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Best Kayaking in Tennessee (8 Great Places to Paddle)

Kayaking in Tennessee can be a fantastic experience. Kayakers often enjoy the scenery, wildlife, and other kayakers they meet during their trip. Kayaking is also excellent exercise and a great way to explore new places you may not otherwise visit.

Tennessee has a lot to offer, and kayaking is a great way to explore the natural beauty of this state. Many paddling trips are perfect for beginners, those with more experience, or even just families looking to have some fun on the water.

If you find yourself in “The Volunteer State,” there are plenty of great places to paddle. Read on as we share the best places to kayak in Tennessee. If we missed your favorite spot, please leave a comment below.

Cumberland River

Kayaking the Cumberland River is a great way to explore Tennessee. The Cumberland River is one of the most popular rivers and kayaking destinations in the state.

This gigantic river is 688 miles long, with beautiful scenery and a ton of places to kayak. The river winds its way through Nashville, and you can kayak right through the city.

If you need to rent a kayak, be sure to check out Cumberland Kayak & Adventure Company, and your kayaking experience on the Cumberland River will be memorable for sure.

The Cumberland River offers some outstanding kayak camping opportunities and easy access for families who want to take their children kayaking.

Feel free to paddle for a day or take an overnighter at one of the campsites along the waterway.

The majority of the river is calm and flat for easy paddling, making it one of Tennessee’s best places to kayak.

Launch points include Cedar Hill Park and Roaring River Park.

Duck River

There are many unique places to kayak in Tennessee, and the Duck River is one of the most well-known kayaking spots. Most kayakers enjoy paddling down this river because there are many calm and peaceful areas to put in your kayak.

The best part about kayaking on the Duck River is the variety of water conditions along the way. Many stretches are slow-moving and free from obstacles, which are great for beginners, or families with kids.

A great example is Normandy Dam to Three Forks. You can paddle this stretch in about 4 hours, depending on how you paddle.

If you paddle the Duck River, be sure to keep your phone or action camera handy. You will most likely encounter a lot of wildlife as you paddle and float.

Deer, river otters, turtles frequent the area, and they are most likely to come out and say hello when kayakers paddle by.

If you are into kayak fishing, anglers will enjoy a variety of fish, including bass, crappie, and catfish, to name a few.

The Duck River is an excellent place for kayaking in Tennessee, no matter your skill level or paddling speed!

Barren Fork

Kayaking the Barren Fork River in Tennessee will make you feel like a kid again.

Beginners of all ages can learn to paddle a kayak thanks to the Barren Fork’s gradual descent, making it an ideal spot to start kayaking.

You’ll be able to enjoy the great outdoors as well as some of the most pristine waters in Tennessee. Barren Fork runs west to east about 23 miles, through McMinnville, TN.

Kayaking here is a fantastic experience, and kayakers of all levels will find something to do. There are even opportunities for beginners who aren’t looking for a challenge right away.

This place has it all, beauty and relaxation. The Barren Fork’s constant, gentle flow makes it ideal for beginners or families with children.

We recommend launching from McMinnville. There are several popular access points.

  • 35 Crisp Springs Rd
  • Pepper Branch Park

If you need to rent a kayak, be sure to check out Smooth Rapids Outfitters.

Ocoee River

If you are looking for a kayaking adventure in Tennessee, the Ocoee River is the place to be. The river is about an hour’s drive from Chattanooga, TN.

Pin
Ocoee River” by Shannon McGee licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The river has many Class III and IV rapids flowing throughout the Cherokee National Forest and is very popular with whitewater kayak enthusiasts.

The Ocoee River is one of the most spectacular rivers for whitewater rafting in the southeastern United States.

The Upper and Middle sections are the two main sections for whitewater paddling. Both have Class III and IV rapids, so be warned.

Fun fact: The upper section of the river was used in the 1996 Olympic games for the kayak slalom course.

If you are heavy into whitewater kayaking and are looking for a new adventure, you owe it to yourself to try the Ocoee River. It’s one of the best whitewater kayaking spots in Tennessee.

Percy Priest Lake

Percy Priest Lake is a reservoir located in north-central Tennessee. The calm flat waters are a great spot to kayak, and it’s also just a stone’s throw from Nashville.

Fishing is popular year-round on Percy Priest Lake, and the lake has a variety of fish species, making it ideal for kayak anglers.

The lake has over 100 miles of shoreline, including several scenic coves that are perfect for kayakers.

Kayak enthusiasts can launch at the kayak ramp, located below the dam on Dodson Chapel Road.

The 14,000+ acre lake has plenty of opportunities for kayakers to explore, and kayak fishing is a popular activity.

Zooming around the lake in your kayak will make you forget that such an expansive body of water exists within Tennessee’s borders!

The best kayak at Percy Priest Lake is along the shores, where calm waters can be found among coves and inlets.

Kayaking Percy Priest Lake is a great way to enjoy the Tennessee outdoors.

Kayak rentals are available at Nashville Paddle Company.

Caney Fork River

Kayaking the Caney Fork River is a must, and it’s a classic destination to kayak in Tennessee. The Caney Fork is a great place for kayaking because it’s both fun and simple.

This will be the ideal time to learn how to kayak or if you already know how to kayak, just relax while enjoying the lovely sights the river offers.

Pin
On the Caney Fork” by
Michael Hicks licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The river is 144 miles long and is known as one of the best fishing spots in the state. If you are a kayak angler, you will want to kayak this river. You can also kayak here because of its beautiful scenery and wildlife, so remember your camera!

A classic spot to paddle is from just below Center Hill Dam 5.5 miles to Happy Hollow. The water is fast but smooth. Get there early because parking can be a hassle.

There is also a great variety of fish in the Caney Fork River, such as rainbow trout and brown trout.

If you are looking for a kayaking experience that is fun and easy, kayaking the Caney Fork River will be perfect for you.

Elk River

Elk River kayaking is a great day trip for the whole family because it’s so relaxing. The river goes through some of Tennessee’s most beautiful scenery, passing by wooded areas with tall trees.

Farris Creek Bridge is a great spot to launch. As you float downriver, the current quickens, but it’s great for kayak fishing. The river is full of Rainbow Trout, Smallmouth Bass, Sunfish, etc.

This section of the river flows out of Tim’s Ford Lake (dam), and the water in the river is chilly. The lake is really deep, so the water flowing out is very cold.

You can float for miles and camp along the way if you choose. The paddling is easy and great for beginners or families with kids.

If you are up for kayaking through dense woods, beautiful scenery and want to see some plentiful wildlife, the Elk River is a great spot to float in Tennessee.

Fort Loudon Lake

Part of the Tennessee River System, Fort Loudon Lake is an excellent place to kayak.

Fort Loudon Lake is a kayaker’s dream, with calm water and plenty of space to paddle. There are also many opportunities for wildlife viewing, including bald eagles.

Fort Loudon offers kayakers an opportunity to kayak on the Tennessee River without having to fight any rapids or currents.

This makes it great for beginners and seasoned kayakers looking for a day out on the water with friends and family members who may not be experienced kayakers yet.

Kayak fishing is prevalent on Fort Loudon Lake as well. Kayaking on the calm waters of this lake provides kayakers with an excellent opportunity to unwind and relax as they enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Fort Loudon Lake also offers kayakers the chance to see the occasional bald eagles in their natural habitat.

Kayak rentals are available at Fort Loudon State Park, or you can use the kayak launch for your own boat.

There are lots of coves to explore on Fort Loudon Lake. So whether you are looking for peace and tranquility on the lake or a place where you can kayak close to nature and enjoy kayak fishing, Fort Loudon Lake is an awesome place for kayakers.

Conclusion

Kayaking in Tennessee is a great way to get out on the water and enjoy nature.

Whether kayakers are looking for a relaxing day out on the water or kayaking as an outdoor activity with friends and family members who may not be experienced kayakers, kayaking in Tennessee is a great way to kayak on some of the many waterways.

If kayakers are looking for something more challenging, kayaking on the rivers here can be quite fun as well.

So no matter whether you are an experienced kayaker or someone who has never kayaked before but always thought it looked like fun, kayaking in Tennessee is a great kayak outing.

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About the author
Steve
Steve is the owner of Paddle About, a blog that's all about helping people get out and enjoy nature. He loves to kayak, camp, hike and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not out exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.