The carapace is olive brown with yellow markings. It has two rounded projections on the posterior edge of the shell, and is slightly keeled. The adult carapace is wrinkled and oval-shaped. The plastron is hingeless and slightly smaller than the carapace. Each of the bottom sides of the marginals has a spot. The skin is brown with an olive to greenish tint with yellow striping. There is a distinct bar behind the eyes that can vary from yellow to red and be either thin or wide. The plastron of the turtle has dark spots, as well as the ridge of the carapace. Also, the plastron has bars or stripes of yellow. The turtle's legs in front have larger yellow stripes than most slider species, and the eyes have a yellow and orange stripe directly behind each eye. The stripe is never entirely one color, it starts out yellow and then fades into a dark orange-to-red color closer to the back of the neck.
This turtle is a communal basker. It basks on protrusions out of the water and may bask in stacks or with other species. They are active from April to October. 'Slider' comes from their habit of sliding into the water when alarmed when basking, because they go to deep waters for safety where most predators cannot pursue them.
It is found throughout the Mississippi and Tennessee River drainages, and the southeastern U.S. This species prefers quiet waters with muddy bottoms. Areas like ponds, lakes, and streams with a profusion of aquatic vegetation, organic substrate, and overhanging basking spots are especially favored. Most people agree the native lands of the Cumberland slider are in the Cumberland River Valley, ranging in Kentucky and Tennessee. But with the exotic animal trade, the Cumberland slider has become a common sight even into Alabama and Georgia.