I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
Please help keep access to Tennessee rivers available by not littering, committing vandalism, stealing, loitering, etc. Many landowners have closed access to their properties due to incidents of crime and mischievousness. Be part of the solution, not the problem. Thank you!
NOTE: Follow state, county, and city ordinances regarding waterway use.
1. Barren Fork River
The Barren Fork River is 23.4-mile-long (37.7 km) and feeds the Collins River, which flows into the Cumberland River, making it a part of the Mississippi Watershed.
The Barren Fork begins in western Warren County, Tennessee. It is formed from its north and south prongs, which join near the tiny community of Trousdale. Unlike most Tennessee rivers, the Barren Fork flows east to west until it reaches McMinnville, from where it turns in a northeasterly direction until it reaches the Collins.
From Trousdale to McMinnville, properties along the bank are privately owned, as are all access points. However, below the dam at Riverfront Park in McMinnville, the river becomes a popular recreational body of water with numerous access points, both public and private.
Although there is plenty of primitive spots to camp both above and below the damn, there are no public campgrounds essentially making this a river a day trip only float for the general visitor.
Barren Fork River Launch Sites
2. Buffalo River
The Buffalo River is the longest un-impounded river in Middle Tennessee in the United States, flowing 125 miles through the southern and western portions of the area. It feeds into the Duck River. The river derives its name from the Buffalo fish which was abundant when the first European settlers arrived.
Unfortunately, land along the Buffalo River is privately owned and accessible only through campgrounds and rental shops.
Buffalo River Launch Sites
3. Caney Fork River
The 143 mile Caney Fork River flows through eleven counties with much of its activity in Grundy, Warren, Dekalb, White, Putnam, and Smith.
The river's name comes from the dense cane breaks that grew along the river's banks when European explorers first arrived in the area.
Every year the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency stocks the river with Rainbow, Brown, and Brook Trout making it one of the hottest fishing spots in the state.
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Caney Fork River Launch Sites
4. Collins River
The Collins River is a 67-mile-long (108 km) stream in the east-central portion of Middle Tennessee. It is a tributary of the Caney Fork which feeds into the Cumberland River in northern middle Tennessee.
Tennessee has designated it one of its most scenic rivers and indeed it is. Along its banks are miles of beautiful nature dotted occasionally with spectacular riverside homes and farms.
Collins River Launch Sites
5. Cumberland River
The 688-mile Cumberland River flows generally west from a source in the Appalachian Mountains to its meeting with the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky, and the mouth of the Tennessee River. Although the basin is predominantly rural, there are some large cities on the banks of the river, including Nashville and Clarksville,
As a major southern US waterway, it's no surprise that it's also popular among water enthusiasts. Along its winding Tennessee route, there are numerous parks and boat ramps as well as parks with picnic facilities, parks, campgrounds, and general stores making it perfect for the day tripper or overnight floats.
Cumberland River Launch Sites
Cumberland River Launch Sites (Continued)
6. Duck River
The Duck River is middle Tennessee's most popular river for canoeing and kayaking, likely because it is the longest river in the state, located entirely in the state, at 284 miles (457 km) long.
The river services much of the southern portion of middle Tennessee and from Spring to Fall, it's busting with activity, full of fishermen, recreational boaters, kayakers, canoers, tubers, and swimmers.
The Duck River with its many miles of smooth waters, the banks dotted along the way with little communities, campgrounds, and parks, it's the perfect destination for day-trippers and extended floats alike.
Duck River Launch Sites
Duck River Launch Sites (Continued)
7. Elk River
The 195 mile long Elk River forms in the mountains of Grundy County and flows southwesterly toward Alabama until it feeds into the Tennessee River.
There is the very popular Elk River Canoe and Kayak trail in Elkmont, Alabama, that begins where the Elk River crosses from Tennessee into Alabama and ends at Sportsman's Park on Elk River Mills Road in Athens, Alabama.
Elk River Launch Sites
8. Harpeth River
Eventually emptying into the Cumberland River, the Harpeth River, flowing through Williamson and Cheatham counties, is 115 miles long and offers shallow and very slow moving waters making it perfect for the beginning or casual kayaker or canoe'er but more experienced floaters may find it scenic but lacking in adventure.
Harpeth River Launch Sites
9. Stones River
Named for the Uriah Stone, the first man to travel upstream what is today named the Stones River. There is a great deal of history surrounding this river and it's seen more than its share of battles.
Unfortunately certain stretches of the river are closed to the public, making extended trips almost impossible without the right contacts. However, the upper portions of the river, which feeds into Percy Priest Lake, are clear and frequently traveled by water enthusiasts.
© 2016 Kim Bryan
Emily on July 03, 2020:
This article is awesome! Thank you!
Karen Harper on September 03, 2018:
This information is very helpful. Thank you for all the detailed launch sites and descriptions. I look forward to paddling to these rivers!
Buck on January 19, 2018:
About half of the bridges that pass over the Buffalo River provide public access. Western TN fishing map Guide has the bridges and roads.
justin on August 22, 2016: