Lower Cumberland

Lower Cumberland watershed

About the Lower Cumberland watershed

Drainage Area

2338 square miles

Notable Tributaries

  • Yellow Creek
  • Little River


  • Caldwell County, KY
  • Cheatham County, TN
  • Christian County, KY
  • Clinton County, KY
  • Crittenden County, KY
  • Dickson County, TN
  • Houston County, TN
  • Humphreys County, TN
  • Livingston County, KY
  • Lyon County, KY
  • Montgomery County, TN
  • Robertson County. TN
  • Stewart County, TN
  • Todd County, KY
  • Trigg County, KY

The Lower Cumberland watershed (AKA Lake Barkley watershed) is the most downstream watershed of the Cumberland River basin. It is home to the Cumberland River basin’s outlet, where water from 18,000 square miles of basin land and 22,000 miles of basin streams and rivers empty into the Ohio River. The watershed itself is 2,332 square miles – just shy of being the largest watershed in the basin.

That said, it doesn’t lack for superlatives. It is home to more surface water and more wetlands than any other watershed in the Cumberland River basin. All 118 miles of the Cumberland River’s longest impoundment, Lake Barkley, are within the watershed, as well as a short stretch of the Lake Cheatham impoundment, and 32 miles of free-flowing Cumberland River. All together, over 150 miles of the Cumberland River flow through the watershed, accepting roughly 2,750 miles of tributary streams and rivers. 

East of the Cumberland River, the topography closely resembles that of the neighboring Red River watershed. Nearer the Cumberland, though, and in the watershed’s south and west areas, the landscape is more rugged. In these areas, an abundance of streams thread hills and ridges before meandering through level bottomlands. The area is less suitable for farming and water quality benefits from the dense oak-hickory forests and low levels of human activity. 

The free flowing section of the Cumberland River, as well as sections of Long Creek, Yellow Creek, the Little River, and the Muddy Fork of the Little River are all listed on the Nationwide Rivers Inventory. The watershed hosts an abundance of protected areas, including a majority of the 170,000-acre Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. In addition to Land Between the Lakes, federally protected lands include the Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Donelson National Military Park and Fort Campbell Military Reservation. Protected state lands include Mineral Mound and Lake Barkley state parks, Stewart State Forest, Barnett’s Woods and Livingston County state natural areas, as well as seven state wildlife management areas or wildlife refuges. The watershed is rich in biodiversity. Barnett’s Woods alone is home to 443 vascular plant species, including one of only 13 known populations of Price’s potato bean.


Explore the Lower Cumberland watershed