Creating a Sense of Community Throughout The Appalachian Highlands

Outdoor Living in Our Region: Enjoying TVA Lands & Waters

Throughout America, people have recognized that the availability of outdoor recreation helps attract and sustain families and businesses, create healthy communities and foster a high quality of life. The outdoors is a playground for millions of people—especially in the Tennessee Valley.

From coast to coast, the United States has beautiful parks, waterways and public lands. Luckily, many of these special places can be found in our backyard, right here in the Tennessee Valley and Southern Virginia. Especially as we enter the spring and summer months, the Valley provides plenty for us to do. Whether you are a hiker, a water sports fanatic or simply enjoy quiet moments in nature, you can take advantage of gorgeous natural features of our region.


In May 1933 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created and signed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Act to help the people of the Tennessee Valley become more prosperous, healthy and productive.

TVA was designed to tackle the important problems facing the Valley, such as flooding, providing electricity to homes and businesses, replanting forests, improving travel on the Tennessee River and helping develop the region’s business and farming.

Today, TVA still maintains many of the lands and waterways in the region. For 84 years, and as part of its mission of service, TVA has managed these public lands and waters to support recreation—and the Tennessee Valley remains one of the best places in the country to live, work and play.

TVA has certainly lived up to President Roosevelt’s hopes and visions as the organization still continues to not only provide low-cost energy and economic development, but also focuses heavily on the environment and maintaining the 293,000 acres of public lands for outdoor recreation and enjoyment.


There’s plenty of fun to be had year-round on TVA land and water. Do you love to hike? The Valley has trails for every level of ability. Is fishing your obsession? There are some truly world-class bass and trout fishing destinations too. Do you need more quiet interaction with nature? Maybe bird watching is more your style. Take a peek at some of TVA’s Small Wild Areas. Camping? Boating? Swimming? Paddling? Check, check, check, check. And those are just a few of the possibilities.


TVA is engaged in many activities that benefit fish and the anglers who pursue them. These include monitoring the numbers and health of the fish; protecting water quality by stabilizing shorelines; helping farmers adopt best management practices; working with marinas to minimize boating-related pollution; improving oxygen flows in the water below TVA dams; and managing reservoir levels to support the spring spawn, to name just a few.


The Valley is home to many world-class trout fisheries, chief among them the South Fork Holston River, near Bristol, Tennessee. Whether you’re nymphing, dry casting or drift fishing, the South Fork Holston has great fishing waiting for you.

If you are an experienced angler, and you know how to hook them, the upper section of the South Holston River holds some of the best brown trout in the eastern US. It is also stocked with about 47,000 rainbow trout each year. This is truly a world-class fishery and people come from all over the U.S. to cast in these waters.

Also along the river a number of young stripers pass through Boone Dam and into Fort Patrick Henry on an annual basis. Fort Patrick Henry is a small, 872-acre, TVA managed reservoir located within Sullivan County in northeast Tennessee near Kingsport. Since Fort Patrick Henry has very good dissolved oxygen levels and cool water, striped bass can grow to exceptional size. The primary game fish are largemouth and smallmouth bass, but there are also many rock bass, trout, walleye and striped bass swimming about.

What makes the fishing so great? The food sources, the spawning habitat, the oxygen levels, the water temperature—and the all-important flow. TVA regulates the river’s water flow and the dam tailwater releases create world-class trout fishing. TVA provides scheduled releases for TVA dams so that trout fishers will know when they have the best odds at calmer flowing water that’s suitable for wade or drift fishing.

Even when TVA is generating power, you can still fish. The water runs deep and fast in the river channel, so wading may be a bit dangerous—but it’s the perfect time to fish from a raft or drift boat.

You’ll want to get into the action, but know the rules before casting lines into any waterways.


Tennessee Valley summers are characterized by natural beauty—and unrelenting heat. Cool off in the lake at one of TVA’s manicured swim beaches.

You don’t need a boat or a lake house to enjoy a dip at one of these public swim beaches, created especially for the enjoyment of the people of the Valley. There, you can unfold a blanket on the shore, set out a picnic and wade right in—the water is fine.

Residents and visitors now have more ways to enjoy Boone Reservoir with the opening of a new swim beach. It features a stretch of white sand along with a new boat ramp, walking trails, a pavilion, a volleyball court and restrooms. There are also American with Disabilities Act-compliant walking trails, grills, picnic areas, restrooms and parking spaces available. In addition to the Boone Dam Reservation, the Cherokee Dam Reservation beach is available for enjoying when the weather gets hot.


Boating and water sports are among the most popular recreational pursuits in the Tennessee Valley, and TVA manages the reservoir system to maximize water conditions for maximum summer fun. It pays to know the basics of navigation and safety so the good times stay good for everyone on the water.

Whether you’re into paddle power or mellow motoring, the lakes of the Tennessee River watershed offer exceptional opportunities for boating fun. Becoming more and more popular, paddling is also great family activity on the rivers. Make sure you wear a helmet and a floatation device, and go with a buddy.


If fishing and being on the water isn’t your thing, and you would much rather stay on land, then check out TVA’s 150 miles of trails available for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. All are equally fun, whether you are on foot, wheels or hooves.

It is a good idea to research which trail you are going to use and for which activity before you go so you know if biking and horseback riding are acceptable—or if you are enjoying the scenery on foot.


There are beautiful sites across the Valley and you can enjoy them in a variety of ways. For example, you could take an easy wildflower hike or an exciting wildlife hike. Wildlife hikes take place at the Osceola Island Loop at South Holston Reservoir, where you’ll see waterfowl, deer and plenty of other fauna. There are trails and hikes for all levels across the region. The easy trails include the 1.6 mile Emmett and Tailwater Trails in South Holston, and the 1.8 mile Osceola Island Loop Trail. If you are looking for something a little more difficult, try the .5-mile Overlook Trail in Watauga.

The biking trails are just as hot. If you are into biking instead of walking, you can check out trails on Chatuge, Guntersville, Norris, Pickwick, Raccoon Mountain and Watts Bar reservoirs.

Horseback riding is available at the reservoirs at South Holston, Wilbur, Watauga, Boone and Fort Patrick Henry.


If you want to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the Southeastern United States, there are hundreds of campsites along several of the dam reservoir campgrounds. Available from mid-March to mid-November, there are fees for both a tent-only campsite and a lakeside campsite with water, sewer and electric hookups.

Some of the local campgrounds include the Watauga Campground near Elizabethton, Tenn. The Appalachian Trail intersects with trails here, making for some truly world-class hiking. The Cherokee Dam Campground near Jefferson City, Tenn. has a picnic pavilion, basketball court and children’s playground and is a terrific meeting place for a family reunion.

Families and groups can utilize the picnic pavilions at some of the recreation sites including Boone, Cherokee and Watauga.


As the weather gets warmer, we start to enjoy some of the best bird watching of the year. You can find many fine-feathered friends on TVA public lands, and there are many bird watching trails and nature areas in the Valley.

How do you get a good look at a bird so you can identify it? There are things you can do to give yourself an advantage in spotting birds. Grab a good birding guide—such as The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America and keep practicing your looking skills. You just might spot an eagle, an osprey or a hawk because they all dwell in the Tennessee Valley year-round—especially near the waterways.


You can’t do better than TVA’s recreational lands if you are looking for something to do outdoors. From swim beaches and fishing to hiking and picnic pavilions, the options for fun are nearly endless. The bonus: these public recreation areas are right in our backyard, located throughout the Tennessee Valley region where millions of people enjoy limitless opportunities for fun and appreciation of our natural heritage.

All you need to do, any time of year, is get out there and have a good time. So put down the cell phone and see you in the outdoors!

Share your own stories and photos on Instagram or Twitter using #TVAfun

Share Post
Written by