Nashville might seem surprisingly endowed with boat-friendly waterways for a city known as a mecca of country music.
Its river system and two major lakes within a few miles of downtown simply don’t get the attention that, say, Carrie Underwood or Kenny Chesney tend to garner. That’s a shame, because the water here is as harmonious as any studio session of tight background vocals.
The nexus of Middle Tennessee’s deep-green watershed is the Cumberland River, which cuts a swath through the heart of Music City in the shadow of LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans and the fabled Ryman Auditorium, original home of the Grand Ole Opry.
The river meanders verdantly up to Lake Cumberland in southeastern Kentucky. But just a few miles out of Nashville, past the massively impressive Gaylord Opryland Hotel, the river is dammed to form Old Hickory Lake, whose 22,000 acres and 440 shoreline miles attract ’tooners of a different ilk.
“Old Hickory is huge, and every part of it is unique,” says boater Jason Tucker.
Nothing against wakeboard and bass boats, of which you see plenty out here, but there’s no better way to explore a new boating dig than by pontoon. You take your time, cruise closer to the shoreline because of the shallow draft, and enjoy the moment. That’s boating.
We don’t suggest, however, you hand over the helm to 8-year-old Jake and then take a nap. The Old Hickory’s depth varies widely as it winds through former farm hills and dales.
“You’re in what you think is the channel,” says Tucker, “and all of a sudden it’s 2 feet deep. That’s the nature of boating in a river lake. If you go for the first time, stay in the channel.”
Travelers to Old Hickory Lake should consider taking a few hours to drive into Nashville, stopping at such iconic sites as the city-within-a-city that is Opryland Hotel, Music Row (take the Demonbreun exit off I-40 downtown) and lower Broadway, where the Ryman, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Printer’s Alley serve up pick-and-grin nods to Nashville’s musical heritage. Off Broadway, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (countrymusichalloffame.com) encapsulates musical history in fine fashion, with tributes to legendary artists — including Johnny and June Carter Cash, Conway Twitty and Bill Monroe — who themselves found exploring Old Hickory Lake a melodious experience.
First Impression: An abundance of coves and fingers spilling off the main Cumberland River channel amid rolling Tennessee hills.
Something You've Got To Try: Join the frequent party of boaters at Skinny Dip Cove, a few clicks from Drake’s Creek Marina — but don’t take the name too literally; most folks keep their suits on.
Local Flavor: Long Hollow Jamboree in Goodlettsville serves up Southern, meat-and-three fare and live entertainment, including open-mic Tuesdays.
Distance From Nashville: 15 miles
Best Contact: sumnercvb.com/Old_ Hickory_Lake