From the dazzling mountain ranges to the expanse of its churning waters, kayaking in Tennessee allows you to see some of the best scenic scenes Tennessee has in store for its visitors, not to mention the thrill of paddling in its rough river waters!
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned paddler, as there are multiple locations in Tennessee to help you start with kayaking, and all of them certainly won’t disappoint.
With the waterways expanding over more than 41,000 square miles in and around the State, visitors will be tempted to just be around the lively waters of Tennessee. If you’d like to start, here are our top recommendations.
1. Ocoee River
The Ocoee River is best suited for adventurers and thrill-seekers! In this river, you can paddle through III to IV class whitewater, something that’ll help you boost your paddling skills.
The steep gradient and the dynamic water can be pretty hard to navigate without pre-acquired paddling skills, though. This river's waters can be challenging even for the expert paddlers and rafters, but that's precisely why many people across the country visit it.
Yet, you’ll also find eddies, lines, and play posts to explore along your journey. So, if you’re trying to hone your skills, the 1-2 journey across this river should serve that purpose.
However, if you’re a beginner, starting out your kayaking journey at the Ocoee river isn’t the wisest decision.
2. Barren Fork River
Essentially, the Barren Fork River is a tributary that branches off the Cumberland River. It’s also part of the Mississippi Watershed. Expanding from east to west of the State, paddling across its waters will undoubtedly make for a unique kayaking experience.
If you’re simply kayaking for recreational purposes, kayaking in this river is a great way to go. There are multiple private and public access points across its length. For example, you can head to Pepper Branch Park, Rocket Park, or Crisp Springs Market.
Unlike the Ocoee River, the waters here are calmer, and the river banks display a stretch of glamorous natural beauty that’s just great if you like kayaking only for enjoying nature.
3. Cumberland River
With an impressive length of 668 miles long, the Cumberland River is one of the longest rivers in Tennessee and has a lot in stock for paddlers and rafters alike. It’s one of the major waterways in the U.S. and has been a popular hotspot among seasoned kayakers.
This destination is best suited for beginners, though it wouldn’t hurt if you’re quite the expert kayaker and like to go on picnics with your family! There are several stores, campgrounds, and parks, so you can either go on a one-day, multi-day, or overnight trip whenever you please.
Luckily, there are multiple public access points, such as North Cairo Boat Ramp, Two Rivers Park, and Roaring River Park.
4. The Obed River
The Obed River runs for about 45 miles through the State, and it’s the only waterway that’s federally protected. You have about 35 miles of water to enjoy a kayaking trip, which will roughly amount to a day and an overnight of paddling.
If you’re not up to the challenge of paddling the accessible 35 miles, there are still shorter waterways to go through, taking only a few hours to complete.
This river runs in the southeast and sports II-IV class rapids. While this might sound like an excellent place to start kayaking for some, it’s not suitable for beginners, seeing that the waters can turn to class V, which only expert paddlers can handle.
If you're looking for a kayaking journey in the heart of nature and away from human contact, you'll find this an excellent destination, as most banks are still untouched by humans. You'll also find several caves along the banks.
5. Clinch River
Flowing for about 300 miles from Virginia to Tennessee, the Clinch River offers one of the best waterways for paddling and trout fishing.
As you paddle your way across this river, you’ll be able to explore scenic pastures, see rare wildlife, and spot wooded ridges. Overall, a kayaking journey through this river is peaceful. Even the waterways are of Class I and II, so it’s an excellent spot for beginners and anyone looking for a relaxing day in calm waters.
Make sure to pack your camera to capture the natural beauty and unique rock formations along the bank. Be attentive to spotting wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might spot a river otter.
6. Buffalo River
The Buffalo River is the perfect spot for anyone looking for a kayaking trip across crystal clear waterways. It's known for its mesmerizing waters and the reason for that is the gravel bed that helps keep waters look refreshed.
It’s over 120 miles long and is one of the longest undammed rivers in Tennessee. It stretches across the southern and eastern parts of the State and feeds into the Duck River. While it’s an excellent spot for small bass fishing, you can still take your kayak there and enjoy a trip across the mirror-like waters!
Note that not all areas are for public access, but you can still access the river through campgrounds and the rental shops across its banks.
Now that you've reached the end of our guide, you can decide for yourself where to start kayaking in Tennessee. Be sure to consider your experience level before choosing your destination.
The Clinch River and the Cumberland River are best suited for beginners, while the Ocoee and the Obed river are great for expert kayakers.
Finally, make sure that you have the necessary equipment required for kayaking safely across river waters. If you don’t have any, you can consult one of the rental shops littering the areas around these rivers.
Choose your destination wisely, and happy kayaking!