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11 Fantastic Recreational Lakes near Chattanooga, TN

Although Chattanooga is a city on the lake, it has plenty of other options around, most of which are about an hour away. Some offer every water activity imaginable, and others are gems that only hikers can reach.
ItIsWild.com: Best Lakes near Chattanooga Tennessee

Chattanooga is a fantastic base for lake recreation. And thanks to Chickamauga Lake, you don’t have to travel far to spend a day on the water. Yet, there are plenty of other exciting options around.

Many of the reservoirs on this list are large and offer fantastic swimming, boating, and fishing. But, there are a few hidden gems you may not have heard about. 

Check out what Chattanooga has to offer!

Related: 15 Incredible State Parks near Chattanooga, TN

Best Lakes near Chattanooga Tennessee Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Chickamauga Lake

Chickamauga Lake near Chattanooga Tennessee
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Chickamauga Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 8 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Boating, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, Biking, Hiking, Camping

Chickamauga Lake is a huge 36,240-acre reservoir on the Tennessee River. It starts at Chattanooga and stretches for 60 miles to Watts Bar Dam, offering unlimited fun and activities.

The reservoir has over 50 access points like day-use parks, marinas, beaches, and recreational areas, so choosing one can be challenging. If it’s your first time visiting, state parks can be a great option.

Booker T. Washington State Park is the nearest one. It’s a fantastic family-friendly option with group camps, a boat ramp, a fishing pier, and a few miles of hiking trails. Families love it for its seasonal swimming pool and interpretive events.

Another fantastic option is Harrison Bay State Park which is a little further away but much more versatile. It also has a swimming pool in addition to a marina, kayak and canoe rentals, and even a golf course.

As a whole, Chickamauga Reservoir is an excellent spot for water recreation. There are no limits here, and it’s equally as good for boating and water sports, as well as paddling and swimming.

Yet, where this lake stands out is fishing. It holds four state records, including the one for largemouth bass (15 lbs 3 oz). Also, there is plenty of catfish, bluegill, crappie, and every kid’s favorite yellow perch. The fishing is best from a boat, but many parks provide fishing piers, too.

Overall, Chickamauga Reservoir is an inherent part of the Chattanooga community and a must-visit lake for the city’s guests.

Related: 10 Incredible Recreational Lakes near Gatlinburg, TN

2. Nickajack Lake

Nickajack Lake near Chattanooga Tennessee
Source: Pexels
  • Official Page: Nickajack Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 10 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Boating, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, Hiking, Camping

Nickajack Lake is a 10,370-acre reservoir that stretches from Nickajack Dam back to Chattanooga. It’s not as developed as Chickamauga Lake, but it still offers plenty of parks, recreational areas, and boat ramps.

One cool adventure you can do is visit a Nickajack Cave at Maple View Area. It’s a cave in a cliff that can be reached by water, making for a fantastic paddling experience. Although the area is on the far end of the lake, it doesn’t get too busy, and there is a swimming area in summer, too.

Marion County Park is another excellent option. Although 25 minutes away, it’s an all-in-one destination with campgrounds, a boat ramp, a swimming area, and a large fishing pier. It’s a cozy park that fills quickly in summer, perfect for families.

And if you’re into hiking, Racoon Mountain Loop makes for an amazing day hike, offering breathtaking views of Nickajack Lake and surrounding mountains.

Like most reservoirs in Tennessee, this lake doesn’t have any restrictions on recreation and offers all sorts of water activities, from swimming and paddling to wakeboarding, jet skiing, and beyond.

And like Chickamauga Reservoir, this lake offers excellent fishing. Its impressive 1972 freshwater drum world record of 54 lbs 8 oz still stands today. Plus, it’s a state record holder for black buffalo, too (58 lbs). What’s more, over the years, Nickajack Lake produced huge carp as well, so there are definitely monsters here. Bring the biggest rod.

Related: 15 Best Beaches near Nashville, TN

3. Parksville Lake

Parksville Lake aka Lake Ocoee near Chattanooga Tennessee
Source: pexels
  • Official Page: Parksville Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 47 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Boating, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, Hiking, Camping, White Water Rafting

Parksville Lake is a 1,930-acre reservoir also known as Lake Ocoee. It’s a popular tourist destination and a very scenic spot east of Chattanooga.

The cool thing about this lake is that it’s home to the first American scenic byway – a charming route that hugs the lake’s northern shore. It connects parks, beaches, and campgrounds and provides plenty of pull-offs for soaking in the views.

Yet, Parksville Reservoir is a hugely popular destination, and demand for space outstrips supply here. The recreational areas like beaches, boat ramps, and campgrounds are few, so book in advance or plan your visit during the off-peak season.

You quickly realize that rafting is big here when you visit the area. Ocoee River is in the top 10 for white water in the country. Several companies organize rafting expeditions, so you can easily add this adventure to your lake trip.

And when it comes to fishing, it’s excellent here. The species selection is fantastic, and the sizes are good for a lake of this size. The state frequently stocks the reservoir to support gamefish numbers, and it even holds two state records.

Despite the crowds during the summer period, Parksville Reservoir is worth the drive. It’s charming, it’s unique, and it’s a lot of fun.

Related: 15 Incredible State Parks near Chattanooga, TN

4. Tims Ford Lake

Tims Ford Lake near Chattanooga Tennessee
Source: wikimedia/CC BY 3.0
  • Official Page: Tims Ford Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 76 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Boating, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, Biking, Hiking, Camping

Tims Ford Lake is a 10,700-acre reservoir on Elk River near Winchester. It’s known for impressive bass fishing and a wide range of water activities.

There are over a dozen of access areas on this lake, anything from day-use parks to marinas. But for first-time visitors, Tims Ford State Park is the best bet. It’s an all-in-one destination with campgrounds, cabins, a marina, and kayak rentals – everything you might need on a lake trip.

The lake is a popular boating spot, too. You can hire a pontoon boat and spend a day on the water or try wakeboarding, water skiing, and jet skis. The options are limitless here.

And despite its large size, Tims Ford Lake is an excellent spot for paddling adventures. There are multiple coves to hide from the weather and plenty of islands to explore.

Yet, the most popular activity at this reservoir is fishing. Tims Ford Lake is a well-known spot for various types of bass, particularly smallmouth. And it’s stocked with stripped and hybrid varieties, too. 

Although it doesn’t have any state records to its name, the fish sizes here are pretty good, and the action is excellent, especially if you go for panfish.

Overall, it’s an excellent lake that will suit families, keen anglers, as well as seasoned adventurers who like to avoid crowds.

Related: 10 Incredible Recreational Lakes near Gatlinburg, TN

5. Guntersville Lake

Guntersville Lake near Chattanooga
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Guntersville Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 86 miles (1h 30min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Boating, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, Biking, Hiking, Camping

Guntersville Lake is a massive 69,000-acre impoundment of the Tennessee River that stretches from Guntersville in Alabama to Nickajack Dam in Tennessee. It’s the largest reservoir in Alabama and a water playground like no other.

Like Chickamauga Lake, this reservoir has over 50 access points that consist of marinas, day-use parks, and boat ramps. The choice is unreal, and the best spot will depend on your personal circumstances.

However, one solid bet is Lake Guntersville State Park on the far end of the lake. This must be one of the country’s most developed and well-kept state parks. It offers lodges, cabins, a golf course, and a zip line, in addition to the typical state park facilities. 

Another fantastic thing about Guntersville Lake is that it’s very beginner-friendly. You don’t need your own boat or a kayak to enjoy the lake. There are plenty of services that can take you on a paddling tour, horseriding adventure, or a fishing expedition with secret spots and guaranteed results.

Talking about fishing, Guntersville Reservoir is a highly-rated place and a holder of four state records, more than any other lake in Alabama. It’s all about largemouth bass here. The reservoir produces some of the biggest fish and hosts multiple fishing tournaments every year.

Despite the distance from Chattanooga, Guntersville Lake is well worth the drive. It’s large enough to escape the hustle and bustle and developed enough to stage a romantic getaway or even host a wedding.

Related: 15 Best Beaches near Nashville, TN

6. Lula Lake

Lula Lake Waterfall near Chattanooga Tennessee
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Lula Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 11 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Biking, Hiking

Lula Lake is a small body of water on Rock Creek, just south of Chattanooga. It’s not a typical lake destination; it doesn’t offer swimming or fishing. Instead, its appeal is its beauty and the magnificent Lula Waterfall nearby.

The land around the lake is managed by Lula Lake Land Trust, whose mission is to preserve the area around Rock Creek for its natural and historical significance. It offers miles of hiking and biking trails for all to enjoy.

Normally, a location like this would be busy with visitors. But the trust has restricted access, so you can visit the lake only during the Open Gate Days, which run twice a month and must be reserved in advance.

Getting to the lake and the waterfall requires a return hike of 4.5 miles; there is no road access. Also, swimming is prohibited at Lula Lake, but visitors are welcome to wade in the creek near the falls, which makes for a refreshing experience on summer days.

For those who enjoy hiking and waterfalls, Lula Lake is a fantastic adventure. It’s a hidden gem that not many get to see.

Related: 15 Incredible State Parks near Chattanooga, TN

7. Rainbow Lake

  • Official Page: Rainbow Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 9 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Hiking

Rainbow Lake is a small waterhole on Middle Creek in Signal Mountain. Just like Lula Lake, this isn’t a traditional recreational lake. Instead, it’s a centerpiece to many hiking routes and a popular swimming hole in summer. 

Getting to the lake requires a 1.5-mile hike (return); the trailhead starts on Ohio Avenue. It’s not a difficult route, yet it requires some fitness.

The area has many other hiking routes, including the popular Edward’s Point Trail that passes via the lake.

If you’re looking for nice hiking trails or a unique swimming hole to cool off in summer, Rainbow Lake is a fantastic choice. But for traditional lake recreation with fishing, kayaking, and boating, there are better options on the list.

Related: 10 Incredible Recreational Lakes near Gatlinburg, TN

8. Fall Creek Falls Lake

Fall Creek Falls State Park In Tennessee
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Fall Creek Falls Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 68 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Biking, Hiking, Camping

Fall Creek Falls Lake is a 345-acre reservoir in one of the most visited state parks in Tennessee – Fall Creek Falls State Park. It’s a family-friendly destination with plenty to see and do, and it’s just over an hour’s drive away.

The biggest attraction in the park is the majestic 256-feet waterfall, one of the highest in the eastern US. Plus, there are a few smaller falls and cascades, so it’s easy to see why this destination attracts so many visitors.

However, the park’s lake is a gem in its own right. It’s closed for motorized boating, making it a tranquil spot and an excellent choice for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. 

And it’s a perfect size, too. Big enough to explore and get away from it all, yet small enough not to intimidate beginners or make choppy waves. The park rents kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and jon boats, so there is no need to buy your own. 

What’s more, the park has a large swimming pool, hiking and biking trails, and a wide selection of accommodation, including campgrounds, cabins, and lodges. There is so much to do here!

And if you are wondering about fishing, the lake scores pretty high reviews despite its modest size. There are reports of 8-pound largemouth bass, and you can also expect channel cats and lots of panfish like bluegill and crappie.

With stunning waterfalls left, right, and center, Fall Creek Falls Lake must be one of the most incredible destinations around Chattanooga; it’s definitely worth the drive.

Related: 15 Best Beaches near Nashville, TN

9. Watts Bar Lake

Watts Bar Lake near Chattanooga Tennessee
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Watts Bar Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 57 miles (1h 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Boating, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Camping

Watts Bar Lake is a massive 39,000-acre reservoir that sits above Chickamauga Lake. It’s another option on the Tennessee River that’s just as versatile as its neighbors.

With 722 miles of shoreline, there is no shortage of recreational facilities. In fact, there are more than 50 boat ramps, parks, beaches, marinas, and campgrounds here. 

The choice is huge and picking the best one is impossible. But the nearest one is Watts Bar Dam Reservation near the dam. It has a sandy beach, a diving platform, a boat ramp, and grills – everything you might need on a day trip.

And when it comes to activities, there are no restrictions at Watts Bar Lake. From swimming and fishing to wakeboarding and jet skis, you name it; it’s all possible here.

What’s more, the lake gets top reviews for fishing. It even has a world record to its name – Skipjack Herring (4 lbs 3 oz). Yet, it’s better known for bass, especially the striped variety which grows to monster sizes. 

In a nutshell, it’s another fantastic and hugely versatile lake near Chattanooga. It will suit seasoned anglers as well as families who just want to unwind on the beach.

Related: 15 Incredible State Parks near Chattanooga, TN

10. Carters Lake

Carters Lake in Alabama
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Carters Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 65 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Boating, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Hiking, Camping

Carters Lake is a 3,200-acre reservoir in Georgia, just over an hour’s drive from Chattanooga. It’s a gorgeous destination that feels wild and untouched, yet it offers enough amenities to make your visit fun and comfortable.

The lake is located at the Blue Ridge Mountains’ southern end, providing a stunning backdrop with green hills rolling over the horizon.

Another unique thing about Carters Lake is that there are no houses or private docks on its shores. So if you’re looking for a truly wild atmosphere, away from noise and civilization, this is an excellent choice.

The reservoir is managed by the Corps of Engineers, which provides a selection of recreation areas with beaches, parks, and campgrounds. Plus, there is a marina for your boating needs and rentals. 

Carters Lake doesn’t have any restrictions on recreation either. Swimming, kayaking, fishing, boating, and water sports are all allowed.

However, fishing here isn’t as fantastic as some other options around Chattanooga. At 450 feet, Carters Lake is the deepest lake in Georgia, so typical strategies don’t work here. The correct depth is difficult to gauge when fishing. It takes time to learn this lake, but once you figure it out, you’ll never return home empty-handed.

If you’re looking for a gorgeous lake with excellent swimming and boating, Carters Lake is a fantastic choice, but beginner anglers may have a tough time here.

Related: 10 Incredible Recreational Lakes near Gatlinburg, TN

11. Normandy Lake

  • Official Page: Normandy Lake
  • Distance from Chattanooga: 83 miles (1h 20min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Boating, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Camping

Normandy Lake is a 2,490-acre reservoir near Manchester. It’s less developed than larger lakes around Chattanooga, making it a peaceful destination with little foot traffic.

The reservoir has a couple of campgrounds, boat ramps, and day parks but no marina. If visiting for the first time, the best place to start is Barton Springs Campground on Lyndell Bell Road. It has a large boat ramp, a paved RV park, and a designated swimming area. 

Despite lacking a marina, Normandy Lake is a popular boating spot with wakeboarding, skiing, and tubing in full swing. Also, some parks offer canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals, so there is plenty to do on the water.

When it comes to fishing, Normandy Lake is pretty good. You can expect largemouth and small bass, as well as crappie, bluegill, and an occasional walleye. Naturally, a lake of this size doesn’t produce lunkers, but action is usually good.

The only drawback to this destination is the lack of hiking trails. Unfortunately, there are no big parks here that can offer lengthy trails.

In a nutshell, Normandy Lake is a nice alternative to bigger lakes in the area. It’s an excellent option if you like camping and water activities.

Related: 15 Incredible State Parks near Chattanooga, TN

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