For a landlocked state, Tennessee has a surprising number of very nice beaches. Most of Tennessee’s lakes, natural and reservoirs, have sandy shorelines around them, some designated for swimming, with facilities like picnic areas, and others with little hidden coves to tie up your kayak and take a dip. Many of the beaches are located within state and federal parks, are surrounded by lush forests, and are located within one of the campgrounds.
Big Ridge State Park
Big Ridge State Park is the 3,687-acre densely forested park that includes the Valley Range and Appalachian Ridge. The topography of the park is characterized by three narrow ridges surrounded by fertile valleys, creating landscapes of breathtaking beauty. The park has more than 15 miles of hiking trails, some of which stretch along dry ridges, old flowerbeds, lush hollows and lakeshores, past ancient cemeteries and early historic settlements. There is a sandy beach on the shores of Big Ridge Lake that is great for swimming and cooling off in the summer. There is a concrete bottomed area just for kids. The park also has facilities for sand volleyball, tennis, a basketball court, and softball.
1015 Big Ridge Park Rd, Maynardville, TN 37807, Phone: 865-992-5523
Center Hill Lake
Center Hill Lake is an 18,000-acre lake in the East Tennessee Highlands, about 60 miles from Nashville, surrounded by dense hardwood forests. The lake has 400 miles of shoreline with beautiful sandy beaches, coves and inlets, 20 boat ramps, and seven marinas. Three state parks surround the lake and all offer excellent camping, hiking, boating, and swimming, as well as a variety of water sports. If all this is not enough, there are three waterfalls nearby. Center Hill Lake is very popular with anglers who come to eat largemouth, Kentucky bass and bass, crappie, catfish, bream, bluegill, and other species of fish.
158 Resource Dr, Lancaster, TN 38569, Phone: 931-858-3125
Cheatham Lake is more of a wide spot on the Cumberland River than an actual lake, but it creates a great opportunity for recreation in the area. It was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers as a consequence of the construction of the Cheatham Lock and Dam near Nashville. Each year, the long, narrow lake offers nearly two million people the opportunity to fish, camp, boat, and view wildlife. There is a swimming beach on the Cheatham Dam Right Bank Recreation Area, nearly a hundred picnic sites, two campgrounds, 14 playgrounds, 18 boat ramps, and two marinas. Many boaters visit Cheatham Lake every year. The lake is also popular for boating, water skiing, tubing, wake boarding, and wind surfing.
1798 Cheatham Dam Rd, Ashland City, TN 37015, Phone: 615-792-5697
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Cherokee Lake is located in the foothills of the Clinch Mountains in eastern Tennessee, about 30 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee. It is surrounded by picturesque rolling pastures and rich farmland. The 30,300-acre lake was created from the Holston River and its tributaries. Cherokee Lake is one of the largest lakes in the state of Tennessee and has 463 miles of shoreline. Cherokee has several boat docks, a park, and several campgrounds. Anglers love Lake Cherokee for its abundance of largemouth bass, earworms, white bass, and strippers. There are plenty of tent and trailer sites at the Cherokee Dam Campground, which offers heated showers, a playground, a group pavilion, picnic tables with grills, and a beautiful swimming beach. There are boat ramps both above and below the dam,
Cherokee Marina, 9499 Hwy 11 W., Moorseburg, TN 38380
Chickamauga Lake is a popular recreational reservoir in southeastern Tennessee, about 20 miles from Chattanooga. It has more than 810 miles of coastline and was originally developed for flood control and power generation. Today, Lake Chickamauga is heavily used for recreation, including water sports, boating, hiking, sailing, biking, camping, wildlife viewing, fishing, golfing, and swimming. The lake has 15 marinas, 35 boat ramps, and two state arks: Booker T. Washington and Harrison Bay. There are campgrounds of all kinds around the lake, as well as picnic areas, playgrounds, and seven well-maintained swimming areas. Marinas offer docks for boating, fuel, food, and boat rentals. Harrison Bay State Park has a PGA 18-hole golf course.
TN-153, Chattanooga, TN 37406, Phone: 256-267-4881
Cordell Hull Lake
Cordell Hull Lake is a 12,000-acre lake in north-central Tennessee, on the Cumberland River, about 40 miles east of Nashville. The lake is a reservoir created as a result of the construction of the Cordell Hull Dam. Cordell Hull Dam was built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers between 1963 and 1973 for hydroelectric power generation, navigation, and recreation. Cordell Hull Lake offers a variety of outdoor recreational activities including camping, fishing, boating, picnicking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. There are two campgrounds: Routed Creek Campground and Salt Lick Creek Campground. Three day-use areas have nice swimming beaches, picnic sites, and playgrounds.
71 Corps Ln, Carthage, TN 37030-2264
Dale Hollow Lake
Located on the Kentucky/Tennessee border, Dale Hollow Reservoir was created by damming the Obey River, primarily for flood control. With more than 620 miles of lush, undeveloped shoreline and clear spring-fed waters, the lake is a popular recreation spot for neighboring counties. It is particularly famous for its beautiful houseboats. Visitors can swim almost anywhere in the lake, but swimming in designated swimming areas with nice sandy beaches is much safer as they are off limits to boaters. There are no lifeguards on duty. Of all the water sports, water skiing, wakeboarding and tubing are the most popular, but the main recreational activity is fishing. Dale Hollow is a prime spot for bass fishing.
540 Dale Hollow Dam Rd, Celina, TN 38551, Phone: 931-243-3136
The 28,000-acre Lake Douglas is located about 25 miles east of Knoxville, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. It has 500 miles of coastline that is used primarily as farmland and for residential development. Douglas Lake was created as a result of the construction of the Douglas Dam on the French Broad River. Today, Douglas Lake is a popular recreation destination with twelve boat ramps and facilities for fishing, water sports, boating, swimming, and bird watching. Anglers love Lake Douglas for its abundance of largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish. Douglas Dam Headwater Campground has a nice sandy beach open for day use, stretching along the shore by the boat ramp.
J. Percy Priest Lake
Just a short drive from downtown Nashville, the 14,000-acre Percy Priest Lake was created as a result of the construction of the J. Percy Priest Dam. The beautiful lake offers a wide range of opportunities for recreation, including boating, fishing, camping, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, picnicking, swimming, sailing, jet skiing, water skiing, hiking, and more. There are several marinas with capacity for all types of boats, which can also be rented. The best beach is at the Anderson Road Recreation Area, a nice stretch of sand with grills and picnic tables. There is plenty of shade if it gets too hot. Anglers come for rays, bigmouth, smallmouth, white and cherokee bass, catfish, bluegill, sunfish and trout.
3737 Bell Rd, Nashville, TN 37214, Phone: 615-889-1975
At 160,000 acres, Kentucky Lake is one of the largest man-made bodies of water in the world. Located just 3 hours from St. Louis and 6 hours from the Smoky Mountains, the lake was created in 1938 as a result of the construction of the Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River. The lake is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, especially for those who love fishing, hunting, and boating. Outside of the best campgrounds, there are no designated sandy beaches and no lifeguards. The Moss Creek Day Use Area at the northern end of the land between the lakes (the area between Kentucky Lake and Barkley Lake) is the most popular swimming area. It’s a pebble beach with picnic tables, grills, and public restrooms.
Lake Barkley is a 58,000-acre reservoir shared by Kentucky and Tennessee. It was created by confiscating the Cumberland River for the construction of the Barkley Dam. There is a canal connecting Lake Barkley to Kentucky Lake within 1 mile of the dam, creating one of the largest freshwater recreation areas in the country called the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. The lake is popular with fishermen and boaters and there are plenty of places where you can take a dip during hot summer days. Most camps have their own sandy or pebble beaches with few basic facilities. There are no lifeguards anywhere.
200 Barkley Dam Overlook, Grand Rivers, KY 42045, Phone: 270-362-4236
Lake Nickajack is a stunningly beautiful lake surrounded by the sheer, craggy walls of the Tennessee River Gorge. The lake was created by impounding the Tennessee River during the construction of the Nickajack Dam, created for navigation, flood control, and power generation. Today, it is the perfect place to enjoy the beautiful scenery, fish, kayak or swim. Anglers come for the abundance of black, spotted, catfish, and pan sea bass. There are quite a few boat launch ramps on both sides of the river below the dam, as well as a concrete fishing pier. The lake is a boater’s paradise, and exploring its 215 miles of scenic shoreline is best done slowly from a kayak and canoe.
Located approximately 25 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee, Norris Lake was filled in 1937 as a result of the construction of the Norris Dam. Surrounding the lake is Big Ridge State Park, with more than 15 miles of maintained trails and a variety of campsites. There is a beautiful swimming hole in the park, one of the most popular on the lake. Loyston Point Recreation Area offers camping, swimming, and hiking along Lake Norris. Norris Lake supports a variety of water sports, boating, jet skiing, swimming, and excellent fishing.
433 Deerwood Ln, La Follette, TN 37766-6733
Old Hickory Lake
Located in northern Tennessee about 25 miles from Nashville, the 22,500-acre Old Hickory Lake is a popular recreational spot known for its excellent boating, fishing, jet skiing, paddleboarding, sailing, kayaking, camping, and swimming. The lake was formed as a result of the Cumberland River being dammed to build the Old Hickory Lock and Dam. There are 41 boat ramps on the lake, two campgrounds, and four marinas. There are four designated beach areas for swimming in the lake: at Cedar Creek on Mt. Juliet, Laguardo in Lebanon, Lock 3 in Hendersonville, and Old Hickory Beach by the dam in Old Hickory. The beaches have picnic tables, restrooms, grills, and launch ramps.
5 Power Plant Rd, Hendersonville, TN 37075, Phone: 615-822-4846
Paris Landing State Park
The 841-acre Paris Landing State Park is located on the widest part of the 160,000-acre Kentucky Lake, on the western shore of the Tennessee River. The park’s location makes it perfect for all kinds of water sports: fishing, boating, water skiing, and swimming. The park also has a challenging 18-hole golf course. There is a designated public bathing area but no lifeguards on duty. There are some picnic areas and restrooms. On land, there are hiking trails through the area of incredible natural beauty and plenty of wildlife that call it home. Keep an eye out for turkey, deer, fox and coyote. Anglers love Kentucky Lake for more than 100 species of fish.
16055 Highway 79 N, Buchanan, TN 38222, Phone: 731-641-4465
The 10,400-acre shallow Reelfoot Lake is located in northwest Tennessee and is the largest natural lake in Tennessee. The lake is actually a flooded forest, with swampy areas connected to open water by narrow ditches. Majestic cypresses dominate the landscape and a range of aquatic plants and flowers cover the shoreline. The lake is a bird watcher’s paradise. It is home to many species of shorebirds and wading birds, as well as American bald and golden eagles. The lake also provides an ideal environment for many species of fish, much to the delight of anglers. About 200 American Bald Eagles winter at Reelfoot Lake. The lake is very shallow and its scenic shoreline makes it ideal for kayaking, but water skiing is not possible or permitted, wakeboarding or tubing. There are some sandy shorelines that make nice beaches for dipping in the lake, like the old Sunkist Beach in Washout and Magnolia Beach.
2595 TN-21, Tiptonville, TN 38079, Phone: 731-253-9652
Rock Island State Park
The 883-acre Rock Island State Park is located on a peninsula created by the confluence of the Caney Fork River and the Collins River and at the headwaters of Center Hill Lake. The beautiful, rugged park includes Caney Fork Gorge just below the Great Falls Dam. Great Falls is a magnificent 30 foot tall horseshoe shaped cascading waterfall. Swimming is not permitted from the powerhouse to the main beach boat ramp due to dangerous undercurrents. Caney Fork River Gorge is perfect for hiking, fishing, swimming, kayaking, and just exploring. There is a whitewater section in the park that attracts kayakers from all over the world. The park also has a small natural sand beach, as well as boat access on Center Hill Lake.
82 Beach Rd, Rock Island, TN 38581, Phone: 931-686-2471
Tellico Lake is located less than a 30-minute drive from Knoxville, deep in the mountains of East Tennessee. It was created as a result of the construction of the Tellico Dam. The lakefront is mostly undeveloped with a few recreational facilities such as several campgrounds, boat ramps, and a network of hiking trails. The lake is stocked with walleye and rainbow trout and is also rich in largemouth bass. Boaters love Tellico Lake because it’s big enough to explore. Sailing is also very popular. There are many places around the lake with a nice sandy shore where visitors can swim or cool off in the lake during the hot summer months.
Loudon County, TN
Pristine Lake Watauga is tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains in northeast Tennessee. The 6,430-acre reservoir is fairly unknown and not visited by too many people. The lake is located within the Cherokee National Forest and is accessible by narrow, winding mountain roads. It’s also quite far from the big cities, staying under the radar of most tourists. But for lovers of solitude and unspoiled natural beauty, Lake Watauga is stunning. Fifty-eight miles of the lake’s shoreline is public land and included in the Cherokee National Forest. Limited development on the lake’s shoreline has left a vast expanse of beautiful forested shoreline completely wild and unspoiled. There is a public beach located at the western end of the lake in one of the national recreation areas. A public boat launch is located at the Rat Branch Recreation Area.
Watts Bar Lake
Called “King of the Great Southern Lakes,” Watts Bar Lake sits midway between Knoxville and Chattanooga. The lake was created as a result of the construction of the Watts Bar Dam by impounding the Tennessee River for navigation, flood control, and hydroelectric power generation. Watts Bar Lake stretches from Watts Bar Dam to Fort Loudoun Dam and is large enough that even with the millions of people who visit each year, it never feels crowded. There are several marinas with boat and houseboat rentals and plenty of space for sailboats. Anglers come for large populations of largemouth, smallmouth bass, and black bass, but also for catfish, rays, white bass, and crappie. Swimming in Watts Bar Lake is a great pleasure after a morning of fishing.
Roane County, TN