of natural obstacles like dense shrubbery and fallen tree branches. For beginners, the Germantown Parkway to Walnut Grove Road is a 2-4-hour excursion with hardly any obstacles. Your paddle adventure will be filled with views of cool sunken cypress trees and the chance for some wildlife viewing.
Paddle the nation’s largest and most iconic river, the Mississippi, when you’re in Memphis. From the water, you can see Big River Crossing, the Pyramid, Memphis’ downtown skyline and the Hernando Desoto Bridge. Take a guided tour with Kayak Memphis where a professional paddler will guide you along to see all the sights.
The Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge is 11,556 acres and is a resting and feeding area for migratory birds and wintering waterfowl. You can see bottomland hardwood forests, swamps, streams, grassland, open water and shrub habitat. See a variety of wildlife when you kayak Oneal Lake.
Tennessee’s only natural-made lake, Reelfoot Lake is a great kayak spot. You can get a single kayak rental for $8/hour and a tandem kayak for $11/hour at Reelfoot Lake State Park’s Camp store in the South Campground. The lake is a flooded forest and is a unique place to kayak for its submerged stumps and standing trees. You may see some wildlife including American bald eagles, white pelicans and more.
Explore more outdoor adventures you can have in Tennessee by visiting the Outdoor Adventure experience page.