Nashville Recreation: Water Sports and Boating

A man paddles a kayak in shallow water near a rocky shore.

Kayaking along the Harpeth River. Photo © Jason Nelms, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Nashville has lots of places to get out and play in the water. Here are some options ranging from paddling to boating to taking the kids to cool off in a water park.

Elm Hill Marina

Boating, fishing, and water sports are among the most popular activities on J. Percy Priest Lake. Elm Hill Marina (3361 Bell Rd., Nashville, 615/889-5363, office and boat house Mon.-Sun. 8am-7pm, boat rental $65-315) is the marina closest to downtown Nashville, and as a result, it is one of the busiest. Lots of locals rent slips and have their boats docked here. But even if you don’t have a boat of your own, you can rent one. The Pontoon boats ($220 for a half day) are popular with the party crowd. Elm Hill also has an outdoors store with essentials like sunscreen and key rings that float, and a restaurant with typical seaside fair.

J. Percy Priest Lake

J. Percy Priest Lake (3737 Bell Rd., Nashville, 615/889-1975, daily 24 hours, free) was created in the mid-1960s when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Stones River east of Nashville. The lake is a favorite destination for fishing, boating, swimming, paddling, and picnicking. The lake sprawls over 14,200 acres. Access is provided through more than a dozen different parks and access areas on all sides of the lake. Many of these areas bear the names of communities that were inundated when the lake was created. The lake’s visitors center, operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, is located at the site of the dam that created the lake. The visitors center is located on Bell Road at exit 219 off I-40 heading east from downtown Nashville. There you will find a lake overlook and one of four marinas on the lake.

Nashville Paddle Co.

Middle Tennessee’s flatwater lakes and rivers are perfect for paddling. Nashville Paddle Co. ($25 for two-hour rental, $40 for four-hour rental, $80 private lessons) offers stand-up paddleboard (SUP) instruction and lessons for both adults and kids. Lessons take place at one of several launches on Percy Priest or Old Hickory Lakes or on the Cumberland River. Rentals are also available for those who want to take boards and go for a weekend. All reservations are made online. With a local yoga teacher, Nashville Paddle Co. offers SUP yoga as well as PaddleFit classes, which are workouts that use both land and water to get your core in tip-top shape.

Nashville Shores

Nashville Shores (4001 Bell Rd., Nashville, 615/889-7050, hours vary by season, $32 adults, $27 seniors and children under 48 inches) is a great destination for a hot summer day. This water and amusement park features miles of sandy beaches along the shore of J. Percy Priest Lake, pools, waterslides, and water sports. Admission to the park includes the opportunity to take a 45-minute lake cruise on The Shoreliner, which looks like an old steamboat and has a paddlewheel in the back.

Old Hickory Lake

One of two lakes formed by the damming of the Cumberland River (the other is Percy Priest), Old Hickory Lake (876 Burnett Rd., Old Hickory, 615/822-4846, daily 24 hours, free) is named after President Andrew Jackson, whose plantation was nearby. The lake includes eight marinas, an arboretum, and more than 40 places to launch a boat (or paddleboard) and get out on the water. There are beaches, picnic areas, and sailboat marinas, as well as two campgrounds.

SUP Music City

Hawaii transplant Chip Cathey teaches standup paddleboarding (SUP) on J. Percy Priest Lake, both in private lessons and group settings. Cathey is a knowledgeable waterman who can get new paddlers up and moving. Racing training, corporate training, and other packages are also available from SUP Music City (J. Percy Priest Lake, 3737 Bell Rd., Nashville, 808/255-8002, by appointment only, $35 for two hours, $80 for half day) for those who want to take their paddling to the next level.

Tip-a-Canoe

Tip-a-Canoe (1279 Hwy 70, Kingston Springs, 800/550-5810, hours vary by season, $50 (approx.) for two hours for two people) has been offering canoe and kayak rentals on the Harpeth River on the west side of town since before the Narrows of the Harpeth was a state park. All that experience has paid off. Boat rentals include shuttle service from where you get off the river back to the beginning where your car is parked. Shuttles are also available (for a fee) for those who have their own boats. The Harpeth is typically a Class I river, but some times of the year is a Class II. If you have concerns about your paddling ability, call ahead for river conditions.

Wave Country

When the summer gets hot, as it does in Tennessee, locals line up to take their kids to Wave Country (2320 Two Rivers Pkwy., 615/885-1052, Mon.-Thurs. 11am-5pm, Fri.-Sat. 10am-6pm, Sun. 11am-6pm, $12 adults, $10 children ages 3-12). Located near Music Valley, this water park has exciting slides, a wave pool, and sand volleyball courts, as well as a play area for smaller kids. Wave Country is managed by the city parks commission.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Nashville.

Leave a Reply