Why Tennessee is One of the Best States for Water Sports

Even if you’ve never tried summer water sports, it’s not too late to get your feet wet in one of Tennessee’s many rivers, lakes or creeks. No matter your skill level, comfort on the water or physical fitness, there’s an option that fits you and your family.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Whitewater Rafting

Tennessee is home to world class whitewater rafting. In 1996, the Ocoee Whitewater Center, located in Ducktown, hosted the first-ever Olympic whitewater event held on natural rapids, and the course is now open for kayakers and rafters alike. You don’t have to be an Olympian to raft the Ocoee River. All skill levels are welcome and families often raft together.

The difficulty — and the adventure — comes from the type of rapids you encounter on your trip. Rapids are classified from Class I to Class VI, with Class VI being the most difficult. The Ocoee River falls in the middle with Class III and IV rapids. Another popular Tennessee rafting locale, the Pigeon River located near Gatlinburg, also offers Class III and IV rapids.

Standup Paddleboarding

Standup paddleboarding is similar to kayaking, except you stand up on a flat board instead of sitting in a boat. These boards are wide and stable, making it easy and comfortable to maintain your balance while paddling on local rivers or lakes. Paddleboarding provides a good upper body, core and cardiovascular workout.

Here’s where to go paddleboarding in Tennessee’s major cities:

Find out more about water recreation in Tennessee.


Is there any activity that says summer in than South more than spending an afternoon tubing down a lazy river? All you need is an inner tube, a swimsuit and a lifejacket to spend some time in the sun.

Many families like to tie their tubes together and float down together, while others want to experience some of Tennessee’s famous whitewater rapids. Visit the Elk River in Middle Tennessee or the Red River in the city of Adams to enjoy some leisurely tubing. For a more exciting ride, the Little River in the Smokies and the Hiwassee in Benton offer Class II rapids.


Canoeing Tennessee’s waterways is a great way to see the state’s wildlife in their natural habitat. Luckily, the state is home to many rivers and creeks perfect for a family day trip.

  • If you’re near downtown Chattanooga, Lookout Creek is ideal for paddlers who want a slow, easy ride. The creek winds around Lookout Mountain, giving you a glimpse of the famed Sunset Rock before you make your way to Moccasin Bend.
  • The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, located a little over an hour’s drive from Knoxville near Oneida, is a water lover’s paradise. This 125,000-acre park has multiple rivers for every skill level.
  • Canoe among cypress trees on the Ghost River section of the Wolf River, located 30 miles from Memphis. The Wolf River Conservatory offers guided tours for up to 20 people.
  • Located in Kingston Springs, a 30-minute drive west of Nashville, Harpeth River State Park offers visitors more than 20 miles of waterways to explore.

Nothing beats the heat of a Tennessee summer quite like a refreshing dip in a lake or river. Summer water sports give you and your family an opportunity to explore your adventurous side and make memories to last a lifetime.

Most outdoor activities have some level of risk, and you may need to consult an expert before engaging in the activity. Always
check the current weather conditions before embarking on any outdoor activity.

Related Content