The Latest
July 23, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

Where to Paddle With the Kids in Scenic Tennessee

Canoeing with the family is a great summer activity. Here's what to know ... and where to go!

Before taking the family canoeing, know what to expect. All of the rivers in Tennessee have classifications of difficulty (see chart here).

When heading out for a canoe trip, make a day of it, leave early in the morning with plenty of water, snacks and lunch, stable shoes for all. See a full list of needs from REI here whether you're doing overnight camping or not.

Here are the rivers to explore:


Duck River

Rock Cliffs along the Duck River

Rock Cliffs along the Duck River

The Duck River is more than 250 miles long and winds through Middle Tennessee. Expect scenic steep rock cliffs and forested banks. The Duck River is a Class I river for its entire length.  The river begins at Normandy Dam near Manchester, TN and flows from East to West in Middle Tennessee. The Duck River flows into the Tennessee River north of Interstate 40. In 2001, the state designated the section that flows through Maury County as a state scenic river.


Harpeth River

Narrows of the Harpeth River

Narrows of the Harpeth

The Harpeth River is 125 miles in length and originates in Eagleville, TN. It is a major tributary to the Cumberland River. North of Interstate 40 is the The Harpeth River State Park. The Harpeth River State Park is a park that manages nine river access sites along 40 river miles. Sites include several natura and historic areas. The park is popular for kayaking, canoeing, fishing and hiking. The Harpeth River is a class I river for its entire length. In 1968, Tennessee designated it as a a state scenic river.


Buffalo River

The Buffalo River in the spring

Paddling the Buffalo River in the Spring

The Buffalo River is the longest un-impounded river in Middle Tennessee, flowing 125 miles through the southwestern portion of Middle Tennessee.The river is named for the Buffalo fish which was abundant when the first European settlers arrived.  The Buffalo River begins in Lewis County and flow east to west. The Buffalo River is a class I river, but has numerous faster sections with twist and turns in the river. Because it is more narrow than the Duck River it typically has more strainers (trees overturned on the edge of the river).


Caney Fork River

The Beautiful Caney Fork River

A major tributary of the Cumberland River, Caney Fork is 144 miles long and rises in Cumberland County about six miles northwest of Crossville and flows northwest to the Cumberland River. Most outfitters on the Caney Fork run the sections of river below the Center Hill Lake reservoir. This section is known for its beauty and peacefulness, with canoes and kayaks gliding down quiet water. It is a peaceful Class I river, with cool, clear water. This section is also known for Rainbow and Brown Trout fishing. Check with the outfitter for the latest generation schedule from the dam.

Elk River

The Elk River is 195 miles long and begins below Tims Ford Lake. Most of the outfitters on the Elk are near Kelso, TN. The Elk is  clear, cold river just below the dam, making it a favorite spot for fisherman. The Elk flows southwesterly into Alabama and ultimately flows into the Tennessee River.. Call ahead to check on the Dam release schedule at Tims Ford.

Piney River

The Piney River is a beautiful 24 mile river that flows into the Duck River. It is a class I river, but can have river hazards such as strainers and sweepers.  It features gorgeous rock bluffs, clear water, and pretty gravel bars.  The only outfitter on the Piney is Pinewood Canoe and Camp (located in Hickman County).



About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.