Paddlesports have virtually exploded in recent years, part of which can be attributed to the advances in kayak designs. Now these simple crafts are more stable and safer than ever and offer something for just about anyone with a desire to be on water, moving under their own power. The local places for enjoying this great activity are varied and many. Following are just a few:

Boone Lake

This Johnson City paddling destination is popular for its convenient access for many local and nonlocal paddlers. This also holds true for thousands of other water lovers, including fishers, sport boaters, skiers and personal watercrafters. But choose your day and time wisely and you’ll likely be rewarded with a great kayaking, stand up boarding or canoeing adventure right smack in one of the top outdoor towns in the Mountain South. Good access is from Winged Deer Park and any of several area marinas.


Wilbur Lake

Okay, this one is a small, hidden, local gem; so DO NOT tell anybody about it. In fact, all I’ll say is…stunning scenery…waterfalls…bald eagles…high cliffs…trout…otters—okay, that’s enough. Access is a few miles east of Elizabethton, just below Watauga Dam. Remember—mum’s the word!


Watauga Lake

Watauga is this writer’s life-long favorite lake. It is virtually surrounded by Cherokee National Forest lands, adding greatly to both its incredible beauty and unspoiled nature. Seldom truly crowded, this clean, clear mountain jewel is as fine a paddling destination as you’ll find in the Southern Appalachians. Good public access can be found along Highway 321 east of Hampton.


Nolichucky River

Gen Xers started calling this spectacular river the “Noli” back in the ’90s, though it has widely been known as the “Chucky” for 200 years, hence the name of the  beautiful Chucky community that lay along its banks, where non other than Davy Crockett once roamed. Whatever you call it, it has something for every type of paddler, from hard-core whitewater specialists to rafters and tubers. Commercial rafting trips are available in Erwin for incredible whitewater runs through the totally wild Nolichucky Gorge. Access can be found at many places as the river runs through Unicoi, Washington and Greene Counties. 


Fort Patrick Henry Lake

This lake is another highly popular destination the area for kayakers, canoeists, paddle boarders and pretty much all other water enthusiasts. Its proximity to Warrior’s Path State Park, in Kingsport, can sometimes mean crowded days, particularly in the heat of summer. Head for the section that lies upstream, between the park and Beulah Church Road.

Photo and text by David Ramsey

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