Cheatham Lake

Nashville District
Published Jan. 10, 2024
Cheatham Lake photo with dam

Cheatham Lake

The Nashville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers welcomes you to Cheatham Lake.  The lake provides a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities for millions of visitors each year.  Because of the temperate climate and relatively long recreation season, visitors have numerous activities from which to choose, including: fishing, hunting, camping, picnicking, boating, canoeing, hiking,  and others.

The origin of the name for Cheatham Lock and Dam involves several interesting accounts.  The Tennessee Blue Book states that Cheatham County, established in 1856, was named for Edwin S. Cheatham, Speaker of the Tennessee Senate from 1855 to 1861.  However, noted history holds that Cheatham County was named for the man who settled it, J.R. Cheatham.  Yet another theory passed along since the project was completed is that it was named after Confederate General Benjamin F. Cheatham.  Perhaps the best and most logical idea is that the dam and the lake it forms were named after Cheatham County because of location.  

Congress authorized the Cheatham Lock and Dam Project in 1946 as a navigation unit of a comprehensive plan of development for the Cumberland River Basin.  The original purpose of this water resources development project was to replace three smaller, aging locks built at the turn of the century:  Lock A at Cumberland River Mile 150.6, Lock 1 at Mile 188.4, and Lock 2 at Mile 201.0.  The ideal construction site was about 9 miles downstream of Ashland City at River Mile 148.7, just 42 miles below Nashville.  In 1952, Congress added authorization for the production of hydroelectric power as a project function. The lock, dam, and power plant were designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and built by private contractors under Corps supervision.  Construction started in April 1950, and the lock was opened to navigation in December 1952.  The project became fully operational with the completion of the third generating unit in the power plant in November 1960.  Corps personnel operate the lock, dam, and power plant and manage the public lands and waters of the lake. At Normal Pool Elevation 385 (feet above mean sea level), Cheatham Lake covers 7,450 acres and has 320 miles of shoreline.  The backwaters of the lake reach Old Hickory Dam, 67.5 miles upstream.  The lake is a “run-of-the-river” type that operates basically on normal streamflow.  The Corps uses as much of the inflow as practicable for hydropower generation.  The dam was not constructed to provide a designated capacity for regulating floodwaters.  Therefore, during periods of heavy rainfall and high streamflow, the spillway gates are opened to pass waters in excess of the capacity of hydropower turbines.


Camping & Group Picnic Shelters

Registration Center hours are:

Mon. & Thurs. 11 am to 5 pm

Tues. & Wed. CLOSED

Fri. & Sat. 10 am to 7 pm

Sun. 12 noon to 6 pm

*If the Registration Center is closed when you arrive please select a non-reserved site and return to register for your stay during the hours listed above.

Lock A Campground will open for the 2023 recreation season April 1 through October 31. The campground and Day Use Area is located located approximately 11 miles northwest of Ashland City, Tenn. The campground offers 45 sites with water and electrical hookups; however, seven sites are for tent camping only. For more information call the park attendant at (615) 792-3715.

Harpeth River Bridge Campground Harpeth River Bridge campground is open for the 2022 recreation season April 14 through October 31. It is located where State Route 49 crosses the scenic Harpeth River, about 10 miles northwest of Ashland City, Tenn. For more information call the attendant at (615) 792-4195, the Resource Manager’s Office at (615)792-5697.

The Corps of Engineers manages day use areas Cheatham Lake.  Some shelters may be reserved (for a fee) up to 365 days in advance.  Reservations may be made through the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS).  When a shelter is not reserved, it is available on a first-come, first-served basis.  Shelters are available for reservation from May 1 until September 30. To reserve a shelter, contact the National Recreation Reservation Service at 1-877-444-6777.


Boating is an enjoyable and popular sport on Cheatham Lake. The stately riverboats, Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen occasionally transit the lake when they visit the Port of Nashville. 

Life jackets are required for people on personal watercraft, children under the age of 13 (unless inside enclosed cabins), everyone inside the lock chamber (unless inside enclosed cabins), and boaters operating in the posted safety zone below the dam.  Sycamore Creek, Sams Creek, and Brush Creek have designated “No Wake” zones.  The limits of these zones are as follows:

Sycamore Creek - From the Chapmansboro Road Bridge to the mouth of the creek.

Sams Creek - From River Road to the mouth of the creek.

Brush Creek - From the boat ramp in Brush Creek Recreation Area to the mouth of the creek.


Three commercial marinas situated at various locations on the lake, or one of the many Corps of Engineers Access areas, provide easy access and supplies for boaters. As the number of boaters visiting Cheatham Lake have increased in recent years, the Corps of Engineers encourages visitors to wear life jackets, pay close attention at all times, abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages, and become familiar with the rules of the water and basic boating regulations. You may contact the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency concerning boating regulations and boating safety information.

Fishing & Hunting

Cheatham Lake offers great fishing opportunities for anglers of all ages and preferences. Lunker largemouth bass are but one of many species of fish that call the dingy waters of this lake home. Two other popular game fish, sauger and white bass (stripe), are generally caught in the tailwaters below the dam. Panfish are plentiful and make for great family fishing fun and can be caught virtually anywhere in the lake or tailwaters. 

Tennessee state fishing licenses are required for most individuals prior to fishing on Corps of Engineers waters.  Licenses may be purchased at County Clerk's offices, marinas and many other commercial establishments in the area. For up-to-date fishing information, lake elevations, and generation schedules visit the Cheatham Lake Facebook page. For the most up to date information on generation releases and lake levels, please visit: TVA's Lake Information or call 1-800-238-2264, press 4, then 37, then press the # key.

*Please note:  Water release schedules often change without notice due to unanticipated changes in weather conditions and power system requirements. Use caution near dams. A large amount of water may be discharged without warning at any time. Your safety depends on obeying all posted safety regulations and warnings. 

Excluding developed recreation areas, marinas, and designated safety zones, hunting is allowed on public property at Cheatham Lake, subject to state game laws and regulations. Except for a few small parks in Davidson County, the public lands on Cheatham Lake are located in Cheatham and Dickson Counties.

The best opportunities for public hunting can be found in Cheatham Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) has a license with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the active management of habitat on 2,796.31 acres of public lands and waters at Cheatham Lake. This includes most of the larger tracts of public land around the lake. TWRA also exercises hunting control rights on 2,502.5 additional acres of lands and waters.

While management activities in the WMA are focused on waterfowl habitat, public hunting opportunities are also good for deer, turkey, dove, and other species. Please remember that you must always have the permission of the owner to cross private property to get to public property. Also, state regulations prohibit hunting within 100 yards of any dwelling.

Special permits are required for hunting within the WMA, and special regulations apply. For specific information contact the Area Manager at (615) 792-4510.

Scuba & Swimming

Visitors may enjoy the water at the designated swimming area in Cheatham Dam Right Bank Recreation Area.  This swimming area is off-limits to boaters of all kinds.  It’s marked by “restricted area” regulatory buoys and surrounded by a floating yellow pipeline.  However, no lifeguards are present, and swimming is at one’s own risk.  A spacious sand beach adjoins the swimming area, and restrooms are located nearby.  A picnic shelter, playground, and individual picnic tables are also provided.  Pets, glass containers, and alcoholic beverages are prohibited.  A $5 per car day use fee is collected at the Right Bank Recreation Area mid- May through Labor Day.


Lock A Nature Trail​ Nature Trail located in the Lock A Campground, will give you a sense of what it was like to live the life of a lockmaster.  As you wander through the site of the old homestead, inquire about what the river was like before the locks and dams we have today.  This property was used first by the workers constructing the old Lock A.  It was then occupied by the lockmaster, his family and lock workers, during the years of operation of Lock A.  Overall, the site has been a home to many people from 1895 through 1953, when the current lock replaced it permanently. The buildings consisted of living quarters, an icehouse, and several outbuildings. Several of the buildings’ foundations are still visible today. Other remnants of the old lock and it’s occupants are located throughout the campground, such as the road leading down from the living quarters, an old fire hydrant, mooring rings, steps, and water depth markers. 

Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail starts just west of Ashland City and ends at the Lock A Campground. This trail is open from sunrise to sunset and accommodates hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders, bird watchers, wildflower enthusiasts and all people with a love for nature. The trail, a “rails to trails” project, currently spans approximately 6.5 miles of an old railroad bed.

TSU Farm near Sams Creek an interpretive trail located near Sams Creek off of River Road. This ¾ mile trail takes visitors through native grasslands with local wildflowers planted along the trail and meanders through a forested area that ends at a viewing platform overlooking a wetland. Along the trail, viewers are likely to see a variety of songbirds, deer, and eastern wild turkey. At the wetland viewing area, visitors are presented with a unique opportunity to view turtles, fish, and other aquatic wildlife as they move through one of TN’s most unique habitats. This trail consists of a level gravel path and is great for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages.


Monday-Friday 7:00 AM – 3:30 PM

1798 Cheatham Dam Rd

Ashland City, TN 37015