Northeast Tennessee’s 8 Best Water Adventures for Spring and Summer


As the temps heat up so too does the desire to get outside and bask in warm sun or find a refreshing place to cool down from its relentless rays. Whether your mode for chilling out involves trekking to waterfalls in search of a swimming hole or careening down a whitewater river through rapids, the lakes, ponds, and rivers in Northeast Tennessee are full of adventure for spring and summer. Here are eight recommendations for fun along the waterways of Tennessee’s northeastern corner.

1. Flatwater Paddling on Watauga Lake

Surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest, Watauga Lake’s 100 miles of lakefront land is mostly undeveloped and offers paddlers a serene and oasis to enjoy the gentle waters and wooded shorelines. The lake is fed by rivers that originate in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, making it one of the cleanest lakes in the country. You can rent boats in Hampton from Lakeshore Resort & Marina.

2. Fly Fishing the South Holston River

Grab your fly rod and wade into the South Holston River to spend the day catching wild brown and rainbow trout. The river flows out of the South Holston Lake Dam, which keeps the river’s waters cold and fishable even in the heat of summer. If the dam isn’t generating, about 85% of the South Holston River is shallow enough to wade in, so make sure to check the TVA calendar before you go. Guided fly fishing trips are a great way to explore this scenic river and can be booked through South Holston River Company.

3. Whitewater Rafting the Nolichucky

NETTA whitewater rafting square
The Nolichucky River is a fun, adrenaline-filled ride Class II, III, and IV rapids. NETTA

Get a major dose of adrenaline with a thrilling rafting trip down the rushing Nolichucky River. As one of the last major free-flowing rivers in the region, the Nolichucky offers you a memorable 9-mile ride through more than 25 Class II, III and IV rapids. Full-day, half-day, and overnight trips down this rugged river can be booked through USA Raft Adventure Resort, which also offers camping and cabins if you are looking to stay longer. If you want something tamer and more family-friendly, the Lower Nolichucky features Class I and II rapids and can be enjoyed on a scenic half-day tour.

4. Riverside Hiking at Sycamore Shoals State Park

Northeast Tennessee has a rich history, and the land protected by Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park was home to early English settlers in the 18th century. In addition to its historical significance, Sycamore Shoals is also a draw for its scenic views of the gentle Watauga River. The park’s 1.2-mile Patriot’s Path is ideal for a pleasant out-and-back walk along the wooded riverfront.

5. Swimming at Boone Lake

This beautiful shore is a picturesque spot to spend a sunny summer day lounging on the beach. If you have kids, they will love splashing in the lake’s designated swim area. The brand-new swim beach also has plentiful parking, a shady pavilion, picnic tables, and restrooms.

6. Hiking to Waterfalls

The popular Laurel Falls is the perfect spot if you are looking for a moderate hike. Alan Cressler

Northeast Tennessee is known for its many waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, so you have a lot to choose from. A fairly easy option is Greeneville’s 60-foot Margarette Falls, which can be reached by a mostly gentle out-and-back trail that’s about three miles round-trip. For a slightly more moderate hike, visit the popular Laurel Falls outside of Hampton. While the trail is only 1.2 miles each way along the Appalachian Trail and is mostly quite easy, the final steep staircase descent to this cascading waterfall can be challenging. If you want a true backcountry experience then opt for the daring trek to Buckeye Falls, often called the longest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River, in Clarks Creek Recreation Area. Though the hike is only about seven miles round trip, the trail is strenuous and lightly traveled, making the falls surprisingly difficult to reach.

If you’d like to venture into the woods with an experienced and knowledgeable guide leading the way, consider booking an excursion with White Blaze Outdoors. This local guide service offers outdoor trips throughout Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia for adventurers of all skill levels.

7. Fishing on South Holston Lake

Situated on the Tennessee-Virginia state line, South Holston Lake has been recognized as one of the best lakes for bass fishing in the U.S. In addition to bass, anglers can reel in crappie, catfish, trout, bluegill, and more, all while taking in gorgeous views of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. Sixty percent of the lake is fringed by the largely undeveloped Cherokee National Forest, but amenities like marinas, lodges, and campgrounds are still readily available.

8. Waterfront Camping in Cherokee National Forest

Spend a night (or more!) with fantastic views of the water from one of the many campgrounds throughout Cherokee National Forest. Just a few of the wonderful lakeside camping options include Cardens Bluff on Watauga Lake, Dennis Cove Recreation Area on Laurel Fork Creek, and Rock Creek Recreation Area. If you want to camp along South Holston Lake check out the campsites at Jacobs Creek Recreation Area and Little Oak Campground. Along the Nolichucky River you’ll find campsites and cabins in Jonesborough at River Park Campground and USA Raft Adventure Resort in Erwin.

Remember to leave our waterways with no trace, so adventures can last a lifetime.

Written by Madison Eubanks for Matcha in partnership with NETTA.

Featured image provided by Brian Greer