The Tennessee River is perhaps the most beautiful inland river in America. It was made navigable by a series of locks and dams constructed in the mid-1900s. Amazingly, the builders planned for marina sites both public and private along the banks and in coves formed when the water rose. It’s a wonderful and safe river for boaters, fishermen and anyone else that loves the water. This story visits five state parks in three different states that border the river, all with marinas and many other amenities for boaters to enjoy.
Kentucky Dam State Resort Park
This park is located at mile 23 on the Tennessee River. It was created in the mid-1960s about 20 years after the TVA Kentucky Dam was completed in 1944. Today it is thriving, with a large marina, 72-room hotel, restaurant, 68 cottages, campground, 18-hole golf course, 4,000-foot aitport runway airport, 900 seat conference center, lakeview pavilion and an enormous parking lot for the boat ramps. World-class fishing contests are held each year. Large 58- and 80-foot houseboats are available to rent, as well as pontoon boats. The campground is next to the golf course and has 205 sites with electricity and nine tent sites. Hiking and horseback riding are available.
The park is 5 miles by road or 6 miles by water from the town of Grand Rivers, which has many shops and is best known for Patti’s 1880’s Settlement, home of 2-inch-thick port chops and 6-inch-high meringue pies. Make a reservation or show up very early to get a table. The new Badgett Playhouse in Grand Rivers offers live entertainment. Once you’re in Grand Rivers, head south to the 170,000-acre Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area to see the eagle tours, elk and bison prairie, planetarium and Homeplace 1850s Farm, a working farm and living history museum. You can watch the total solar eclipse of the sun here on August 21, 2017.
Kenlake State Park
Kenlake was the first state park built in Kentucky in 1952. The lodge has 48 comfortable rooms and the Aurora Landing Restaurant. The site is high above Kentucky Lake, with a magnificent view across to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. You can relax by the outdoor pool and watch the large tows and many pleasure boats that cruise the river. There are indoor and outdoor tennis courts and an amphitheater used annually for the Hot August Blues Festival. Many visitors rent cabins for weekends or entire weeks. Each cabin has a kitchen, deck, and one or two bedrooms. It’s a short walk downhill to the marina (pictured above), which offers a restaurant and shop. The marina also rents pontoon boats and fishing boats. Covered slips are available for up to 60-foot boats. Transient slips are available by the day, week or month. There is a three-lane boat ramp at the marina and several fishing tournaments occur each year. RVers and tent campers will find the campground near the river. An archery range with 3D targets now occupies a former golf course.
Boating in this area is remarkable, with a large number of uninhabited, quiet, protected coves for anchoring on the Land Between the Lakes side of the river. Aurora, Ky., is a mile away and has three restaurants, a Dollar General store and a gas station. Murray, Ky., is 15 miles south and offers big box stores, a shopping mall, Murray State University and the Cheri Movie Theater. The new Eggers Ferry Bridge opened in 2016 and provides a bicycling/walking path that crosses the river to the Land Between the Lakes.
Paris Landing State Park
This 841-acre state park was founded in 1945 and named after an old steamboat and freight landing on the Tennessee River. There’s a 130-room inn featuriung the Riverboat Restaurant, an Olympic-size outdoor pool and a conference center. Each room in the inn has a balcony overlooking the river. There are also 10 three-bedroom cabins with full kitchens. A campground near the inn offers 45 sites for up to 38-foot units with water and 30-amp electric, as well as 18 tent campsites. The marina is at mile 66.1 and can accommodate boats up to 300 feet in length. Covered slips are available for 20 to 60-foot boats. There is an amphitheater with bluegrass, country and gospel concerts every Saturday in the summer.
The park is three miles from the Land Between the Lakes, 15 miles from the Fort Donelson National Military Park and historic Dover, Tenn., and 18 miles from the antique shops in Paris, Tenn. One of the great battles of the civil war took place in Dover. Union gunboats on the Cumberland River battled the Confederate army encamped on land. After two days, the Confederates surrendered and the Union took control of middle Tennessee, including Nashville. Two nearby restaurants worth visiting are the Breakers (two miles north by boat or four miles by car) and Fat Daddy’s (four miles by boat and 12 miles by car). Both restaurants have live music during the summer season.
Pickwick Landing State Park
This park is 185 miles south of Kentucky Dam and right next to Pickwick Dam at mile 208 on the south side of the Tennessee River. It has the newest inn of all the state parks on the river; built in 2001, the inn has 118 rooms — all with a view of the river. An 18-hole golf course lies neaby. The marina is very sheltered and has covered slips for rent as well as really nice transient slips close to the office and washrooms. Boaters reach the marina on a mile-long channel from the navigation line of the river. There’s a free shuttle from the marina to the inn and Captain’s Galley Restaurant. The campground has 48 sites with water and power. The inn, marina and campground are open year round.
The Packaging Corporation of America has a large plant 1.5 miles to the west, and occasionally the wind may blow sulphur fumes across the park. But the climate here is on average 4 degrees warmer in January than the other three state parks described above. The nearest restaurant is Freddy T’s, about five miles south on TN-57E in the small town of Red Sulphur Springs. Savannah, located 15 miles north, is the largest nearby town, offering big box stores, museums and historic antebellum homes. Shiloh National Military Park is 11 miles north on the west side of the Tennessee River. It’s a must see!
Joe Wheeler State Park
Joe Wheeler at Tennessee River mile 277 is probably the finest state park on the river and has become the location of the America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association Annual Rendezvous in October. The lodge and marina are on a sheltered cove off Wheeler Lake called First Creek. It’s the only place on the inland rivers where 100 cruising boats and 250 boaters can congregate with 64 boat slips in front of the lodge, restaurant and a large meeting room. The lodge has 75 rooms with balconies overlooking the lake, docks and swimming pool. There are also 10 new two- and three-bedroom cottages overlooking Wheeler Lake. The park’s beautiful restaurant sits under a soaring wood A-frame roof. The marina is about 500 feet east of the lodge, with 184 slips from 24 to 70 feet, both open and covered. An 18-hole championship golf course designed by Earl Stone and a campground are along the entrance road to the park. The campground has 110 full-service sites capable of accommodating almost any size of camping unit.
The small town of Rogersville, Tenn., is just east and has shopping and restaurants. Florence and Muscle Shoals are 33 miles from the Joe Wheeler State Park. Be sure to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum home, the W.C. Handy Home & Museum and Helen Keller’s home.
Author: Bob Duthie is a contributor to HeartLand Boating magazine.