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The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Camping in Nashville

Nashville isn’t necessarily known for its outdoor recreation or natural scenery, but just 12 miles east of the country music, neon lights, cowboy boots, and bachelorette parties of Downtown Nashville, there is a beautiful oasis called Percy Priest Lake. This lake offers good hiking trails and parks that can be enjoyed year round, but the limestone cliffs jutting into the blue waters are nearly irresistible on a hot summer day, and it draws in thousands of visitors every summer. Another feature that keeps people coming back to Percy Priest are the many islands scattered throughout the lake that make an excellent overnight getaway for camping.

Know Before You Go: All of the islands/campsites mentioned in this blog are primitive campsites. This means that there are NO bathrooms, NO running water, NO electricity, NO shelters… No amenities whatsoever, so plan accordingly.

When to go: The best time to go island camping on Percy Priest is during the week when the lake is less crowded and more sites are available, but if you don’t have that luxury, we recommend getting out there as early as possible on Friday to ensure that you get a spot.

Where to go: There are lots of options when choosing an island, but two of the most popular are Luau Island and Bear Island, and it should be noted that the only way to access any of these islands is by boat. Luau Island is a small, sandy island with only a few trees, and it is a super popular spot for boaters and jet skiers to hang out during the day. So, unless you like having visitors throughout the day, we don’t suggest camping here. Bear Island, on the other hand is a large, wooded island with numerous campsites skirted around its shores. The sites are marked by a white picket type post with campsite rules and regulations. No permit is required, and they are offered on a first come first serve basis, so like we said earlier, get there early! There are many other islands spotted throughout the lake, but the best way to find out if camping is allowed on these islands is to either boat out and see for yourself, or to call the US Army Corps of Engineers at 615-889-1975.

Where to put in: Once you’ve decided what island you’re going to camp at, you can figure out the best place to put your boat in. When you're kayaking to your campsite, it’s important not to put in too far from your intended destination. Our go-to boat ramps are Hamilton Creek Recreation Area (Free) or Elm Hill Marina ($8). Both are only around a 1 hr paddle to Bear Island, but Elm Hill is a gated entry, so we feel more comfortable leaving our car there overnight. If you’re going to be camping at one of the islands further south on the lake, we recommend either Hurricane Creek Boat Ramp (Free) or Four Corners Recreation Area ($5)

What to pack: As we stated earlier, these are primitive campsites, so you will need to pack accordingly. Since there is no clean water source, you will need to either pack in your water or what we recommend is one of these Sawyer Mini or Sawyer Squeeze water filters. We’ve used these on every camping trip we’ve been on for the past 7 years and absolutely LOVE them. For food, you can cook over the campfire, or what we like to do is bring our JetBoil MiniMo and cook some sort of pasta or even Mountain House meal. If you’re not the cooking type, you can always pack prepackaged, prepared food like Cliff Bars and make things even easier! When it comes to all of the other important items like clothing, shelter, sleep system, etc, just be sure to check the forecast before you head out and make sure that you pack appropriately. There’s nothing worse than being out in the woods, and not having the right gear for the circumstance.

Now that you have everything that you need to know for a perfect kayak camping trip in Nashville, all that’s left to do is pack your things and hit the water. If you have found this blog helpful at all, please let us know and tag us (@AdventuresofMattandNat) in your Percy Priest Lake adventures!



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