For a landlocked state, Tennessee has a surprising number of very pleasant beaches. Most Tennessee lakes, natural and reservoirs, have scenic sandy shores all around, some designated for swimming, with facilities such as picnic areas, and others with pretty little hidden coves to tie the kayak and go for a dip. Many of the beaches are located within state and federal parks, are surrounded by lush forests, and are within one of the campgrounds.
1.Big Ridge State Park
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Big Ridge State Park is the densely forested, 3,687-acre park that includes the Valley Range and the Appalachian Ridge. The park’s topography is characterized by three narrow ridges surrounded by fertile valleys, creating breathtakingly beautiful scenery. The park has over 15 miles of hiking trails, some of which run along dry ridges, old roadbeds, lush hollows, and lakeshores, passing by old cemeteries and early historic settlements. There is a sandy beach on the banks of Big Ridge Lake that is great for swimming and cooling off in the summer. There is a concrete-bottomed area just for children. The park also has facilities for sand volleyball, tennis, basketball court, and softball. The best time to come to Big Ridge State Park is during the annual Bluegrass Festival in August.
1015 Big Ridge Park Rd, Maynardville, TN 37807, Phone: 865-992-5523
2.Center Hill Lake
Center Hill Lake is a 18,000-acre lake in the Tennessee Eastern Highlands, about 60 miles from Nashville, surrounded by dense lush forests. The lake has 400 miles of shoreline with lovely small sandy beaches, coves and inlets, 20 boat ramps, and seven marinas. Three state parks surround the lake and all offer great camping, hiking, boating, and swimming as well as a range of water sports. If all this is not enough, there are three scenic waterfalls nearby. Center Hill Lake is very popular with anglers who come for largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky 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 in the Cumberland River than a real lake, but it creates a rich opportunity for recreation in the area. It was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers as a consequence of constructing the Cheatham Lock and Dam near Nashville. Every year, the long, narrow lake provides about two million people with an opportunity for fishing, camping, boating, and wildlife observation. There is one swimming beach at the Cheatham Dam Right Bank Recreation Area, almost 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 sailing, water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, and windsurfing. Kayaking is a great way to enjoy the lake’s little coves and small hidden patches of sand.
1798 Cheatham Dam Rd, Ashland City, TN 37015, Phone: 615-792-5697
Cherokee Lake is located at the foothills of the Clinch Mountains in East Tennessee, about 30 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee. It is surrounded by picturesque rolling pastures and rich farmlands. The 30,300-acre lake was created from the Holston River and its tributaries. Cherokee Lake is one of the biggest lakes in the state of Tennessee and has 463 miles of shoreline. Cherokee has several boat docks, a park, and a number of campgrounds. Fishermen love Cherokee Lake for its abundance of largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, white bass, and strippers. There are many tent and trailer sites at the Cherokee Dam Campground, which offers heated showers, a playground, group pavilion, picnic tables with grills, and a lovely swimming beach. There are boat ramps both above and below dam as well as paved walking trails.
Cherokee Marina, 9499 Hwy 11 W., Moorseburg, TN 38380
Chickamauga Lake is a popular recreational reservoir in southeast Tennessee, about 20 miles from Chattanooga. It has more than 810 miles of shoreline and was originally developed for flood control and power generation. Today, Chickamauga Lake is heavily used for recreation such as watersports, boating, hiking, sailing, biking, camping, wildlife observation, fishing, golf, 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 picnic areas, playgrounds, and seven well-maintained swimming areas. Marinas offer slips for boating, fuel, food, and boat rentals. Harrison Bay State Park has an 18-hole PGA golf course. Fishermen enjoy wealth of black bass, crappie, largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass.
TN-153, Chattanooga, TN 37406, Phone: 256-267-4881
6.Cordell Hull Lake
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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 building 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 range of outdoor recreation activities such as camping, fishing, boating, picnicking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife observation. There are two campgrounds: Defeated Creek Campground and Salt Lick Creek Campground. Three day-use areas have pleasant swimming beaches, picnic sites, and kids’ playgrounds.
71 Corps Ln, Carthage, TN 37030-2264
7.Dale Hollow Lake
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Located on the Kentucky/Tennessee border, the Dale Hollow Reservoir was created by the damming of the Obey River, mostly for flood control. With more than 620 miles of lush undeveloped shoreline and clear, spring-fed waters, the lake is a very popular recreation spot for neighboring counties. It is particularly famous for its beautiful houseboats. Visitors can swim almost anywhere on the lake, but swimming in designated swim areas with nice sandy beaches is much safer as these are off limits to boaters. There is no lifeguard on duty. Of all watersports, water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing are the most popular, but the main recreational activity is fishing. Dale Hollow is a prime location for smallmouth bass fishing.
540 Dale Hollow Dam Rd, Celina, TN 38551, Phone: 931-243-3136
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The 28,000-acre Douglas Lake is located about 25 miles east of Knoxville in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. It has 500 miles of shoreline mostly used as farmland and for residential development. Douglas Lake was created as the result of the construction of Douglas Dam on the French Broad River. Today, Douglas Lake is a popular recreation destination with twelve boat ramps and facilities for fishing, watersports, boating, swimming, and birdwatching. Anglers love Douglas Lake for the abundance of largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish. Douglas Dam Headwater Campground has a nice sandy swimming beach open for day use, which stretches along the shore next to the boat ramp. The beach and the campground are backed by beautiful hardwood forest.
9.J. Percy Priest Lake
Only a short drive from downtown Nashville, 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 such boating, fishing, camping, horseback riding, wildlife watching, picnicking, swimming, sailing, jet skiing, water skiing, hiking, and more. There are several marinas that accommodate all kinds of boat, 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. Fishermen come for striped, large mouth, small mouth, 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 world’s largest man-made bodies of water. Located only 3 hours from St. Louis and 6 hours from the Smoky Mountains, the lake was created in 1938 as the result of building 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 better campgrounds, there are no designated sandy beaches and no lifeguards. The Moss Creek Day Use Area on the north end of the Land Between The Lakes (the area between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley) is the most popular swimming area. It is a pebble beach with picnic tables, grills, and public bathrooms.
Lake Barkley is a 58,000-acre reservoir shared between Kentucky and Tennessee. It was created by impounding the Cumberland River for the construction of Barkley Dam. There is a canal connecting Lake Barkley with Kentucky Lake about 1 mile from the dam, creating one of the largest freshwater recreational areas in the country called the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. The lake is popular among fishermen and boaters and there are many spots where you can dip in during the hot summer days. Most campgrounds 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
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Nickajack Lake is an incredibly beautiful lake surrounded by the steep, rugged walls of the Tennessee River Gorge. The lake was created by impounding the Tennessee River during the construction of 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 spotted, black and largemouth bass, catfish, and pan fish. There are quite a few boat-launching ramps on both sides of the river below the dam as well as a concrete fishing pier. The lake is a paradise for boaters, and exploring its 215 miles of scenic shorelines is best done slowly from a kayak and canoe. There are many sandy and pebbly spots for a nice dip into the lake during the summer.
Located about 25 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee, Norris Lake was filled in 1937 as a result of the construction of Norris Dam. Surrounding the lake is Big Ridge State Park, with more than 15 miles of maintained trails and diverse camping sites. 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 Norris Lake. Norris Lake supports a range of watersports, boating, water skiing, swimming, and great fishing.
433 Deerwood Ln, La Follette, TN 37766-6733
14.Old Hickory Lake
Located in north Tennessee, about 25 miles from Nashville, 22,500-acre Old Hickory Lake is a popular recreational spot known for great boating, fishing, jet skiing, paddleboarding, sailing, kayaking, camping, and swimming. The lake was formed as a result of damming the Cumberland River to build Old Hickory Lock and Dam. There are 41 boat ramps on the lake, two campgrounds, and four marinas. There are four designated swimming beach areas on the lake: At Cedar Creek in 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 launching ramps.
5 Power Plant Rd, Hendersonville, TN 37075, Phone: 615-822-4846
15.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 location of the park makes it perfect for all kinds of watersports – fishing, boating, water skiing, and swimming. The park also has a challenging 18-hole golf course. There is a designated public swimming area but no lifeguards on duty. There are a few picnic area and restrooms. On land, there are hiking trails through the area of incredible natural beauty and plenty of wildlife that make it their home. Keep an eye open for turkey, deer, fox, and coyote. Fishermen 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 northwestern 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 cypress trees dominate the landscape and a range of aquatic plants and flowers cover the shoreline. The lake is a birdwatchers’ paradise. It provides home to many species of shore and wading birds as well as American and golden bald eagles. The lake also provides an ideal environment for many fish species, to the delight of anglers. About 200 American bald eagles spend the winter at Reelfoot Lake. The lake is very shallow and its scenic coastline makes it great for kayaking, but no water skiing, wake boarding, or tubing is possible or allowed. There are a few sandy shores that make pleasant beaches for dipping in the lake, such as the old Sunkist Beach at the Washout and Magnolia Beach.
2595 TN-21, Tiptonville, TN 38079, Phone: 731-253-9652
17.Rock Island State Park
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The 883-acre Rock Island State Park is located on a peninsula created by the confluence of Caney Fork River and Collins River and at the headwaters of Center Hill Lake. The ruggedly beautiful park includes Caney Fork Gorge just below Great Falls Dam. Great Falls is a magnificent 30-foot high horseshoe-shaped cascading waterfall. Swimming is not allowed from the powerhouse to the main beach boat ramp because of dangerous hidden currents. Caney Fork River Gorge is perfect for hiking, fishing, swimming, kayaking, and just exploring. There is a whitewater section in the park that attract kayakers from all over the world. The park also has a small natural sand beach as well as boating 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 eastern Tennessee. It was created as a result of building Tellico Dam. The lakeshore is mostly undeveloped with a few recreation 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 is large enough to explore. Sailing is also very popular. There are many spots around the lake with a pleasant sandy shore where visitors can go for a swim or cool off in the lake during hot summer months.
Loudon County, TN
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Pristine Watauga Lake is hidden in the Appalachian Mountains in northeastern 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 accessible by narrow, winding mountain roads. It is also quite far away from larger cities, staying below the radar of most tourists. But for those who love solitude and unspoiled natural beauty, Watauga Lake is breathtaking. Fifty-eight miles of the lake shoreline are public lands and included in the Cherokee National Forest. The limited development on the lake shoreline has left a large expanse of beautiful forested lake shore completely wild and unspoiled. There is a public beach located on the western end of the lake at one of the national recreation areas. A public boat launch is located at the Rat Branch Recreational Area.
20.Watts Bar Lake
Called "King of the Southern Great Lakes," Watts Bar Lake is located halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga. The lake was created as the result of building Watts Bar Dam by impounding the Tennessee River for navigation, flood control, and generation of hydroelectric power. Watts Bar Lake stretches from Watts Bar Dam to Fort Loudoun Dam and is big enough that even with the millions of people that visit it every year, it never feels crowded. There are several marinas with boat and houseboat rentals and plenty of room for sailboats. Anglers come for large populations of largemouth, smallmouth, and black bass but also for catfish, striper, white bass, and crappie. Swimming in Watts Bar Lake is a great pleasure after a morning of fishing. There are pleasant sandy shores all around the lake, with basic facilities but no lifeguards.
Roane County, TN
20 Best Tennessee Beaches
- Big Ridge State Park, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- Center Hill Lake, Photo: kitty45/stock.adobe.com
- Cheatham Lake, Photo: Baronb/stock.adobe.com
- Cherokee Lake, Photo: diy13/stock.adobe.com
- Chickamauga Lake, Photo: Alysta/stock.adobe.com
- Cordell Hull Lake, Photo: Amy Nichole Harris/stock.adobe.com
- Dale Hollow Lake, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- Douglas Lake, Photo: Olegs Mareida/stock.adobe.com
- J. Percy Priest Lake, Photo: AnnaMoskvina/stock.adobe.com
- Kentucky Lake, Photo: baon/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Barkley, Photo: schankz/stock.adobe.com
- Nickajack Lake, Photo: Stan Reese/stock.adobe.com
- Norris Lake, Photo: quasarphotos/stock.adobe.com
- Old Hickory Lake, Photo: Brad/stock.adobe.com
- Paris Landing State Park, Photo: jdross75/stock.adobe.com
- Reelfoot Lake, Photo: jerzy/stock.adobe.com
- Rock Island State Park, Photo: Michael Shake/stock.adobe.com
- Tellico Reservoir, Photo: Tonya/stock.adobe.com
- Watauga Lake, Photo: Melinda Fawver/stock.adobe.com
- Watts Bar Lake, Photo: michaelheim/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: ehrlif/stock.adobe.com