Nashville has been steadily increasing in popularity with tourists over the past decade, and for good reason. There is plenty to do on land in the capital of country music, but the fun doesn’t end there. Music City and the surrounding area hosts an abundance of opportunities for water lovers. From serene lakes with island camping to city skyline tours on the Cumberland River, you are sure to have an enjoyable time kayaking Nashville.

Overhead view of the Cumberland River running through Nashville.
The Cumberland River is one of the many leisurely paddles in the Nashville area. | Photo by: Adobe Stock // Kevin Ruck

Kayak rentals

If you’re looking to rent a kayak around Nashville, there is no shortage of rental companies, both in town and at nearby lakes and rivers. Here are a few of the top-rated ones to get you started.

Nashville Paddle Company

Although they specialize in standup paddleboard rentals and classes, you can also rent single and tandem kayaks from Nashville Paddle Company. Explore over 22 square miles of nearby Percy Priest Lake and try your hand at some bass fishing. Be sure to book online to save $5 on your rental.

  • One-hour single kayak: $25
  • 1.5-hour single kayak: $35
  • One-hour tandem kayak: $30
  • 1.5-hour tandem kayak: $40

Stones River Kayak & Canoe Rentals

Stones River Kayak & Canoe Rentals has several routes for you to choose from, varying in length from two to seven hours. All of the routes are rated as either flatwater or class I, with some getting as high as class II under certain circumstances. Be sure to check the calendar on their website for their currently available trips.

Single and tandem kayaks are available. Prices start at $26 for the 2.5-mile route and $40 and up for the six-mile route.

Broken Paddle Outfitters

If you’re heading to the popular Harpeth River area to the southwest of the city, check out the services of Broken Paddle Outfitters. They offer a slew of options, including shuttle service, round-trip service from any address within the 37221 zip code, and custom trips. If you have your heart set on an overnight trip, you can rent a vessel from Broken Paddle for that too. Kayaks start at $40.

There are several exceptions, but it’s worth noting that operations for this business are mostly weekend-only from April through October.

Kayak tours

Whether you’re looking for something in the city or a bit farther out for some seclusion, there are tons of self-guided kayak tour options in the area. Here are a few to check out from some of the most highly recommended kayak rental and guide businesses around Nashville.

Foggy Bottom Canoe

If you are looking for a family-friendly kayak outing at one of the favorite rivers in the region, Foggy Bottom Canoe has you covered. FBC offers several different trips on the scenic Harpeth River, including a “Kid Trip,” which takes about one hour and covers 1.5 miles. Their other trips range from five to 11 river miles. Kayaks are available for rent at $29.95, regardless of which trip option you choose.

Cumberland Kayak

If you’re wanting to stick close to the city for your paddling excursion, check out Cumberland Kayak‘s skyline tours for a different look at Nashville. One-hour routes start at $32 and three-hour routes begin at $60. Single and tandem kayaks are available for both.

Want something a little more nature-based, but don’t want to drive far from downtown? Look into their Shelby Park Nature Paddle ($42 for two hours) or their Stones River Paddle (2.5 hours for $35).

River Rat Canoe Rental

For another peaceful paddle down an easy-going river, look into River Rat Canoe Rental‘s trip options. For $30, enjoy a 3.5-hour trip from Milltown back to the River Rat’s base. Looking for an extended trip? Paddle past rocky outcroppings along the river’s edge from River Rat to Carpenter Bridge on a nine-mile, five-hour trip that will give you plenty of time to truly enjoy the Duck River as you paddle, picnic and swim away the afternoon.

Best places to kayak

If you are looking for whitewater kayaking opportunities, Nashville, unfortunately, is not the place (look into the eastern part of the state on the Ocoee River, Pigeon River and parts of the Great Smoky Mountains). However, if you are looking for a relaxing or family-friendly trip down a slowly meandering river or around a calm lake, you will have a great time kayaking Nashville. Here are some of the most popular leisure paddling spots to check out.

Downtown

Escape the bustling city life after a long day of sightseeing on the Cumberland riverfront. The great thing about this section of the river is that it is so slow-moving that you can paddle back to your original starting point if you don’t mind a little extra work.

Duck River

The Duck River is said to afford good canoe and camping opportunities. As usual, be sure to check along your route ahead of time and make sure you are not trespassing on private property.

There are several campgrounds along the river that offer kayak rentals and shuttle services back to their camp as well if you prefer overnight accommodations that are a little less wild.

Old Hickory Lake

With 35 square miles to explore and plenty of put-in spots, you can’t go wrong with Old Hickory Lake, located 30 minutes northeast of Nashville. The Burton Road lake access is one of the easier spots to get your boat on the lake. Plus, it is a short paddle from there to the more secluded Spencer Creek, where you are likely to view more wildlife.

Percy Priest Lake

Another favorite kayaking spot in the area, Percy Priest Lake has many islands popping out of its waters, making it the perfect destination for an overnight trip. Check out this article for some great tips on camping on Percy Priest Lake. If you would feel more comfortable with a guided tour, call Beyond the Banks Kayak Rental.

Wildlife you might see

With so many abundant and clean water sources, Nashville area kayaking affords a plethora of wildlife viewing opportunities. Among many other critters, you might encounter:

  • Great blue herons
  • River otters
  • Beaver
  • Muskrat
  • Northern watersnakes
  • Kingfishers
  • Wood ducks
  • Snapping turtles
  • River cooters
  • Softshell turtles

If you are thinking about doing some kayak fishing, here are some of the more common species you can find in the area:

  • Crappie
  • Flathead catfish
  • Redhorse
  • Bluegill
  • Several types of bass

Best time of year to kayak in Nashville

In general, April through October is the best time to plan a kayaking trip in Nashville, though March and November might be acceptable as well depending on temperatures for the year (March and November highs average around 62°F).

It is worth mentioning that summer months can become unbearably hot, especially July and August, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your trip. Of course, if you plan on kayaking somewhere you can easily take a dip you won’t have to worry about this as much.

Tourism numbers have been increasing steadily over the past decade. If you are hoping to avoid the peak of tourist season, spring and fall may be your best bets.

What to pack/wear

Not sure what to pack for your Nashville kayaking trip? Here is a list of essentials and handy-to-have items below:

  • Drybag
  • Light clothing, both in style (i.e shorts and t-shirt) and color (i.e. nothing dark, like black or gray)
  • Wide-brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks and water
  • Water shoes or tennis shoes
  • Camera (even better if you have a waterproof one)
  • Bathing suit
  • Bug spray
  • Change of clothes

Important things to know

Many rental and tour companies in the area operate seasonally during the busiest times of the year, which is generally from April to October. If you are planning a trip during a month outside of this range, be sure to look up business hours/months in advance or contact the company you are interested in directly.

If paddling the Cumberland River around Nashville’s city center, be aware of large boat traffic, such as barges and riverboats.

If you are looking for a laid-back, relaxing float trip in the south, kayaking Nashville will not disappoint.

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