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7 Best Lakes in Tennessee (With Video Tours)

7 Best Lakes in Tennessee (With Video Tours)

The Tennessee Valley Authority created many lakes in Tennessee during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The goal – gaining control over flooding and establishing power for a number of rural communities throughout the state. 

In doing so, the TVA established some wonderfully scenic and enjoyable escapes, scattered from east to west. 

We love Tennessee. We also love camping.

That’s why we’re also sharing the best campgrounds by these lakes in Tennessee.

Here’s our choices for the 7 best lakes:

#1 Norris Lake

The Tennessee Valley Authority created Norris Lake when it dammed a section of the Clinch River in 1936. This provided flood control and hydroelectric power as a result. 

But today’s visitors also relish the opportunity to fish, swim and boat on the clear waters of this 35,000-acre lake.  There are numerous coves and islands to explore, and with dozens of marinas, resorts, and amenities built along its shoreline.

There is no end to the activities enjoyed at this East Tennessee vacation destination.

Location:  Norris Lake lies just 20 miles due north of Knoxville, not far from the Appalachian Mountains.

GPS coordinates:  36°17’54.6″N 83°54’30.2″W

Great Nearby Campsite:  Located right on the lake, Loyston Point Campground has 64 campsites with electricity and water.  Sites are spacious, with fire pits and picnic tables, and a small camp store has canoes and paddleboards for rent.

Tennessee Lake Vibes Score:  9.2/10

#2 Dale Hollow Reservoir

Another lake created to provide electricity to rural areas, Dale Hollow Reservoir was completed in 1943. 

This Cumberland Basin location now welcomes millions of vacationers each year who come to scuba dive, fish, boat and swim in the clear waters of the lake. 

With miles of shoreline, much of it still undeveloped, it’s easy for visitors to find peaceful hideaways and campsites.  But local marinas have ramped up their offerings for outdoor adventure, providing boat rentals, restaurants, and resort amenities to those who seek a more active escape.

Location:  Situated 40 miles north of Cookeville, Dale Hollow Lake hugs the Tennessee/Kentucky border.

GPS coordinates:  36°32’19.1″N 85°26’56.0″W

Great Nearby Campsite:  Located close to the fish hatchery, the Dale Hollow Damsite Corps of Engineers Campground is a great place from which to explore the lake.  With 79 campsites that have electric and water hookups, the campground is a real find.  Clean restrooms and showers, and a location right on an inlet make it a destination not to be overlooked.

Tennessee Lake Vibes Score:  9.2/10

#3 Center Hill Lake

Covering 64 miles in length, Center Hill Lake was initially created in 1948 when the Army Corps of Engineers built one of four dams on the Cumberland River. 

These days visitors have found a variety of ways to enjoy the lake. From paddleboarding, water skiing, and fishing, there’s more than 415 miles of shoreline to recreate.  With nine marinas, boating excursions are high on everyone’s list.

Several areas of the lake have designated swimming beaches.

Location:  Center Hill Lake is located in Middle Tennessee, just 9 miles north of Smithville.

GPS coordinates:  36°01’49.4″N 85°45’32.7″W

Great Nearby Campsite: Ragland Bottom Corps of Engineers Campground has 56 campsites, complete with electricity and water, hot showers and very clean restrooms.  Many of the sites are on the shore, with most others providing lake views, and all are spacious in length.

The road into the campground is a little hilly, but even bigger rigs should have no problem navigating to this great little destination.

Tennessee Lake Vibes Score:  9/10

#4 Reelfoot Lake

Most likely created from the New Madrid earthquake in 1811, Reelfoot Lake is named from a Chickasaw legend about an Indian chief who disregarded a warning and kidnapped his princess to marry her, against her father’s wishes. 

The chief had his foot deformed by the angry spirits and was known as Reelfoot. 

Today the lake is filled with bald cypress and water lilies, a testament that beauty can come from disaster.  It has been designated as a National Natural Landmark, with 14 species of rare birds that call it home, including peregrine falcons and bald eagles. 

Location:  Located near the convergence of the Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri borders, Reelfoot Lake is considered a swamp in far western Tennessee.

GPS coordinates:  36°21’57.6″N 89°25’18.2″W

Great Nearby Campsite: Reelfoot Lake State Park, South Campground is the perfect location to set up camp, selecting from 100 sites, many with full hookups.  Come in January or February to view thousands of eagles migrating! 

You will find large sites on the lake, clean restrooms and shower houses, and canoe rentals from which to explore the swamp.

Tennessee Lake Vibes Score:  9.2/10

#5 Watauga Lake

1948 marks the year when the Tennessee Valley Authority finally completed the creation of Watauga Lake, whose dam construction had been put on hold during World War II. 

It is small in length but extremely deep, as the lake is a flooded mountain valley.  Outdoor adventurers love to boat here because there are no speed limits or restrictions on engines. Camping fans have many campsites from which to choose, as nearly half of the lakes’ shoreline falls within the Cherokee National Forest.  

Favorite pastimes are fishing, water skiing, and, you guessed it…boating!

Location:  Situated near the far northeastern border of Tennessee, Watauga Lake is an example of an Appalachian mountain lake, surrounded by forests and hills.

GPS coordinates:  36°20’23.4″N 81°59’39.9″W

Great Nearby Campsite:  With only 29 waterfront campsites to choose from, Watauga Dam Campground is a popular stopover for campers, as well as water lovers.  Each site has electricity and an amazing view of the Watauga River outside your door. 

There are clean hot showers and boat launches, and if you are a fisherman, cast your rod from the front porch and catch your dinner!

Tennessee Lake Vibes Score:  9.5/10

#6 Nickajack Lake

Originally dammed in 1913, Nickajack Lake came under the control of the TVA to control flooding.  A 40 mile stretch of the winding Tennessee River was dammed on either end to produce a reservoir of sorts between New Hope and Hixson. 

This area includes a section of the river known as the Grand Canyon of Tennessee and is well-known for its fishing and bird watching opportunities.

Location:  Nickajack Lake is located 20 miles from downtown Chattanooga, lying close to the Tennessee/Georgia border.  

GPS coordinates:  35°01’49.4″N 85°32’28.8″W

Great Nearby CampsiteShellmound RV Resort and Campground is located along a rural section of the lake. It has 50 campsites, many of them pull-through.  It’s only 2 miles off the interstate but quiet, large sites await RVs of any size. 

Electric and water hookups are at each campsite, along with a large fire pit and picnic table.  The kids will enjoy the playground, while fishermen will love the proximity to the lake.

Tennessee Lake Vibes Score:  9.2/10

#7 Boone Lake

Created when the south fork of the Holsten River was dammed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, Boone Lake has become a lakefront community, with many private homes lining its shores. 

It does, however, provide a nice backdrop for swimming, with a beach available near the dam, and fishing is its forte.  In fact, large and small-mouthed bass seem to be the lake’s biggest production!  A public boat ramp and pier are open for launching a bass boat or water skiing towboat. 

Location:  10 miles north of Johnson City lies Boone Lake, a reservoir in the TVA system.

GPS coordinates:  36°25’23.3″N 82°24’07.8″W

Great Nearby Campsite: 151 campsites with full hookups are available at Lakeview RV Park, located just 10 miles from the lake.  Hot showers and clean restrooms, along with a pool and good wifi round out the amenities. 

Most campsites are a little on the skimpy side, but there is ample space for backing into each site.

Tennessee Lake Vibes Score:  8.5/10

Plan Your Camping Adventure to a Lake in Tennessee

There are no viable reasons to miss out on fun in, on, and around the water in Tennessee.  Dozens of lakes beckon outdoor enthusiasts to their shores with promises of great fishing, successful scuba diving, and tranquil kayaking adventures. 

Don’t forget to put these and many more lakes in Tennessee on your list of places to visit.

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

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