Cheatham Lake, Tennessee, USA
Middle Tennessee is blessed with a wealth of recreational opportunities created by Cheatham Lake. The lake itself is more properly called a wide spot in the Cumberland River, created by the US Army Corps of Engineers with the building of the Cheatham Lock and Dam northeast of Nashville. Originally mandated to replace an aging system of navigational locks, the dam was immediately called into extra duty to generate hydroelectric power for the Tennessee Valley Authority. The result was a long, narrow lake that extends through the City of Nashville 67 miles to the lower side of the Old Hickory Dam and Old Hickory Lake. The resulting water body provides almost two million people annually with recreational opportunities in the form of fishing, boating, camping and wildlife enjoyment.
Cheatham Lake is approximately 40 feet deep at the dam. Cheatham Lake levels are controlled to provide a navigable channel with a minimum depth of 9 feet upstream to Old Hickory Dam. Deeper areas are present along the high bluffs found throughout the lake. The main lock chamber is 110 feet wide, 800 feet long, and provides a normal lift of 26 feet. The chamber requires 17,115,429 gallons of water and approximately 12 minutes to fill. It takes approximately 15 minutes to empty. The lock is open to recreational craft at no charge. A single lockage takes about 30 minutes.
One swimming beach is provided on Cheatham Lake at the Cheatham Dam Right Bank Recreation Area. The acreage under the control of the USACE and their partner, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency provides for hundreds of acres of designated wildlife management areas, nearly a hundred picnic sites, two campgrounds, fourteen playgrounds, 18 boat ramps and two marinas with a total of over 200 boat slips. Municipal parks along the lakeshore are offered in Ashland City, Nashville and Madison. Some of the larger public access locations are Cheatham Dam Left Bank Recreation Area, Sycamore Creek Recreation Area, Johnson Creek Recreation Area, Bluff Creek Recreation Area and Brush Creek Recreation Area. With all of this public recreation going on, the average visitor often forgets that the first purpose of the lake was to improve commercial river transportation. The occasional visit of one of the remaining Mississippi river boats upstream to Nashville thus provides a rather startling reminder that the Cumberland navigational route is vital to the economic health and development of central Tennessee. Official agencies involved in the management of the lake are pleased that the lake can serve double-duty to so many interests.
Recreational boating plays a big part in the lives of the many who visit Cheatham Lake for recreation. Sailing, power boating, water skiing, tubing, jet skiing, wakeboarding and windsurfing are all popular here. The many arms and narrow inlets into protected public lands are favored places to paddle a canoe or kayak. The numerous public boat ramps offer multiple places to launch small craft, while a few large launch sites and the two public marinas provide access to larger boats. The marinas offer fuel, supplies, restaurants, showers, repairs and slip space to visiting boaters and rent slips by the season. Riverview Marina offers scenic boat tours of the lake during the summer season. A third private marina and yacht club sells fuel to the public. One of the public marinas has a private RV campground next door so visitors can enjoy a week or two of lakeside living. The other two publicly-owned campgrounds both have boat ramps for launching smaller fishing boats. The Park office near the dam has navigation maps for the river system and boating regulations available to boaters.
Fishing is a big attraction at Cheatham Lake. ‘Lunker’-size largemouth bass are only one of the attractive sport fish found in the lake. Sauger, striped bass and catfish are some of the other large game fish often caught, with bream, crappie and other panfish especially delightful for young anglers. Two fishing piers offer easy access to cast a line into fish-filled waters. A Tennessee fishing license is required of all fishermen. Bait and extra tackle can be purchased at several location near the boat ramps and at the marinas. Both fishermen and boaters need to be aware of scheduled water release time which can change river conditions in minutes, particularly below the dam. Access to the public lands in the area requires a pass, purchased either by the day for a nominal fee or annually.
Several Wildlife Management Areas at or near Cheatham Lake are open for hunting during hunting season. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency leases 2,796 acres of land and water from the USACE for wildlife management. Most are open year round for nature observation and outdoor enjoyment. The Dyson Ditch Refuge and Pardue Pond Refuge units are off limits to visitors from mid-October to mid-February. The TWRA also has an additional 2,502 acres under their control for wildlife management purposes. Deer, quail,opossum, raccoon, rabbit, turkey, squirrel, snipe, woodcock and waterfowl are all hunted. Competition for the few duck blind sites available on Cheatham Lake is strong, so a number of regulations cover their placement and use. Besides the usual State hunting license, special permits are necessary for hunting deer and waterfowl. A current copy of all applicable regulations for the area should be included in every hunter’s planning to avoid unexpected problems.
Several trails are available for hiking and walking, some with interpretive signage. Take a jump back into the past on the Lock A Nature Trail. This trail, located in the Lock A Campground, will give you a sense of what it was like to live the life of a lockmaster. While you are on the trail, get a bird?s eye view of the river from either of the two overlooks. Keep your (bird?s) eyes open for an eagle, hawk, heron or vulture — or watch a barge tow pass by. Starting just west of Ashland City and ending in the Lock A Campground is the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail.The trail is open daily to hikers,bird watchers, bicyclists, wildflower enthusiasts, horseback riders and all nature fans. This ‘rails to trails’ location follows an old railroad bed for 6.5 miles.
Because Cheatham Lake runs through several municipalities, there are a large number of lodging choices found nearby. Hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts, private guest lodgings and vacation home rentals can be found near the 320-mile shoreline. There is never a shortage of places to obtain supplies, groceries or services within a short distance. Real estate is also available, often with lake views and nearby access to the shore. Nashville in particular is known for a number of highly attractive entertainment venues.
Although nearly everyone is familiar with the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame, The Nashville Symphony may not be on the best-known list. The symphony produces a full line0up of international acts and a classical series that will delight music lovers of all ages. Nashville is also home to a number of historical locations such as President Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage, he city’s oldest home, Traveller’s Rest, Belle Meade Plantation , historically black Fisk University on the National Register of Historic Places. The Nashville Public Library holds a world-famous Civil Rights Collection. Nashville also offers the Nashville Zoo, Children’s Theater, Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art,, the Adventure Science Center and a number of other public venues of interest to those with children in tow. Add plenty of fine dining, exciting night life and great shopping and it’s easy to see why Nashville has been called one of America’s Best Family Friendly Vacations by Trip Adviser.
Visitors interested in the science of dams, hydroelectric generation and river transportation will be pleased to find that the Cheatham Lock and Dam offers information and tours covering this unusual installation: the Cheatham Lock is not designed to hold back flood waters, but to allow them to pass over the lock without damage. The unique geology of the region makes it nearly impossible to contain major flooding but the historic floods of 2010 stressed even the capabilities built into the Cheatham Lock: the lock itself ended up under 15 feet of water-far more than designed for. Due to excellent design, the lock was back in temporary operation in two weeks and further upgrades are planned to make sure that future massive flood events can be survived even more successfully.
A visit to Cheatham Lake is easily accomplished, with or without camping reservations. The many other forms of lodgings will provide the perfect mix of outdoor activities and eclectic city life. The welcoming water and eager fish await you and your family. Can we expect you this year?
Things to do at Cheatham Lake
- Vacation Rentals
- Jet Skiing
- Water Skiing
- Horseback Riding
- Wildlife Viewing
Fish species found at Cheatham Lake
- Black Bass
- Largemouth Bass
- Striped Bass
Cheatham Lake Photo Gallery
Cheatham Lake Statistics & Helpful Links
Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed
Water Level Control: Corps of Engineers
Surface Area: 7,450 acres
Shoreline Length: 320 miles
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 385 feet
Average Depth: 9 feet
Maximum Depth: 40 feet
Water Volume: 104,000 acre-feet
Completion Year: 1960
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