The Harpeth River and its surroundings are beautiful. It’s a scenic area that can provide a much-needed break from day-to-day monotony, and it makes for the perfect day trip for people of all ages. The most popular activities in the area are river floating, kayaking, and canoeing, and it’s no surprise why. The river is gentle, making it perfect for families, beginners, and casual kayakers alike.
But before you go, there are some things you need to know. Going uninformed is not wise, and can lead to consequences ranging from mildly annoying to dangerous. I’ve put together a brief list of the most important information about the Harpeth River, and hopefully it’ll help you plan your trip.
1. The River
Harpeth River is a mild, slow moving rocky bottomed river. It’s a Class 1 river, meaning that it’s got very few rapids, all of which are gentle. There are plenty of sandbars to hang out on during your float, just make sure not to cross any no trespassing signs.
The sections on either side of the river, that are not part of state parks, are private property. Be courteous to landowners and be aware of trespassing laws – the last thing anyone wants is to get in trouble with the law during a canoeing trip.
2. Harpeth River State Park
Harpeth River State Park is a fun spot to visit for locals and tourists alike. It’s popular for many activities, including canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and bird watching. Swimming is another popular activity, but is strictly swim at your own risk.
The park is mostly self guided. There are no restrooms or park offices, and the most you’ll see are signs and trailhead markers. Handicap accessibility is minimal, so keep that in mind if you’re visiting with someone who has limited mobility.
The park encompasses forty miles of river and has nine different river access sites. River access sites close for safety during high water. Heavy rainfall changes river conditions, and can make kayaking unpredictable and unsafe. If access sites are closed, they’re closed for a reason – don’t risk you and your companions’ lives. Stay safe.
The park and its river access sites are for day-use only. There is no camping, no overnight parking, and the gates to access sites are locked at designated closing times, so keep park hours in mind when planning your trip. Park hours are:
- April to October: 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM
- November to March: 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM
While there’s tons of fun stuff to do at Harpeth River State Park, there’s also stuff that you should not do. There are several activities that are prohibited in the state park, and if you choose to partake in them, you might find yourself in legal trouble. The following activities/actions are banned (or strongly advised against):
- Littering (leave no trace, pack it in, pack it out)
- Entering private property (check for signs)
- Diving into the river. The water is murky and can make it hard to see the bottom. You might end up busting your head on a shallow, seemingly deep portion of the river bed.
- Taking anything you’re not willing to lose into the water. Everything you carry with you has the potential to be lost in the river.
- Rock climbing
- Horseback riding
- Metal detecting
- Collecting/disturbing plants, wildlife or artifacts
4. Rental Options
There are several boat rental and guide companies in the area. The two most popular are Foggy Bottom Canoe and Kayak Rentals and Tip-A-Canoe.
Foggy Bottom Canoe & Kayak Rentals
Foggy Bottom Canoe and Kayak Rentals offers four different excursions. They’ll provide you with your canoes, paddles, life vests, and transportation to and from the river. They close seasonally November through February.
The “Kid” Trip: Ideal for children. It’s roughly 1 and a half river miles and can be finished in about an hour. It starts at the Hwy 70 bridge next to Foggy Bottom and gets out at the Gossett Tract State Park.
The “Ball Park” Trip: Roughly 5 river miles long. Can be finished in about 2 hours, depending on how fast you paddle and water levels. This trip starts upstream at the Kingston Springs City Park and ends at the Hwy 70 Bridge next to Foggy Bottom.
The “Gossett Tract” Trip: Roughly 9 river miles long. Can be finished in about 3 and a half hours, depending on how fast you paddle and water levels. This trip starts down river from Foggy Bottom at the Gossett Tract State Park near Mound Bottom and continues on to The Narrows of the Harpeth State Park area and ends at the Harris Street Bridge take out point.
The “Highway 70 to Harris Street” Trip: Roughly 11 river miles long. Can be finished in 4 or 5 hours, depending on how fast you paddle and water conditions. This trip starts at the Hwy. 70 Bridge next to Foggy Bottom, goes by Mound Bottom and the Narrows of the Harpeth State Park area and ends at the Harris Street Bridge take out point.
$36.00 per canoe plus tax. (The “Kid” Trip)
$38.00 per canoe plus tax. (The “Ball Park” Trip)
$39.95 per canoe plus tax. (The “Gossett Tract” Trip)
$39.95 per canoe plus tax. (The “Highway 70 to Harris Street” Trip)
$29.95 per kayak plus tax. (Kayak prices are good for any trip you choose)
Group Rates: Monday through Friday rent 5 or more canoes for $30 per canoe for any trip. Group rates do not apply to week-ends or holiday weeks.
Private Shuttle: $20 per canoe/kayak (they’ll shuttle your personal boat to and from the river for you)
Tip-A-Canoe offers five different day trips, ranging from 2.5 – 13 miles long. Their tours are not guided, instead take out points are marked by non-movable objects such as bridges.
$49.95 per canoe (with 20% coupon found on their website its $39.95 per canoe, and for local residents its $30.00 per canoe)
$30.00 per kayak
Private Shuttle: $20 per canoe/kayak (they’ll shuttle your personal boat to and from the river for you)
You can find more details here on Tip-A-Canoe’s official website.
If you’ve got your own gear, feel free to use it. As mentioned above, both tour companies offer a shuttle service for $20, and will transport your boat for you to and from the river. If that’s not necessary, and you have your own means of transportation, then go for it!
Guilds are not needed to enjoy the river, and there are no age limits. Anyone can have a fun time on the water, just make sure to do a few things before your trip.
Plan your trip: Know exactly where your beginning and end points are, and know exactly where each location is. Try to account for the possibility of missing your take out location, and know where the following take out location is. The river doesn’t fork, and it’s not real complicated, so even if you miss your end point, it won’t be the end of the world.
Float responsibly: Know your abilities and don’t overestimate how much stamina you’ve got. A fun kayaking trip can quickly turn into an exhausting experience.
Check river conditions: Heavy rain causes a host of hazards, such as visibly swift currents, debris, and decreased visibility due to muddy waters. When the river is 4’ or more above the normal level, it might be best to wait until waters recede and conditions improve before heading into the water. You can check river conditions and water levels here.
Waterproof: Pack all items in a waterproof bag (dry bag) that you don’t want to get wet and tie them to the canoe
Wear a personal flotation device: Do so at all times when on the water (Tennessee State Law requires children age 12 and under to wear life jackets at all times)
Watch your children carefully: Young kids should always be supervised by an adult. Accidents happen, ill-fitting personal flotation devices fall off, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. (especially in a situation such as this)
There are several different river access points for kayakers, canoers, and swimmers alike. You can find a map of them here.
Both Foggy Bottom Canoe and Kayak Rentals and Tip-A-Canoe allow pets on their rentals. You’re also more than welcome to take them on your personal canoe. Leash em’ and bring them with you.
7. What to Bring?
There’s a few items you might want to consider bringing with you on your trip. These items will vary, depending on whether you’re planning to do more than just kayak/canoe. Here’s a basic list of items I’d take with me if I were visiting an area such as Harpeth River State Park:
- Basic first-aid kit
- Filled reusable water bottles
- Source of light (headlamp, flashlight, etc.)
- Food (easy to eat, durable food such as trail mix and jerky)
- Printed map of the area (including river access locations)
- Bug spray
- Towels and dry clothes
- Trash bag (for your own waste and picking up any litter you come across)
8. What to Wear?
You will want to dress appropriately. Don’t wear a long sleeve black shirt and sweats in 90-plus degree weather. Dress according to the time of the year, location, and possible inclement weather.
Here are some things you should wear or bring all year round:
- Wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet
- Closed-toed shoes (You’ll lose flip-flops faster than a hot knife through butter)
- Glasses straps (to keep you from losing your eyeglasses)
- A sun hat (Always a sun hat)
9. When to Go?
The river and surrounding area are real nice, so it’s no surprise it gets busy during peak season. If you’re planning to use rental equipment, make a reservation ahead of time to ensure you have a boat when you get there. Weekends are the most popular time of the week to visit, so if you’re looking for a crowd free experience, go in the morning on a weekday.
Also, keep in mind that there is limited parking. It’s best to get there early.
10. Hiking Trails
There are several hiking trails surrounding the river, making for an even better kayak trip. There are seven different trails at 3 different locations.
At Narrows of the Harpeth, there are three trails, all originating from a common trailhead.
- A half-mile bluff overlook trail includes a steep ascent to a narrow bluff offering hikers a panoramic view of the Harpeth Valley.
- A half-mile trail along the backside of the limestone bluff leads to the site of Montgomery Bell’s Pattison Forge, where a small waterfall is all that remains of the iron forge operation.
- Another half-mile trail connects the canoe launch area to the canoe take out parking area at the Harris Street Bridge Access Area.
At the Gossett Tract there are two different trails.
- A one-mile trail circles a meadow.
- A one-mile trail winds along the river providing a glimpse of Mound Bottom Archeological Site.
At Hidden Lake there are two different trails.
- A one-mile trail meanders around and through a wildflower meadow.
- A half-mile hike through the forest and along majestic bluffs to a small lake with a one mile spur trail ascending to the top of a ridge where the remains of an old marble dance floor are all that remain of a 1940s resort.
You can find a full map of trails here.
Harpeth River State Park is a great location for bird watching. All the trails offer glimpses of different bird species, but the best location for bird watching is the Gossett Tract. There you can observe the northern bobwhite, American goldfinch and field sparrow.
Summer is the best time of the year for bird watching, due to increase in wildflowers, which leads to an increase in insects, and then an increase in birds.
12. Forest & Wildlife
The river and area surrounding it are full of many kinds of life. Birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and countless species of plant life. Here are some more common creatures you might see on your trip:
- Smallmouth bass
- Blue heron
- Various songbirds (American goldfinch and field sparrow)
- Snakes (lots of snakes)
You’re free to take as many photos as you’d like, and to be honest, it’d be a shame if you didn’t – the area is beautiful. Just remember to be respectful of others, and don’t photograph them without their permission.
Kayaking the Harpeth River is an exciting experience.
It’s a splendid way to spend the day and is a great workout too. Hopefully this list has helped prepare you, and has answered some of your questions. Now that you know what you’re getting yourself into, I have no doubt you’ll have a fun, safe kayaking trip!
Hi, I'm Ash!
I’m a travel blogger who loves experiencing new things and deeply connecting with people. My missions are to help others around the world realize their travel dreams, and to spread the word about sustainable travel. Feel free to send me a message here.