15 Best Lakes in Tennessee

What Tennessee lacks in coastline, it more than makes up for in lakefront shorelines. This southeastern state has tons of freshwater lakes sprinkled throughout. While most of them are manmade reservoirs, there is one naturally occurring lake in Tennessee.

Does Tennessee have clean lakes? Yes, there are many clean and clear lakes in Tennessee, perfect for healthy recreation. If you love to fish, swim, boat, or paddle, or you dream of a relaxing vacation in a lake cabin, read on to learn all about the 15 best lakes in Tennessee.

We’ll tell you all about them and answer questions like “what is the nicest lake in Tennessee?” and “what’s the cleanest lake in Tennessee?”

Norris Lake

Norris Lake is often mentioned as the nicest lake in Tennessee. Just 55 miles to the north of Knoxville, Norris Lake is said to be the clearest and cleanest lake in Tennessee, and it is the largest and deepest. There’s plenty of that clear water to enjoy—34, 000 acres—with 800 miles of shoreline. Boaters can use more than 22 marinas to access the water for recreation or fishing.  There’s even a swimming beach, making this one of the best lakes in Tennessee for swimming.

You can also go canoeing, paddleboarding, kayaking, and water skiing at Norris Lake, as well as camping in the beautiful surrounding forest. This is also one of the best lakes in Tennessee for bass fishing, as well as trout, catfish, crappie, and walleye.

Cherokee Lake

This popular lake is also near Knoxville, about 35 miles northeast of the city. Cherokee Lake has about 400 miles of shore and 28,000 acres of water, and is one of the best lakes in Tennessee for fishing. It features bass, catfish, crappie, walleye and more.

It is also one of the best lakes in Tennessee for kayaking. You can also boat, paddleboard, and swim in the lake, and there are lots of trails around it for hiking. There are multiple campgrounds, cabins for rent, and RV parks.

Douglas Lake

Douglas Lake is one of the largest lakes in Tennessee, with about 30,000 acres and more than 500 feet of shoreline. It’s in the east part of the state, near the Smoky Mountains and the popular areas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Douglas Lake is one of the best lakes in Tennessee for bass fishing, and there are tournaments held here. You can also go boating, jet skiing, and paddleboarding.

Reelfoot Lake

This is the only large natural lake in Tennessee. Located in northwest Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake is 20 miles long, 7 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of 18 feet.

This lake has a fascinating creation story: it formed in 1811-12 after earthquakes made the Mississippi River flow backwards briefly and overflow its banks. A flooded forest, Reelfoot Lake is a National Natural Landmark featuring bald cypress trees and a vast range of rare and endangered plants, animals, and birds (including bald eagles).

You can fish, canoe, and kayak here, and there are eagle tours during the winter.  There are two campgrounds on the shore, plus lake cabins for rent. You can also fish, canoe, and kayak on Lake Isom, which is a smaller lake nearby.

Both lakes offer excellent birdwatching opportunities, making them two of the best lakes in Tennessee for kayaking.

Old Hickory Lake

One of the best lakes near Nashville, Old Hickory Lake is just 15 miles from downtown and offers plenty of recreational opportunities. There are plenty of marinas for boaters, plus parks, campgrounds, and a swimming beach, making it one of the best lakes in Tennessee for swimming.

This is another of the best lakes in Tennessee for fishing, with striped bass, crappie, and catfish available. There are 8 public fishing piers to provide access for anyone without a boat.

Percy Priest Lake

This lake is also one of the best lakes near Nashville—just a little over ten miles away. It is very popular and has multiple campgrounds, marinas, boat ramps, and picnic areas. You can swim, water ski, boat, fish, sail, and more here. On the shore you will find Long Hunter State Park.

Chickamauga Lake

This lake about 30 miles northeast of Chattanooga is one of the best lakes in Tennessee for bass fishing if you want to find record-sized largemouth bass. There are also spotted bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, and crappie in its waters. It’s also known for birdwatching.

You can rent boats here or there are public boat launches and marinas, and you can go paddleboarding, kayaking, and more. There are also campgrounds, hiking and biking trails, and a golf course.

Dale Hollow Lake

This lake is also considered one of the cleanest lakes in Tennessee. Situated in the north near the Kentucky border, Dale Hollow Lake is also known for having plentiful smallmouth bass fishing.

You can boat, tube, water ski, sail and more here, and there are hiking trails onshore. There are also marinas that offer boat rentals, including houseboats if you want to stay as close to the water as possible. In addition, there’s a resort park offering a lodge and cottages for rent.

Nickajack Lake

Located roughly 20 miles to the west of Chattanooga, this large reservoir lake offers natural beauty and plenty of fishing and boating. You can easily get on the water at multiple boat launches, and there are fishing piers as well. Along the shore you can also find picnic areas.

Nickajack Lake is popular due to several unique factors. It’s part of the Tennessee River Gorge and has beautiful limestone cliffs, and there is a wildlife refuge on the southern shore with endangered gray bats. There’s also a marina that has cabin rentals and sites for RVs.

Wautauga Lake

Set near the Appalachian Mountains and Cherokee National Forest in the northeastern part of Tennessee, this lake is peaceful and remote, and not as developed as many other lakes in Tennessee. It is also the highest lake in the state.

Wautagua Lake offers boat launches, marinas, a fishing pier, and hiking trails. You can rent boats or go paddleboarding, water skiing, and kayaking here. There are also swimming beaches and picnic areas, plus campgrounds and nearby cabins.

Center Hill Lake

This manmade lake is known for its vivid green color and wealth of recreational activities. Located in the middle of Tennessee, between Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, Center Hill Lake offers fishing, boating, birdwatching, kayaking, and wakeboarding, as well as hiking and picnicking along the shore.

Center Hill Lake is one of the best lakes in Tennessee for kayaking.

Tellico Lake

Another of the best lakes in Tennessee for fishing is Tellico Lake, 30 miles southwest of Knoxville and near Cherokee National Forest. This lake has both largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, as well as crappies, rainbow trout, and bluegills.

Tellico Lake is also one of the cleanest lakes in Tennessee, which makes it one of the best lakes in Tennessee for swimming. You can also boat, kayak, and canoe here, and there are hiking trails and picnic areas on the shore. Additionally there are golf courses nearby.

Watts Bar Lake

This lake features a beautiful B&B on the shore, the Whitestone Inn, as well as campgrounds, RV parks, and cabins on its 771 miles of shore. This is a popular lake for birdwatching and hunting, as well as fishing. There are largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass here, plus other kinds of fish like catfish and crappie.

Watts Bar Lake is located between Knoxville and Chattanooga.

Pickwick Lake

Pickwick Lake, set in the western part of the state, is known for smallmouth bass fishing as well as catfish fishing. You can also go boating, jet skiing, and water skiing here, and there’s a state park with a marina, picnic areas, campsites, hotel, and golf course.

Radner Lake

This is one of the best lakes in Tennessee for kayaking or canoeing, as it’s undeveloped and pristine. On the shore, birdwatching and hiking are popular. No camping or picnicking is allowed in Radnor Lake State Park, so this isn’t a place to stay overnight.