How Deep is the Tennessee River?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: July 20, 2023
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Key Points:

  • The Tennessee River travels through four states: Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Kentucky.
  • Although it averages a width of a mile across the Tennessee River is only nine feet deep.
  • The river is a major transportation route with 34,000 flat-bottomed barges carrying bulk goods to cities all along its path.
Infographic about the Tennessee River.
The Tennessee River starts at Knoxville and is the largest tributary of the Ohio River.

The Tennessee River is one of the major river systems in the southeast and the largest tributary of the Ohio River, which is the largest tributary of the Mississippi. Originally deriving its name from the Cherokee people and the nearby town named Tanasi, the region has adapted these names into the state, and river names, that we recognize today. Although the Tennessee River is an important feature of the surrounding landscape, do we know much about it? Today, we are going to learn about the Tennessee River and find out just how deep it really is!

Where is the Tennessee River on a Map?

A good way to locate this river on a map is to locate the North Carolina and Tennessee shared border. The Tennessee River runs southwest from Knoxville, TN, in a fairly parallel line to the west of the shared states’ border. From there it runs westward and ultimately connects with the Ohio River.

While the river runs through different states, it makes a dramatic bend at the base of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

What is the average depth of the Tennessee River?

How Deep is the Tennessee River?

The Tennessee River measures 9 feet deep, on average.

©Kevin Ruck/

On average, the Tennessee River is 9 feet deep.

The Tennessee River flows through multiple states, has a few dams, and crosses through more than a few cities! All of this variation in topography can make it quite hard to find the deepest portion of the river. Still, there are some estimations and measurements on just how deep the Tennessee River is.

The Tennessee Valley Authority currently has the average depth of the river at 9 feet or 2.7 meters. While 9 feet certainly isn’t the deepest that the river goes, it’s hard to get an exact number. One reason that getting an estimate for how deep the Tennessee River is at its deepest point is because of how many dams are on it. Dams are usually extremely deep before and after the structure, making the actual depth of the river a bit misleading.

How long is the Tennessee River?

The total length of the channel for the Tennessee River is around 652 miles or 1,049 km. The river begins in western Tennessee near North Carolina and ends north of Tennessee on its eastern side up in Kentucky. Its impressive length secures its spot as the largest tributary of the Ohio River.

How wide is the Tennessee River?

How Deep is the Tennessee River?

The Tennessee River averages between 0.5 and 1 mile wide along its length.


Although the average depth of the river is quite shallow, its width makes up for it. On average, the Tennessee River ranges between 0.5 and 1 mile across. At its widest point, the river measures around 1.5 miles. The width and depth of the river make it perfect for river barges traveling with goods around the region. Each year, 34,000 barges with flat bottoms traverse the river, primarily carrying bulk goods.

What states does the Tennessee River flow through?

The beginning of the river is located one mile upstream of Knoxville, Tennessee. The region is mountainous and is where the French Broad and Holson River meet to create the larger Tennessee River. Although it begins in Tennessee, it crosses into a few states before ending! The Tennessee River travels through four states (or acts as the border), including Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky, although it’s extremely close to Georgia, only missing it by 250 feet.

What Animals Live Around the Tennessee River?


Otters can be found along the Tennessee River searching for food along its banks and in its currents


Several creatures rely on the river for sustenance including bald eagles, beavers, great blue herons, muskrats, and otters.

The river itself is home to an extensive variety of fish including blue catfish, lake sturgeon, and oyster mussels.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Kevin Ruck/

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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