15 Best Lakes in Tennessee

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Located in the southeast region of the USA, Tennessee is a landlocked state that is known for its agriculture and tourism. It is nicknamed the ‘Volunteer State’ because of the number of volunteer soldiers that hailed from the state during the War of 1812, though some say this nickname came from the volunteers during the Mexican–American War.

Tennessee is a diverse state, with its east portion being dominated by the Appalachian Mountains, the middle of the state being a dome and the west sitting within the Gulf Coastal Plain. It is home to national parks, plantations, scenic trails and thriving cities, making it one of the country’s top 10 tourist destinations. Outdoor lovers flock to Tennessee to enjoy its great outdoors, which includes a number of lakes. These are the 15 best lakes in Tennessee.

1. Norris Lake

Norris LakeSource: Stephen P Robinson / Shutterstock
Norris Lake

Norris Lake sits in five counties within the eastern portion of Tennessee and was created by the damming of the Clinch River. The 137 square kilometre lake sits within the Great Valley of East Tennessee, surrounded by hills, rock formations and forest.

There are a number of marinas around the lake’s 1,302 kilometre shoreline, as well as camping grounds, vacation rentals and boat ramps. Water skiing, boating, swimming and fishing are popular activities enjoyed at Norris Lake.

Norris Dam State Park surrounds the lake, which is home to cabins, camping sites and a recreation centre. It is also home to the Lenoir Museum Cultural Complex, which consists of two historical structures; the Crosby Threshing Barn and the Rice Gristmill.

2. Dale Hollow Reservoir

Dale Hollow ReservoirSource: Melinda Fawver / Shutterstock
Dale Hollow Reservoir

Located on the Kentucky/Tennessee border, Dale Hollow Reservoir was created in 1943 by the damming of the Obey River. The lake sits within three Tennessee counties in the northern part of the state.

The reservoir was built for flood control, but today it is used recreationally. Water skiing and tubing are extremely popular at Dale Hollow Reservoir, as is fishing. In fact, the reservoir is a top location for smallmouth bass, having the world record for the largest of its kind ever caught.

Geiger Island sits within the lake and is extremely popular in the summer months thanks to its primitive camping. There are also a few summer camps surrounding the reservoir, as well a marina that offers boat storage, boat rental and cabin rentals.

3. Cherokee Lake

Cherokee LakeSource: Bob Lawrence / Shutterstock
Cherokee Lake

Cherokee Lake is a reservoir that was formed by the damming of the Holston River. The reservoir sits behind Cherokee Dam in the eastern region of Tennessee, within the Panther Creek State Park.

Numerous recreational activities can be enjoyed at Cherokee Lake, including swimming, boating and fishing. The shoreline of the lake also offers plenty of camping and hiking opportunities, with the Panther Creek State Park boasting a total of 17 trails.

The lake is surrounded by the Clinch Mountain Range, making it exceptionally picturesque. Cabins and vacation homes are available for rent that sit along the shoreline.

4. Old Hickory Lake

Old Hickory LakeSource: KennStilger47 / Shutterstock
Old Hickory Lake

Sitting in five counties in north central Tennessee, Old Hickory Lake is a reservoir that was created by the Old Hickory Lock and Dam in 1952. The reservoir sits at an elevation of 136 metres above sea level, around 40 kilometres from the city of Nashville.

Old Hickory Lake features eight public marinas, 41 boat access sites and two campgrounds. It is also home the Old Hickory Lake Arboretum, which has over 60 species of trees and shrubs.

Yachting is popular within the reservoir, as is fishing. Sauger, saugeye, and walleye can be found in the lake in the morning and early evening.

5. Chickamauga Lake

Chickamauga LakeSource: K.Campbell / Shutterstock
Chickamauga Lake

Chickamauga Lake sits along the Tennessee River, stretching from Watts Bar Dam to Chickamauga Dam. It is spread across five counties, boasting a total surface area of 147 square kilometres.

The lake features over 1,300 kilometres of shoreline, which is home to eight parks and two wildlife centres. It is a popular recreational spot, particularly at the southern end, which is where most of the marinas are located.

Camping and hiking are enjoyed around the lake, while swimming, water skiing, boating, jet skiing and fishing are popular activities within Chickamauga Lake. The lake is operational from March to August, when water levels are at their highest.

6. Percy Priest Lake

Percy Priest LakeSource: David Newbold / Shutterstock
Percy Priest Lake

Officially called J Percy Priest Lake, Percy Priest Lake is a reservoir that sits around 16 kilometres east of Nashville. The 5,700 hectare reservoir is a popular recreational spot, featuring three campgrounds, 11 picnic areas, 12 boat ramps and eight marinas.

The Tennessee Boat Club, Vanderbilt Sailing Club, Percy Priest Yacht Club, Nashville Rowing Club and the Vanderbilt Rowing Club are all located at Percy Priest Lake. Swimming, water skiing, fishing and boating are popular activities enjoyed by visitors of the lake.

Over 5,000,000 people visit Percy Priest Lake each year. It is busiest in the summer months, when it has 5,700 hectares of water.

7. Center Hill Lake

Center Hill LakeSource: Bobby Dickens / Shutterstock
Center Hill Lake

Center Hill Lake features around 668 kilometres of shoreline, some of which is lined with upper-middle-class vacation homes. The rest of the shoreline is home to the Burgess Falls, Edgar Evins, and Rock Island State Parks.

Center Hill Lake is a popular fishing spot, though plenty of other recreational activities are enjoyed here. The deepest part of the reservoir is 58 metres, while its surface area is over 7,300 hectares.

Sitting near the city of Smithville, Center Hill Lake was originally built for flood control and electricity production. Today, it is still a major flood control reservoir for area.

8. Reelfoot Lake

Reelfoot LakeSource: anthony heflin / Shutterstock
Reelfoot Lake

Tennessee’s only large natural lake, Reelfoot Lake is located in Lake County in the northwest part of the state. The lake was named after a local Indian chief in the 19th century that had a deformed foot.

Reelfoot Lake is famous for its fishing, and until 2003, was the only lake in the world where you could legally fish for crappie. It is also a popular spot for boating.

The lake is quite shallow and known for its bald cypress trees, bald eagles and bayou-like ditches. It is also home to the Reelfoot Lake State Park, which is great for hiking and wildlife spotting, with birds of prey and migratory birds being seen the most.

9. Boone Lake

Boone LakeSource: Dee Browning / Shutterstock
Boone Lake

Boone Lake is known for its recreational activities, which include swimming, water skiing and fishing. There are boat ramps around the 18 square kilometre lake that provide access for visitors, as well as one marina.

Sport fishing is top notch at Boone Lake, with fish species that include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, black bass and striped bass. There are also carp and catfish in the lake.

The lake stretches across two counties in north-eastern Tennessee. It was formed by the damming of the South Fork Holston River, with water levels fluctuating throughout the year.

10. Watauga Lake

Watauga LakeSource: Jon Bilous / Shutterstock
Watauga Lake

Watauga Lake was created in 1948 during the damming of the Watauga River. The lake is located east of the city of Elizabethton and is surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest.

It is a beautiful lake that is surrounded by picturesque scenery thanks to the surrounding forest. Recreational activities such as swimming, water skiing, fishing and boating are quite popular here, as is camping.

Watauga Lake boasts a 169 kilometres shoreline, part of which sits in the Appalachian Mountains. The lake itself is nearly 600 metres above sea level, with a maximum depth of 81 metres.

11. Watts Bar Lake

Watts Bar LakeSource: BEN MOONEY / Shutterstock
Watts Bar Lake

This reservoir can be found midway between Chattanooga and Knoxville along the Clinch River. It stretches for nearly 117 kilometres, sitting in four counties in the eastern part of Tennessee.

Watts Bar Lake is known for its excellent sport fishing, with black crappie, crappie, spotted bass and largemouth bass being the most caught fish in the lake. There are also numerous bird species at the lake, making it a great place for bird watching.

The 16,000 hectare lake is home to numerous parks and camps, as well as a marina, camping grounds and cottages for rent. Houseboat, pontoon and fishing boat rentals are also available.

12. Pickwick Lake

Pickwick Landing DamSource: CBMB0217 / Shutterstock
Pickwick Landing Dam

Located in the western region of Tennessee, Pickwick Lake was created by Pickwick Landing Dam, stretching all the way through Mississippi to Wilson Dam in Alabama. It is a 174 square kilometre lake, with the north end of it being a route for transportation to the Gulf of Mexico.

Pickwick Lake is noted for its massive catfish and smallmouth bass, making it a popular spot for sport fishing. It is also a good place to enjoy water skiing, jet skiing and boating.

Pickwick Landing State Park sits along the shoreline of the lake and is home to a golf course, a hotel, a marina, a restaurant and picnic pavilions. There are also plenty of campsites within the park.

13. Radner Lake

Radnor Lake State ParkSource: Shania Mauldin Hansen / Shutterstock
Radnor Lake State Park

Part of the Radnor Lake State Park, Radner Lake is a stunning lake surrounded by natural scenery. The lake is a great place for canoeing and kayaking, while the surrounding park is popular for hiking and bird watching.

Radnor Lake State Park is a Class II State Natural Area, which means that no picnicking or camping is allowed. Visitors can, however, enjoy the park and the lake throughout the day.

There is a lovely trail that encircles the lake, offering spectacular views of it. There are also a couple of observation decks along the shoreline that overlook the lake.

14. Cordell Hull Lake

Cordell Hull LakeSource: Amy Nichole Harris / Shutterstock
Cordell Hull Lake

Sitting on the Cumberland River, Cordell Hull Lake is located around 64 kilometres east of Nashville in north-central Tennessee. The United States Army Corps of Engineers built the lake for a variety of purposes, including recreation.

Boating, fishing and swimming are popular activities that are enjoyed on Cordell Hull Lake. It has 613 kilometre shoreline that is home to a marina, a resort and campgrounds.

The lake stretches across three counties, having a surface area of over 64 square kilometres. Cordell Hull Lake was named after Cordell Hull, a former Secretary of State who served under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

15. Nickajack Lake

Nickajack LakeSource: Tracy Burroughs Brown / Shutterstock
Nickajack Lake

Nickajack Lake is a stunning lake, surrounded by the scenery of the Tennessee River Gorge. It was creating during the damming of the Tennessee River when Nickajack Dam was built.

Water skiing, jet skiing, fishing, boating and swimming are popular activities that visitors enjoy in the lake. In fact, in 1972, the world record for freshwater drum was caught in the lake.

The shoreline around Nickajack Lake is 346 kilometres, which is home to marinas, cabins and campgrounds. Part of the lake sits in the city of Chattanooga, where there are bridges stretching across it.

15 Best Lakes in Tennessee:

  • Norris Lake
  • Dale Hollow Reservoir
  • Cherokee Lake
  • Old Hickory Lake
  • Chickamauga Lake
  • Percy Priest Lake
  • Center Hill Lake
  • Reelfoot Lake
  • Boone Lake
  • Watauga Lake
  • Watts Bar Lake
  • Pickwick Lake
  • Radner Lake
  • Cordell Hull Lake
  • Nickajack Lake