3 Rivers 3 Ways 30 Minutes
Knoxville, Tennessee. Home to some of the most pristine rivers in the country. Whether you are kayaking the scenic French Broad River, fly fishing the Holston , or watching the Volunteers win from the Tennessee river, there are options for all. These popular destinations all reside within thirty minutes of downtown, making Knoxville a perfect spot to see what the Volunteer state has to offer!
Knoxville, Tennessee sits at the confluence of three rivers: the French Broad, Holston, and Tennessee. For this reason, the water is an important part of the experience and history in the region. These waterways were used in the quarry system that created big business in the area as well as ferries in operation to cross. They also were dammed to create lakes for people to enjoy.
There are so many ways to enjoy the waterways, whether by fishing, kayaking, or boating. The incredible diversity of species provide opportunities for wildlife spotting. But you don’t have to be an expert in any to appreciate it. Knoxville and its three rivers have something for everyone, no more than 30 minutes from downtown.
French Broad River
The French Broad River is known for its section in western North Carolina, but it also has a large portion in Tennessee. The wide river has mountain views and adjacent farms where cattle cool off in the water. It’s controlled by the Tennessee Valley Authority, so water levels are subject to change but April to June are among the best times to go.
Explore this body of water with a kayak float with Knoxville Outdoor Collective, which has a downtown shop with kayak, paddleboard, and bike rentals. The company also does one way floats where they drop you off upriver on the French Broad and let the water take you back towards the city. They supply everything you need including lifejackets and dry bags.
Because of the river flow, it’s perfect for beginners as little paddling is required. If you’re interested in fishing, the French Broad River is a great place to fish for trout. Visit at sunset for the most scenic experience.
Fly fishermen and women love the Holston River because it is one of the few places where you can fish for trout and smallmouth bass. The river passes through rail bridges and the remains of the pylons from where bridges were blown up during the Civil War. Another Civilian Conservation Corps bridge near Mascot is another scenic landmark.
Guides and outfitters like Three Rivers Angler run excursions to the Holston as well as the Clinch in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains. Customers return year after year because of the mild climate and the fact that this area is an inexpensive place to fish compared with Wyoming or Colorado. It’s also ideal for beginners or those gaining interest in the sport.
Owner Allen Gillespie and his expert guides bring visitors to the river and teach them what they need to know about fly fishing. The shop also sells all the gear one might possibly need, including flys, rods, and waders.
On a day when the University of Tennessee Volunteers are playing at the waterfront Neyland Stadium, the Tennessee River is coated in orange and white as fans take to their houseboats to tailgate on water. The tricked out boats are kept at Volunteer Landing.
But if you’re not visiting during football season, or don’t have access to a houseboat, you can still enjoy the Tennessee River. As the largest tributary of the Ohio River, there are many ways to explore it.
Bass fishermen like professional (and Knoxville local) Brandon Coulter love this waterway, which has even played host to tournaments. Those with their own boats can use the many boat ramps around the city.
If you’re traveling without a car, rent a kayak or paddleboard from Knoxville Outdoor Collective and put in a few steps away. There are also kayak launches at Sentree Landing Park, a public park with a playground and walking path. Along the way, visitors will pass the Ijams Nature Center, the Home Airport, and an incredible cluster of homes atop the bluffs. Look out for species of birds like the blue heron.
The Star of Knoxville, an authentic paddlewheel boat, operates sightseeing and dinner cruises on the Tennessee River, leaving from Volunteer Landing. Themed excursions include a murder mystery cruise and a gospel brunch.
The experiences of the three rivers of Knoxville represent all interest levels and provide a safe and socially distant way to explore the region. Masks are recommended while in close proximity to others.
Caroline Eubanks is an award-winning travel writer and author of This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States. While often found traversing the backroads of the South, she calls Atlanta, Georgia home. ****