The United States is blessed with beautiful rivers. Many of the better known ones are famous for extreme whitewater or because they mark significant borders. Others are less well known, but that doesn’t mean they are less appreciated by those in on the secret. Kayak Harpeth River in central Tennessee and see why so many people love this meandering waterway that has been part of the area’s rich history.
The Harpeth River, hereafter called HR for brevity, is 115 miles long and is a tributary of the Cumberland. This makes it part of the Mississippi watershed. It starts in north-central Tennessee in Rutherford county, flows through the city of Franklin, and picks up several streams along the way. It’s joined by the West HR, the Little HR, and the South HR.
HR is a good river for beginners and family outings, as long as particular stretches are chosen. There is some Class II water that can help intermediate canoeists and kayakers learn to handle moving water. There are holes, rocks, and rapids, but none of them are too hard to miss or to navigate. There are wider, slower parts that have few, if any, challenges.
HR State Park controls over forty miles of the river, and there are nine put-ins within the park boundaries. There are other public access sites as well; go online to find maps and advice on points of entry. The Park also has information on points of historic interest along its stretch of the waterway, like the antebellum plantation house – named ‘the Meeting of the Waters’ – near the joining of HR and West HR.
There is also a tunnel through solid rock made by slaves to divert water for their master’s iron mill. The tunnel was an engineering marvel of its time. The mill was built near the Narrows, where the banks come close together and the water flow is accelerated. This part of the waterway is also near a prehistoric Native American burial ground called Mound Bottom.
Some of the most dramatic events happened along the Natchez Trace, which parallels the River. This famous pioneer trade route was used by farmers to take their crops and livestock to eastern markets. The trip was dangerous because bandits lurked in the dense woods along the trace and arduous because of deep mud in winter and spring. Local lore holds that the name Harpeth refers to the outlaw brothers Harp, but early maps recorded the name before these ruffians came on the scene. It may reflect the Native American name for the waterway.
The lower part of HR is favored by boaters. Canoes and kayaks can be rented from several outfitting companies. Wherever yo put in, this waterway, a state-designated ‘scenic river’, is well worth a visit by anyone who loves spending a day on the water.
HR is one of our nation’s beloved natural resources. There are community organizations dedicated to preserving and improving it for people, freshwater mussels, beaver, otter, fish, crustaceans, and other wildlife. Go online for more information on the River, rental outfitters, points of entry, or other attractions in beautiful Tennessee.
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