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Lake Discovery Updated:

Best Lakes in Tennessee

Nestled between the ancient Appalachian Mountains, Tennessee has some of the most beautiful lakes for boating, camping, and exploring.

In this article, you will discover the best lakes in all of Tennessee.

Many of Tennessee's best lakes are actually reservoirs that were created by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as part of the Tennessee River system. The TVA established these dams and locks to turn the Tennessee River into a 652-mile-long river highway.

1. Watauga Lake

Best lakes in Tennessee: Watauga Lake
Watauga Lake, Tennessee

​Watauga Lake is located in the beautiful Cherokee National Forest. The lake is known for its deep blue waters that are surrounded by mountain vistas dense with trees.

Along the shores, you can use a number of developed sites including public boat launches, picnic areas, and campgrounds that are maintained by the Forest Service.

Watauga Lake is a great lake to visit if you are looking for a fairly quiet place. The lake is lightly touristed due to the somewhat difficult road access. Don't let this deter you though. The National Forest and lake are well worth the trek in.

Watauga Lake is the highest-elevated reservoir in Tennessee. From this lake's altitude, you will see sweeping views of the Southern Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee.

2. Chickamauga Lake

Best lakes in Tennessee: Chickamauga Lake
Chickamauga Lake, Tennessee

Chickamauga Lake is located 20 miles North East of Chattanooga. Chickamauga is a large lake spanning 36,000-acres with 810 miles of shoreline.

Chickamauga has very good water quality and is widely known as a destination for largemouth bass fishing. In fact, Chickamauga Lake holds the state record for largemouth bass for a 15.2 pounder that was caught in 2015.

If you're looking for accommodations, the lake has over 400 vacation rentals available including beautiful lake houses and cabins.

3. Center Hill Lake

Best lakes in Tennessee: Center Hill Lake
Center Hill Lake, Tennessee

Center Hill Lake is a reservoir located in Middle Tennessee near Smithville. Center Hill Lake offers a wide variety of recreational activities and destinations including lakeside state parks, restaurants, and marinas.

Visitors also love to check out the waterfalls. There are 12 waterfalls around Center Hill Lake including Burgess Falls, Fancher Falls, and Twin Falls at Rock Island, which are all accessible by water.

If you are looking to camp or hike at Center Hill Lake, there are three state parks border the lake’s shoreline: Burgess Falls, Rock Island, and Edgar Evins.

4. Norris Lake

Best lakes in Tennessee: Norris Lake
Norris Lake, Tennessee

Norris Lake was formed by the Norris Dam on the Clinch River in the Tennessee Valley. It is known for being the perfect lake for water sport enthusiasts!

The lake has over 800 miles of shoreline and is a great getaway spot for boating, fishing, camping, water skiing, and tubing.

For boaters, there are some fantastic full-service marinas and lakeside restaurants including Sequoyah Marina and Stardust Marina.

You can also day trip or camp at Norris Dam State Park. The park has a fully equipped marina with a boat ramp available to the general public. Houseboats and pontoon boats are available for rent along with other types of boats.

5. Watts Bar Lake

Best lakes in Tennessee: Watts Bar Lake
Watts Bar Lake, Tennessee

Watts Bar Lake is one of the largest lakes in Tennessee covering 39,000 acres with 771 miles of shoreline.

Watts Bar Lake is a spectacular recreational lake for boating, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, jet-skiing, and more. It is visited by more than a million people every year.

Around the lake, you will find full-service marinas, RV resorts, and beautiful lakeside accommodations like the Whitestone Inn and vacation homes.

Watts Bar Lake is located about halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville. It is a favorite destination for boaters due to its unique shape and sandy beaches.

6. Reelfoot Lake

Best lakes in Tennessee: Reelfoot Lake
Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee

Reelfoot Lake is located in Reelfoot Lake State Park. It is a shallow, natural lake that is characterized by the beautiful cypress trees that grow right in the lake.

The submerged stumps of the cypress tree stumps create a vast ecosystem of aquatic plants and fish, making it a fishers paradise. The 5,000-acre lake is home to over 50 different species of fish.

Reelfoot Lake is also a popular bird-watching location. It is most known for the large population of bald eagles that migrate from Canada to spend their winters at Reelfoot Lake.

7. Old Hickory Lake

Best lakes in Tennessee: Old Hickory Lake
Old Hickory Lake, Tennessee

Old Hickory Lake is an all-sport lake located about 25 miles from Nashville. It is popular for recreational activities like boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, water skiing, canoeing, jet-skiing, and more.

Old Hickory Lake has a lot of residential housing around its shores, but there are also a number of state parks and boat ramps where you can access the lake. In fact, there are 8 marinas and 41 boat access points on the lake.

For anglers, you will find large quantities of bass, crappie, catfish, walleye, striped bass, and sunfish. The fish are also known to be a good size on Old Hickory.

Old Hickory Lake is actually a reservoir. It was formed by the Old Hickory Lock and Dam located on the Cumberland River.

8. J. Percy Priest Lake

Best lakes in Tennessee: J. Percy Priest Lake
J. Percy Priest Lake, Tennessee

J. Percy Priest Lake is a 14,200-acre reservoir located about 10 miles east of downtown Nashville.

J. Percy Priest Lake has easy boat access with over a dozen boat ramps and several boat docks along its shoreline. This lake is popular for fishing boats, pontoons, canoes, and kayaks. You can also rent a boat from several different marinas.

If you are looking to do some fishing, you will find catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, striped bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, and trout in the waters of Percy Priest Lake.

Another great way to explore Percy Priest Lake is from shore. There are a number of well-maintained trails around the lake suitable for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

9. Cherokee Lake

Best lakes in Tennessee: Cherokee Lake
Cherokee Lake, Tennessee

Cherokee Lake is located in Knoxville, East Tennessee. The lake has beautiful surrounding scenery with the luscious rolling hills that define the Tennessee landscape. From the Northwest of Cherokee Lake, you can see the majestic Appalachian Mountains.

Cherokee Lake is another reservoir on this list. It covers 30,000 acres with a total of 463 miles of shoreline.

The lake is highly suitable for camping, picnicking, swimming, boating, and much more. You can also enjoy hiking, horseback riding, and golfing around the lake.

Cherokee Lake also has tons of fish! Cast a line for bountiful quantities of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, channel catfish, blue catfish, black crappie, white crappie, walleye, bluegill, redear sunfish, rock bass, warmouth, white bass, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, sauger, and saugeye.

10. Douglas Lake

Best lakes in Tennessee: Douglas Lake
Douglas Lake, Tennessee

Douglas Lake is located at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Its beautiful views make it a gorgeous lake to visit at any time of the year.

However, it's not just the views that bring people to Douglas Lake—it's the fishing! Douglas Lake has been named a Bassmaster Top 100 Lake. Douglas Lake is ranked in the top 10 in the United States for largemouth bass and is also rated one of the top 5 crappie.

Douglas Lake is also enjoyed by millions of visitors every single year for boating, jet skiing, wakeboarding, camping, picnicking, bird watching, and more. It's the perfect lake for having fun in the water and swimming.

Honorable Mentions

Some other honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut include Dale Hollow Lake, Kentucky Lake, Nickajack Lake, and Pickwick Lake.

All of these lakes share the beautiful Tennessee landscape and lush mountain views that the state is known for.

Bottom Line

Tennessee lakes offer some of the best fishing you will find in the USA. They also have many recreation areas for all of the water sports, camping, and lakeside activities on your list.

The lakes of Tennessee are very well serviced with plenty of marinas, boat ramps, and countless vacation and boat rental opportunities.

Get out and enjoy Tennesee's lakes! You might even break the largemouth bass record.

Deb Sauve
About Deb Sauvé

Deb is a Canadian outdoor enthusiast, journalist, and photographer. Raised in rural Northern Ontario, Deb is no stranger to extreme environments, remote fishing spots, and great lakes boating.

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