Knoxville, Tenn., a vibrant Midwest lake destination? You better believe it. Completion of the Ft. Loudoun Dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1943 created Fort Loudon Lake, which extends from the dam site at Lenoir City upstream about 50 miles to Knoxville, where it slices through downtown.
OK, technically it’s the Tennessee River that slices through downtown, flowing from its eastern headwaters at the confluence of the Holston and French Broad rivers, but with 14,600 acres of surface water and 379 miles of shoreline accessible just south and west, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Knoxville is nestled between the Cumberland Plateau and the Great Smokey Mountains, with prime ridge-and-valley scenery all around. The city lies within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the population east of the Mississippi River, and with Fort Loudoun Lake being particularly boat-centric, this destination seems like a “natural” for your summer cruising or trailering itinerary.
What to Do
Fort Loudoun Lake is a major recreation draw for Tennessee residents and out-of-state visitors who have bass fishing, bird watching (including herons, gulls, osprey, kingfishers and bald eagles) or boat camping in mind. Oh, and don’t forgot about Prater’s Flat, the lake’s “party cove” — it’s the place to be on a sunny weekend, rafted up with hundreds of your new best friends.
Nearby Fort Loudoun State Park, overlooking the Tellico River, contains a full-scale reconstructed fort including a museum building and gift shop. Fishing is available in the park, along with three hiking trails for the more adventurous types.
Knoxville likewise has abundant parks, greenways, trails and streams, offering lots of exciting activities for hikers, bikers, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. City attractions include the must-see Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville Zoo, World’s Fair Park, Racheff Park and Gardens, W. T. Toms Memorial Gardens and Market Square.
Volunteer Landing sits right on the Tennessee River in downtown Knoxville. Visitors can bike, fish or try their hand at water sports, and several play fountains and geysers here provide a wet and wild diversion for kids. Three waterfalls add scenic beauty around the playground, marina and restaurant areas.
For those fun-seekers looking for a more structured activity, tours abound — from the chocolate and wine tour, to garden tours, riverboat tours, brewery tours and the Civil War Trail tour. Festivals and fishing tournaments are also popular, and during college football season, there’s nothing like catching a University of Tennessee home game with the Volunteer Navy. Neyland Stadium is one of only two college arenas accessible by boat, and up to 200 vessels and their pigskin-crazed passengers turn out to tailgate here before and after games.
Where to Dock
The Knoxville area offers some 24 public boat ramps and 14 marinas, including Volunteer Landing Marina right in the middle of the action. About 25 miles downriver is Louisville Landing Marina, a TVA Clean Marina, just a quarter-mile off the main channel in Lackey Creek. Ten miles further south is Sinking Creek, home to Fox Road Marina and Concord Marina, both of which provide full amenities and services.
The TVA has established a couple of websites providing maps for locating marinas and boat ramps. Just “Google” Fort Loudoun Reservoir-TVA or Maps of Fort Loudon Boat Ramps and Marinas.
Where to Eat
Hungry by now? Well, the Knoxville area reportedly has more restaurants per capita than any city in the U.S., many accessible by boat, including Calhoun’s, Willy’s Bar & Grill and Dockside Grill. All offer traditional bar-and-grill fare with menus ranging from barbecue to burgers, pasta and pizza. Willy’s is pet friendly and proudly features the “Rex Special,” a combination of hamburger, hot dog and traditional dog meat. Sorry bipeds, but it’s for dogs only.
Another area favorite is Lakeside Tavern, known for its fabulous lake views, from both the outdoor patio and the large window tables inside, and for its Sunday brunch, which includes an assortment of breakfast and lunch items — and, of course, adult beverage specials.
Chesapeake’s, La Parilla, Conner’s, Litton’s, Tupelo Honey and Bravo are some other choices that traditionally grace the “top 10 list” of local restaurants.
If you haven’t already been, it’s time to add Knoxville/Fort Loudoun Lake to your boating bucket list. It’s easily accessible by major interstates and offers loads of activities, both on and off the water, to fill your itinerary. Take your boat (or rent one), grab your family and friends, and looking forward to a great new “lake” experience.
Find more information at visitknoxville.com.
Author: John Kovach is a contributor to HeartLand Boating magazine