East Tennessee is the perfect place to explore the outdoors. Not only do we have the Great Smoky Mountains, but we also have 9 lakes near us as well as many rivers. Whether you are looking to fish, go boating, hike, or simply sightsee, there is something for everyone. Don’t miss our post about the East Tennessee State Parks so you can plan your next adventure!
East Tennessee Lakes Near Knoxville (Nine Lakes)
Douglas Lake (East)
Douglas Lake borders Jefferson, Cocke, Sevier, and Hamblen Counties. Seven Islands State Birding Park is also along the way.
- Great destination for crappie and bass fishing
- Visit Bush Beans Visitor Center in Dandridge
- Class III and IV white water rapids in the connecting Pigeon River
Cherokee Lake (Northeast)
Surrounded by gently rolling hills and scenic pastures, Cherokee Lake offers visitors an idyllic vacation setting with excellent fishing and birding habitats. The beautiful, peaceful country landscape abounds in the many farmlands near the lake. To the Northwest of Cherokee Lake, you can see the towering Clinch Mountain Range. As you approach the summit of Clinch Mountain (located on HWY 25E), you will find a lookout point that provides a breathtaking view of Cherokee Lake and overlooks an area with great historical significance. The three towns surrounding Cherokee Lake are Morristown, Jefferson City, and Rogersville.
Norris Lake (North)
Norris Lake borders Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Grainger, and Union Counties. Nearby towns include Norris, Clinton, Rocky Top (woo!), and more. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, and the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park aren’t too far from here. Be sure to stop at Clinch River Brewing, one of the many breweries on Knoxville’s Ale Trail.
- Hiking trails from easy to rugged at Big Ridge State Park
- If you’ve ever wanted to rent a houseboat, Norris Dam State Park is the place to do it
- Beautiful flora and fauna opportunities at Cove Lake State Park. If hiking is your jam, consider the linear Justin P. Wilson Cumberland Trail Park
Melton Hill Lake (Northwest)
Melton Hill Lake borders Anderson and Knox Counties. This lake is in between Knoxville and Oak Ridge; Clinton and Oliver Springs are also nearby. This lake is home of the Oak Ridge Rowing Association and nationally recognized for collegiate and championship regattas.
- Frozen Head State Park is not far, and is an excellent place to hike year round
- Visit the nearby Manhattan Project National Historical Park, a site along with Hanford, WA and Los Alamos, NM that was instrumental in the development of the atomic bomb in WWII
- Visit nearby Windrock Park, a hotspot for ATV and mountain biking off-road trails
Watts Bar Lake (West)
Watts Bar Lake borders Meigs, Rhea, Roane, and Loudon counties. About halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga, this is the largest Lake in the area. Nearby cities include Kingston, Rockwood, and Harriman.
- Explore the nearby Obed Wild and Scenic River
- Great opportunities for birding; the marshy wetlands provide nesting grounds for birds like ospreys, blue heron, and even bald eagles
- This lake contains several islands, get out on a boat to find them
- Excellent bass fishing here; the launch for competitors of the Bassmaster Classic in 2019 was at Governor McWherter Park
- One can navigate all the way to Paducah, KY from here via the Tennessee Riverline
- Rent kayaks or SUPs at multiple outlets – if you’re sticking close to downtown Knoxville, check out the Knoxville Adventure Collective
Tellico Lake (Southwest)
Tellico Lake borders Loudon and Monroe counties. This reservoir was created by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1979 upon the completion of Tellico Dam.
- This area flooded historic Cherokee towns, and since the Dam completion, this area has great farmland so be sure to sample the produce
- Fort Loudon State Park is one of the earliest British frontier fortifications built in 1756
- Visit the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, birthplace of the genius Sequoyah who invented the Cherokee alphabet
Calderwood and Chilhowee Lakes (Southwest)
Calderwood Lake forms the border between Cherokee National Forest, Nantahala National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Chilhowee Lake is just downstream. Nearby towns include Tellico Plains, Townsend, and Vonore.
- Great place to fish for a variety of trout and bass too
- Townsend is known as the “Quiet Side of the Smokies” and Cades Cove is easily accessed from this side of the GSMNP
- A favorite fall activity is driving the Cherohala Skyway
East Tennessee Rivers Near Knoxville:
Big South Fork River
4564 Leatherwood Road
Oneida, TN 37841
Encompassing 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area protects the free-flowing Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The area boasts miles of scenic gorges and sandstone bluffs, is rich with natural and historic features and has been developed to provide visitors with a wide range of outdoor recreational activities.
Knoxville, TN 37849
The Clinch River rises near Tazewell, Virginia, and flows southwest for more than 300 miles through the Great Appalachian Valley; tailwater flows about 13 miles from Norris Dam through Clinton and into the backwaters of Melton Hill Lake; known as a premier trout fishery to many experienced anglers, home to rainbow, brown and brook trout; the weir dam at Norris allows wading and bank access; Miller Island offers access to the most wading areas on the tailwater; popular destination for kayaking and canoeing; towards Norris Dam, river offers 50 miles of smooth, slow-moving Class I water (with occasional spots of Class II).
Connects: Big Ridge State Park, Loyston Point Trails, Norris Dam State Park, Norris Songbird Trail, Norris Watershed Trails, River Bluff SWA
French Broad River
Seymour, TN 37865
With its headwaters in North Carolina, the river is 228 miles long in its entirety, including 102 miles within the state of Tennessee. It joins the Holston River in Knox County above Knoxville, where it then becomes the Tennessee River; the river downstream of Douglas Dam is one of the few warm tailwaters found in east Tennessee, where lake sturgeon and smallmouth bass are stocked; along with paddling and fishing there are trails for hiking in Seven Islands State Park; small canoe/kayak launch
Seasonal canoe and kayak rentals are available from River Sports Outfitters
Connects: Seven Islands State Birding Park
Knoxville, TN 37914
The Holston River flows from Kingsport to Knoxville, TN. Below the Cherokee Dam, the river has great trout fishing and further downstream there is excellent smallmouth bass; paddlers can explore the Holston River as it winds its way to the Tennessee River on into Knoxville.
Connects: Holston River Park
Obed Wild and Scenic River
208 Maiden Street
Lancing, TN 37770
The Obed Wild and Scenic River looks much the same today as it did when the first white settlers strolled its banks in the late 1700s. While meagerly populated due to poor farming soil, the river was a hospitable fishing and hunting area for trappers and pioneers. Today, the Obed stretches along the Cumberland Plateau and offers visitors a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities.
Tazewell, TN 37879
The Powell River is largely undeveloped as it flows in Tennessee from the Virginia State line into Norris Lake. It is home to 100 species of fish and supports a wide variety of freshwater mussels, birds, turtles, plants and animals such as beaver and river otter. There are very few places paddlers and anglers can access the river, and even fewer that offer good parking and access signage.
The Powell River Blueway Trail project endeavors to improve public access onto the Powell River for fishing and paddling. River Access Info and Map
Connects: Powell River Preserve
Tellico Plains, TN 37835
The Tellico River rises in the Unicoi Range of mountains near the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. The Cherohala Skyway, a national scenic byway connecting the Cherokee National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest, parallels the Tellico River for several miles until the River Road cutoff. As the river flows west, it is joined by its major tributaries, the Bald River and the North River. Meandering through the mountain gorge, the river stretches to the broad fertile plains of Monroe County, aptly named Tellico Plains, the nearest community to its headwaters. Here the river corridor is surrounded by 30,000 acres of remote backcountry, providing recreational opportunities for paddling, fishing, hiking, backpacking, and wildlife viewing. Further downstream, the Tellico and Little Tennessee Rivers are impounded by the Tellico Dam, creating the Tellico Lake.
Tennessee River, Knoxville TN 37922
With its start in east Knoxville, created by the confluence of the Holston and French Broad River, this 652-mile long major waterway is the 5th largest river system and the largest tributary of the Ohio River. From its headwaters in Knoxville, the Tennessee River flows southwest towards Chattanooga before turning westward through the Cumberland Plateau into northern Alabama, where it continues eventually joining the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky. TVA has established a stairway of nine dams and locks along the River’s mighty stretch, with the Fort Loudoun and Watts Bar Dams residing in our region.