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Boat on water

Caribbean of the South

Boaters, Hikers and Campers Flock to Norris Reservoir

As fisherman Derek Sharp sees it, any day at Norris Reservoir is a good day.

“Whether you catch some or not,” Sharp said. “I just enjoy God’s creation – the lake, the trees, the air. It’s a place of peace for me to just get away.”

Like many TVA reservoirs, Norris is renowned for its fishing, particularly its sizable population of smallmouth bass.

But fish aren’t the only thing on the menu in these parts. The reservoir and its surrounding lands offer an abundance of recreational opportunities, including renowned biking trails, hiking trails and campgrounds. So much so that it earned the recent rating as the best lake in Tennessee by a national blog.

The rich history of the reservoir and the nearby city of Norris make this a sought-after destination year after year for residents and visitors alike.

Locals have dubbed it the Caribbean of the South, said Clay Guerry, a senior recreation strategist at TVA.

"The crystal blue water is hard to miss,” Guerry said. “It's absolutely gorgeous.”

Norris Dam

'Like Going Back in Time’

For history buffs, Norris offers an authentic look at some of TVA's earliest work in the Valley region.

TVA planned and built the city of Norris in 1933 and 1934 to house workers building Norris Dam. The city became fully electrified – a rarity in the region – in the 1930s.

Designed as a walkable city, Norris maintains its charming, small-town ambiance. Some of the original buildings are still standing, including a hospital and the workers’ cafeteria and dormitory.

“Norris is celebrating its 75th year as an incorporated city,” TVA historian Pat Ezzell said. “The original layout and most of the historic structures remain intact. It's truly like going back in time, walking the footpaths to reach downtown and the central green space.”

The city is also home to the Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of Appalachia, a nonprofit that features an authentic mountain farm, museums and a pioneer village. In July, the museum hosts the Independence Day Anvil Shoot Celebration.

Norris Dam State Park, which features a campground, deluxe cabins, a playground and two pavilions, is a popular spot for families looking to soak in all the benefits of the reservoir.

Younger visitors often take a special interest in the cultural and historical features, including the Rice Gristmill and the Caleb Crosby Threshing Barn, which offer a glimpse at the region’s history.

Grist mill

Trails for All

After a visit to the city and the state park, visitors can head to the many trails at Norris Reservoir.

With dozens of shared use trails, everyone can find a path to suit their taste. Some trails are designed for a slower pace – appealing to walkers, runners or horseback riders – while others are made for biking and adventure.

The Mill Creek and Loyston loops, both part of the 23-mile Loyston Point Trails system, are ranked among the top mountain bike trails in the nation.

Celeste Whitson of Clinton, Tennessee, often visits the reservoir’s walking trails with her family.

“We visit my papaw around here every Sunday,” Whitson said. “When the weather is nice, we love to come spend some time walking out here.”

The Hemlock Bluff Trail, so named for its small grove of hemlocks, is home to one of TVA’s many Small Wild Areas that feature ecologically significant resources.

Located in Andersonville, Tennessee, the Hemlock Bluff Small Wild Area has 78 acres rich with animal and plant species, including a pawpaw fruit patch that in September attracts black bears, raccoons and gray foxes.

Family hiking on trail.

Maximum Fun

With an accessible, full-service marina, Norris Reservoir has long been a destination for boaters.

Looking to grab a basket of popcorn shrimp or a barbecue burger? Head to the on-site restaurant.

The reservoir provides boaters endless opportunities for exploration around picturesque shorelines, and there’s no shortage of prime fishing spots. 

In summer, boaters and their guests stay cool by water skiing, wakeboarding and tubing. The Norris Dam Marina features affordable, all-day pontoon rentals, ensuring even the most novice adventurers can enjoy a day on the water.

TVA manages its reservoir system to ensure maximum summer fun – and a big part of that success relies on boater safety and clean boating guidelines.

The reservoir’s many tiny islands allow for dispersed camping, which means amenity-free tent setups.

Hibbs Island – located in the Clinch River, downstream of the dam – recently underwent a reconstruction project to stabilize the island so its weirs would function as intended.

“We have some of the best islands in Tennessee,” Guerry said.

Island in middle of river

Creature Features

Norris Reservoir is often lauded for its smallmouth bass population, but countless other species call the reservoir home.

A fishermen might pull in a rainbow, brown or brook trout from the Clinch River, where fly fishermen can enjoy a quiet – but hopefully exciting – afternoon in the tailwaters of the river.

TVA’s specialists work year-round to optimize water conditions throughout the river system, ensuring aquatic life can thrive.

With its rich biodiversity, Norris Reservoir has features and creatures that appeal to every curiosity. Sometimes it’s about hooking the big one, but sometimes it’s just about spending time in nature.

Sharp would agree.

“Now, of course, I enjoy catching fish as well," he said. “But sometimes it’s just good to get away for a little bit.”

Guerry neatly sums up the wonders of this reservoir: “It’s a gem.”

Blue Heron on water.

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Visit TVA’s recreation page to learn about opportunities for fishing, birdwatching, swimming and more.

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