Center Hill Lake Information

Center Hill Lake lies in DeKalb County in Middle Tennessee in DeKalb County in Middle Tennessee, central to Nashville at 50 miles east, Chattanooga at 70 miles south, and Knoxville at 100 miles west. The Caney Fork River is the main source of water feeding Center Hill Lake, but the Falling Water River is another major tributary source into the lake on the south. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) owns and operates Center Hill Lake. This reservoir covers 18,220 acres with 415 miles of shoreline, an average depth of 22 feet, and a maximum depth of 190 feet. Three Tennessee State Parks border Center Hill Lake’s waterfront with three breathtaking waterfalls in close proximity. There are three USACE campgrounds, plus the lake is surrounded by uncounted smaller waterfalls. 

Center Hill Lake sits nestled in the Cumberland Mountain Range. Heavily forested rolling ridge tops and abundant wildlife with four distinct seasons define Center Hill Lake. Some of the parks are seasonal with winter closings. Its surrounding landscape is almost completely undeveloped and natural. Center Hill Lake is known for its tranquil atmosphere and emerald-like waters.  

Center Hill Lake History

The Flood Control Act of 1938 and the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1946 authorized and purposed Center Hill Lake for flood control, production of hydroelectric power, recreation, water supply, and environmental stewardship. The USACE built the Center Hill Dam in 1948. A smaller, earthen dam blocks a natural saddle in the rim of the lake upstream from the main dam.

DeKalb County was named in honor of German General Johann DeKalb, who gave his life serving in the American Revolution. The name is commonly found honoring General DeKalb in counties and cities in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, and Tennessee. The Cumberland Mountains lie within the Appalachian Mountains.

Many passes cut through the Appalachian Mountains, but the Cumberland Gap is the only pass in the continuous Cumberland Mountain ridgeline where Center Hill Lake lies. Natural history collides with national history in the Cumberland Mountains and throughout the Cumberland Gap. Its history dates back to prehistoric times.

Migratory elk, bison, and other wildlife traversed the Cumberland Gap, followed by Native Americans, and later European traders who turned fur trappers and hunters. Daniel Boone first explored the Cumberland Gap in 1769 and moved his family to Kentucky after he witnessed what the fertile lands the country west of the Appalachians offered. After Daniel Boone, the Cumberland Gap became the gateway for westward settlement and the scourge of Native Americans who had hunted there for centuries. 

Adam Dale, from Maryland, settled on Smith Fork, near the present-day town of Liberty, Tennessee, in 1779. He was the first settler in DeKalb County. Tennessee attracted Adam with its abundance of cheap and fertile land and healthy climate. Adam sent work back east to his family and friends. In 1881, a colony of forty families followed him down the Ohio River and up the Cumberland to Nashville. 

With no road through the dense forests to Smith Fork, the frontiersman had to cut them as they traveled; it was almost impossible to penetrate the forests and canebrakes. Their journey took several weeks. After arriving and in an incredibly short time, Adam’s party had built comfortable houses and went to work on building a log, water-powered corn mill. 

During the Civil War, DeKalb County saw almost as many Union troops as it did Confederate troops. The Battle of Snow’s Hill, April 1863, on Snow’s Hill, engaged about two thousand men on each side. The Union dead were buried 300 yards northeast in unmarked graves. The Confederate dead were buried near the Methodist church four miles east in unmarked graves. Guerrillas terrorized both Union and Confederate sympathizers after the armies left. 

WWII affected almost every family. Over 700 DeKalb County citizens entered active military service. DeKalb County became the site of army maneuvers held to prepare for the assault on Europe. When the USACE built Center Hill Dam, this forced almost every farm family in the county to move and look to supplemental income from an outside source.

Today, DeKalb County remains rural with a population of just over 20,000. The largest industries in the county are manufacturing, healthcare and social assistance, educational services, and tourism, with the highest paying industries being utilities, finance and insurance, and real estate. There are very few farms left in DeKalb County. Its primary agricultural production is corn, soybeans, wheat, and hemp. Livestock production is mostly beef and goats.  

Center Hill Lake Fishing

Predominant game species include, largemouth, hybrid striped, smallmouth, spotted, and striped bass, bluegill, channel and flathead catfish, black and white crappie, muskellunge (muskie), brown and rainbow trout, longear sunfish, paddlefish, walleye, and warmouth. Center Hill Lake boasts nine marinas, many public use docks, and public fish cleaning stations. 

There are over 30 boat ramps at Center Hill Lake, and many are public ramps, but some of the public ramps are badly maintained. Fishing from the shore, piers, docks, canoes, kayaks, and every imaginable type of fishing boat is highly productive. Fish cover includes artificial and natural reefs and standing structures, with areas of varying depths and water movement, plus miles of rocky shorelines, points, and bluffs.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) issued a precautionary fish consumption advisory for Center Hill Lake in June 2022. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children avoid eating largemouth, spotted, and smallmouth bass, and all others should limit consumption to one meal per month. Other recreational activities such as boating, kayaking, swimming, wading, and catch and release fishing carry no risk.

Center Hill Lake Bass Fishing

Largemouth bass opportunities are good year round. In spring, when water temperatures reach the 60s, largemouths are plentiful. After they spawn, they concentrate around standing structures. When the water warms up to the 80s, night fishing is productive. In late fall, they begin to follow shad schools.

Smallmouth bass love Center Hill Lake’s miles of rocky shoreline, points, and bluff areas. Smallmouth bass spawn at water temperatures in the 59 to 60-degree range. Anglers concentrate on fishing points in early spring and before and during the peak spawning period. As the water warms up to the 80s, night fishing becomes productive. In late fall, anglers find smallmouth chasing the shad schools. Find them in winter on the main lake in 15 to 25 feet of water.

The optimum spotted bass habitat is Center Hill Lake’s rocky shorelines, points, and bluff areas. Early spring is productive for spotted bass. Spotted bass spawn when water temperatures are in the 63 to 68-degree range. As the water temperatures begin to warm, anglers focus on the nighttime bite. In fall, as temps cool down to the 60s, they follow the shad. In winter, they move 15 to 25-feet deep. 

Other Game Species

More black crappie swim in Center Hill Lake than white crappie, which make up a small percentage of crappie in the lake. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) annually stocks black and black nose crappie fingerlings in Center Hill Lake. Preferred black crappie spawning temps are from 62 to 68 and white crappie from 60 to 65 degrees. Crappie is most productive in March and April in fish cover in 10 to 15 feet of water and slow in summer. In October they move back shallow and become more active.  

Center Hill Lake has enough bluegill habitat to sustain a fishery. Bluegill spawns when water temperatures are in the 70 to 75-degree range. May is an excellent time to fish for bluegill. Concentrate on gravel pockets in 5 feet of water. The same will hold true throughout the summer months in 20 to 25 feet of water. 

Center Hill Reservoir hosts a preferred walleye habitat with an annual stocking program of walleye fingerlings by the TWRA. A major spawning run by walleye happens in mid-March on the upper end of the reservoir in the Blue Hole area of the Caney Fork River near Rock Island State Park. Walleye spawn when water temperatures are in the 45 to 50-degree range. Anglers can anticipate stable walleye fishing. 

Refer to the TWRA fishing guide for special walleye regulations from the Rock Island State Park boat ramp upstream to Great Falls Dam from January 1 through April 30. After spawning, walleye will begin to move downriver to deeper, cooler water. Anglers find success trolling deep-water structures such as points, humps, or ledges. In fall and winter, concentrate in 20 to 30 foot depths from mid-reservoir down to the dam.

Center Hill Lake is not known as a top destination for catfish angling. Catfish typically spawn when water temperatures are in the 75 to 80 degree range. April through June is the best time to fish for catfish on Center Hill Lake. Anglers also use trotlines to catch deeper catfish when water temps get warmer. 

Center Hill Lake fishing guides work other Middle Tennessee lakes and waterways and not exclusively Center Hill Lake. Contacting Percy Priest Lake guides near Nashville is a good place to start. To plan a fishing adventure with a charter service, it is best to look for a guide early and book early. 

Check out experienced local pro guides on our Center Hill Lake Fishing Guides page.

Boating Center Hill Lake

Center Hill Lake is in close proximity to major metropolitan areas and Interstate 40, which makes it an ideal lake for boating and skiing. With nine commercial marinas located around the lake and the numerous USACE access areas, boaters have easy access to the water and supplies. 

Boating in autumn on Center Hill Lake rewards boaters with a spectacular show of forest leaves turning bright fall colors. Scuba diving is allowed at Center Hill Lake. Divers must display a "Diver Down" flag in the area where they are diving. Boaters should be alert to the "Diver Down" flag and keep a safe distance away. 

Three huge waterfalls call Center Hill Lake their home. Burgess Falls, Fancher Falls, and Rock Island Falls are accessible by water. You can kayak or boat right to the bottom of the 135-foot waterfall in Burgess Falls State Park. You can use the Cane Hollow access point for boats, canoes, and kayaks. Or for a longer trip, drop in the water at the Cookeville Boat Dock and head up river. At the fork, Burgess Falls is to the left and Fancher Falls is to the right.

Center Hill Lake is known for its emerald waters, peaceful atmosphere, beautiful forested landscape, rolling ridge tops, and wildlife viewing opportunities. Pontoon boats trend on Center Hill Lake, but you can rent almost any type of watercraft from the marinas or the several boat rental services at the lake, like fishing boats, houseboats, jet skis, pontoon boats, ski boats, and WaveRunners. 

Shop or sell a boat on our Center Hill Lake Boats for Sale page. 

Plan your trip to Truman Reservoir by calling one of the marinas today on our Center Hill Lake Marinas page. 

Center Hill Lake Real Estate

You cannot own direct lakefront or waterfront property because the USACE owns all the waterfront land surrounding Center Hill Lake. You can buy land close to the lake and build; it won’t actually be on the water, but it will give you a killer view of the lake. Because there is no private waterfront property on the lake, privately owned docks on the lake are not legal to build. 

The 26 docks that do exist on Center Hill Lake were grandfathered in the 1950s and 1960s. If you buy an adjacent property to USACE property, you will be able to access the shoreline from your property. However, you cannot leave unattended equipment or items on the shoreline, like a boat, RV, tent, hunting blinds, etc. If your property abuts USACE property, you can build as close as you like to its property line.

The Center Hill Lake real estate market is in a top twenty marketplace for lake property in Tennessee. The average list price for Center Hill Lake homes for sale is $411,000, but there are properties at lower and higher price points. Typically, about 50 lake homes and 210 listings for lots and land are for sale around Center Hill Lake.

Center Hill Lake can seem far away from civilization because its region is so rural and undeveloped. There are three Walmart Supercenters within driving distance of Center Hill Lake, with the closest one to the southern shores in Smithville six to ten miles away. The other two are in Carthage on the northwest and Cookeville on the northeast, 12 and 20 miles away, respectively.   

Nashville International Airport is 60 miles away from eastern Center Hill Lake. Some of the marinas have restaurants, but the closest town to the lake with a bigger variety of restaurants is Smithville. Barely any nightlife exists at Center Hill Lake, with most of the establishments serving alcohol located in Smithville, and some of the marinas serve alcohol. DeKalb County is not dry, and retail alcohol sales are legal. DeKalb County School District serves the southern shores of Center Hill Lake. 

To find your dream home, explore our Center Hill Lake Homes for Sale page.

Center Hill Lake Cabin Rentals

Cabins galore, from cabins that sleep two to large parties, await you at Center Hill Lake. It is the same with vacation home rentals. Find them on and Even though you cannot own property right on the water at Center Hill Lake, plenty of the vacation home rentals have amazing views with access to the water. Millions of visitors flock to Center Hill Lake each year, so plan and book early. 

Find the perfect vacation home on our Center Hill Lake Cabins page.

Center Hill Lake Camping

Tennessee State Parks

Tennessee operates three state parks on Center Hill Lake. All three Tennessee State Parks at Center Hill Lake offer ADA accessible amenities and are pet friendly, but have seasonal openings. The Edgar Evins State Park and Marina, a 6,000-acre park providing scenic views, cabins, and campsites, also offers an amphitheatre, boating, camping, a conference center, fishing, hiking, nature watching, picnic shelters, rental cabins, and swimming. 

The Edgar Evins State Park provides 60 tent and RV campsites with water and electrical hook-ups available. Twenty campsites and one bath house are open year round. Campsites feature grills, tables, and fire rings. Primitive campsites are also available. Campground facilities include 3 bathhouses with hot showers, dump station and laundry facilities. Campsite reservations are recommended.

It is located at 1630 Edgar Evins State Park Rd, Silver Point, Tennessee. 

Burgess Falls State park is home to the 130-foot Burgess Falls, and has three other waterfalls that cascade down from over 250-feet in elevation. These falls are located on the Falling Water River. This park is crowded during season, so arrive early or make reservations for day-use facilities. Camping is not allowed. 

Fishing is popular below the dam and the main waterfall along the bank and at the fishing pier. There are no public boat ramps or canoe/kayak access areas in the park. A large covered pavilion equipped with grills and tables can be reserved for large groups and has a scenic view of the river. 

Additional picnic areas, most with grills, are conveniently located to restrooms with a playground nearby. None of the picnic tables are equipped with water spigots and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Swimming is not permitted. Use the Cookeville Boat Dock for launching.

It is located at 4000 Burgess Falls Dr, Sparta, Tennessee. 

Rock Island State Park sits amid 870 acres located on the headwaters of Center Hill Lake at the convergence of the Caney Fork, Collins, and Rocky Rivers. Stop at its visitor center and grab a map to the vast and spectacular Rock Island State Park. This park features restaurants with delicious food, an amphitheater, basketball and tennis courts, a boat ramp, fishing, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, a picnic area and picnic shelters, a playground, a swimming area, and tent and RV campsites.

Rock Island has two campgrounds with 20 campsites available year round. The main campground has 50 sites, which accommodates tents, RVs, and trailers. Each site provides 20, 30, 50-amp electrical and water hookups, a charcoal grill, a fire ring, a lantern hanger, and a picnic table. Four sites have sewer hookups, and four sites are ADA accessible. There are two bathhouses with hot showers and restrooms, plus Wi-Fi is available. There is a dump station at the far end of the campground. 

One of Rock Island’s natural sand beaches provides access to Great Falls Lake. The park has eight trails, varying from 0.15-mile to 3.00 miles. You will be in the thick of the woods. See spring wildflowers, listen to birds, and relax by a waterfall. Rock Island State Park is on the Caney Fork River further south of the main Center Hill Lake pool, which looks more like a river channel, and not a lake, but is still geographically Center Hill Lake.

Rock Island State Park is located at 82 Beach Rd, Rock Island, Tennessee. 

Check here for ADA amenities at these three Tennessee State Parks:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Parks (USACE)

The USACE Nashville District operates and manages three campgrounds on Center Hill Lake. You can reserve camp sites online at all USACE campgrounds. These three campgrounds are ADA accessible, pet friendly, and accommodate big rigs. The Corps of Engineers manages several day use areas on Center Hill Lake. Some shelters can be reserved for a fee up to 365 days in advance. Reservations can be made through the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS).  

The Floating Mill Campground usually is open for the recreation season from April through October on various dates each year. This campground and day use area is located five miles South of I-40 and offers 115 sites, with a few boat-in sites. 

Amenities include a boat ramp, camping, a canoe/kayak shuttle service nearby, cabins, a dump station, a fish cleaning station, fishing, hiking trails, laundry facilities, a picnic area and shelters, restrooms, RV and tent sites with sewer, electric, and water hookups, showers, swimming areas, and Wi-Fi. 

It is located at 430 Floating Mill Lane, Silver Point, Tennessee. 

The Long Branch Campground is usually open for the recreation season April through October on various dates each year. This campground is located just below Center Hill Dam on the Caney Fork River tailwater, offers 60 camp sites, and is popular for cold water trout fishing. Amenities include a dump station, picnic tables, RV sites with electric, sewer, and water hookups, showers, tent camping, toilets, and Wi-Fi.

It is located at 478 Lancaster Rd, Lancaster, Tennessee.

The Ragland Bottom Campground is usually open for the recreation season April through October on various dates each year. This campground and day use area is located eight miles east of Smithville and offers 57 sites, 40 with water and electric hookups, 15 primitive tent sites, and a large group day-use picnic area.  

Amenities include a boat ramp, a dump station, hiking trails, a playground, RV and tent sites with sewer, electric, and water hookups, showers, a swimming beach, toilets, and Wi-Fi.

It is located at 1410 Ragland Bottom Road, Sparta, Tennessee.

Check out our list of campgrounds and RV parks for your family adventure on our Center Hill Lake Camping page.

Hiking Center Hill Lake

Almost every state park and the USACE campgrounds at Center Hill Lake feature hiking trails that offer stunning views, the many waterfalls surrounding the lake, including the three most popular waterfalls, outstanding wildlife viewing opportunities, and trails for all skill levels. Check with park rangers or USACE staff for trail maps and trail information. The following trails are some of the best at Center Hill Lake. 

Rock Island State Park offers eight hiking trails varying from 0.15-mile to 3.00-miles rated from easy to strenuous featuring waterfalls and swimming and are dog-friendly. 

Burgess Falls State Park features a 1.1-mile moderate trail with the Burger Falls waterfall, is dog-friendly, and rated moderate. The base of waterfall is accessible only by water, but you can hike to the top of the 136-foot waterfall. 

The Ragland Bottom Campground features the Red Post Trail, a short, but steep, 2.0-mile trail that loops above the campground and rated moderately difficult with beautiful overlooks of the lake and the nearby Sligo Bridge and Marina.

The Virgin Falls State Natural Area at 2080 Scotts Gulf Road, Sparta, Tennessee, offers an 8.3-mile trail rated difficult featuring a waterfall and is dog-friendly.

The Lost Creek Falls Trail has a 0.2-mile trail rated as moderate near Sparta, Tennessee, off of Highway 111, with a waterfall, and is dog-friendly.

The Upper and Lower Lake Trail Loop that leads south out of Silver Point, Tennessee, is a 1-mile trail rated as moderately challenging and a popular trail for fishing, hiking, and paddle sports. The trail is open year-round and dogs are welcome on a leash.

Window Cliffs at 8400 Old Cane Creek Road, Window Cliffs, Tennessee, is a 5.3-mile trail rated moderate to difficult features waterfalls, multiple creek crossings, and 200-foot high cliff tops. 

Hunting Center Hill Lake

Approximately 20,000 acres of forested public property along the shoreline at Center Hill Lake provide opportunities for hunting white-tail deer, wild turkey, and small game, like squirrels and rabbits. The public can hunt on most USACE managed public lands that are not developed recreation areas, are not leased to other entities, and are not designated as “No Hunting”. All Tennessee hunting rules and regulations apply. 

Wildlife Management Area (WMA) rules apply at Edgar Evins State Park and hunters are required to register and obtain a free permit to hunt on state park property from the Edgar Evins headquarters. Contact the headquarters at (931) 858-2446. Specific questions about USACE property can be addressed by contacting a park ranger at the Resource Manager’s Office by calling (931) 858-3125 or (931) 858-3125.

Center Hill Lake Things to Do

There are few Center Hill Lake restaurants and not much of a nightlife around the lake. Some of the marinas have restaurants and serve alcohol. The closest restaurants on the south side of the lake are in Smithville. While Center Hill Lake is the main attraction, there are a few other things to do on and around Center Hill Lake. Smithville, Tennessee, hosts the wildly popular annual Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Craft Festival, which is held every year on the first weekend in July. 

The RiverWatch Golf Club, located at 235 Harbour Greens Place
Sparta, Tennessee, sits on the lower Caney Fork River Channel below the main Center Hill Lake water body near Sparta, and is a gorgeous championship 18-hole golf course perched above the lake. This is a membership club that also offers daily hole rates to the public.  

Tour the Harmony Lane Farm, located at 285 Harmony Lane
Smithville, Tennessee, showcasing the miracles of goat milk products. See the goat barns and milking parlor, milk a goat by hand, hold a kid in your lap, learn about the goat cheese-making process, and sample fresh goat cheese, goat’s milk fudge, and goat’s milk caramels.
 The tour costs $20 by reservation only on their website, and the farm is open Monday through Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Axe-A-Cute, located at 400 W Public Square, Smithville, Tennessee, is an axe-throwing arcade with smash rooms, the paint warz room, an arcade, and pool tables. It is open Wednesday through Monday, 2:00 to 8:00 pm. weekdays, and 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. weekends. 

The Cumberland Caverns are about an hour south of Center Hill Lake, but well worth the adventure. These caverns feature 27 miles of caves and underground passageways, incredible underground rock formations, beautiful underground waterfalls, and gleaming pools. The walking tours include easy, moderate, and extreme experiences, plus daytime and overnight adventures. There is even a cavern amphitheater where musical concerts come alive with headlining acts. Find the caverns at 1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville, Tennessee. 

Plan the perfect day trip or vacation on our Things To Do at Center Hill Lake page.

Center Hill Lake Zip Codes

DeKalb County: 37059, 37085, 37166,38544, 38569,38582, 38583. 

Center Hill Lake Weather & Climate

Center Hill Lake sees an average of 54 inches of rain per year, with 28 inches of snow and 211 days of sunshine. The winter low in January is 27 degrees and a summer high in July of 88 degrees. May, September, and October are the most comfortable months for this region. January and December are the least comfortable months. 

Keep your eyes on the skies with our Center Hill Lake Weather Forecast page. 

Center Hill Lake Flora and Fauna

Common wildlife sightings include butterflies, deer, eagles, hawks, owls, songbirds, and turkeys. Songbird species include cerulean warblers, eastern wood-pewees, Kentucky warblers, prothonotary warblers, scarlet tanagers, and wood thrushes. According to Tennessee State Parks, 139 butterfly species are found in the state, and 57 of those species flit around at Center Hill Lake.

The steep, hilly Eastern Highland Rim of the Cumberland Mountains sports mixed hardwood forests, including stands of basswoods, beech, buckeyes, hickorys, oaks, red and sugar maples, tulip poplars, white ash, and wild cherrys. 

Showy spring wildflowers put on visual concerts of bloodroots, columbines, dwarf crested iris, foamflowers, goldenseals, rue anemones, shooting stars, Solomon's seals, toothworts, trillium species, trout lilies, violets, white dogtooths, and wood poppys. 

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Center Hill Lake Weather Forecast



Hi: 61

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Friday Night

Mostly Cloudy

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Saturday Night

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Sunday Night

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Center Hill Lake Water Level (last 30 days)

Water Level on 10/13: 41.92 (-590.08)