Harris Lake and Lake Nicol, Alabama, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - South - Alabama - Metropolitan -

Also known as:  Lake Harris

When the City of Tuscaloosa created Harris Lake and Lake Nicol for water supply, little did city officials realize that these two reservoirs would become popular recreation lakes in the Metropolitan region of Alabama. The city quickly outgrew Harris Lake, the first to be built in 1929. Lake Nicol was built upstream along Yellow Creek in 1956. By 1970, the city decided a larger reservoir was needed and built Lake Tuscaloosa nearby on the North River. Harris Lake with at 220 acres and Lake Nicol with 384 acres officially became back-up supplies and a welcome recreational spot just north of the city.

Harris Lake was impounded by two of the state’s first arch dams. The reservoir holds about a billion gallons of water, although not all can be withdrawn. Long and narrow along the former creek’s path, Harris Lake has almost six miles of wooded, undeveloped shoreline. A public access site along the northeast shore offers plenty of space for launching a canoe or kayak. Although there are no designated swim areas at either lake, recent regulation changes no longer prohibit swimming. Gas motors are prohibited on Harris Lake, but a canoe or kayak can reach all of the secluded coves and arms with ease. This leaves Harris Lake as a haven from motorized noise. Currently, the water from Harris Lake is used for industrial use. Fishing is permitted with catches of largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish. Locals can provide more detailed fishing information.

Lake Nicol was the second project to create a ready water supply for the area. The reservoir acts as a back-up to the main supply from Lake Tuscaloosa. The dam is located directly above the northernmost reach of Harris Lake and similarly stretches along the former creek’s route. Lake Nicol has even more arms and coves than Harris Lake, with a 12-mile shoreline covered in oak and pine. Near the northern end of the reservoir, a dirt road leads to what is called Nicol Park. Although the official City of Tuscaloosa website does not publicize the park, it is known that there is a grassy boat launch and a picnic pavilion at this location. Motorized boats can be used here, but speeds are capped at 25 mph and the boats must stay at least 50 feet from motionless boats, canoes and kayaks. Swimming at Lake Nicol is at-your-own-risk. As with Lake Harris, little information about fish species is available.

Both Harris Lake and Lake Nicol are popular places for birdwatching. The second-growth forest and expanses of shoreline offer great opportunities to view brow-headed nuthatch, grey catbirds, blue grosbeaks, eastern kingbirds, eastern bluebirds and American goldfinches. Periods of lower water levels will find egrets, herons and a variety of shorebirds along the newly-exposed mud flats. Bald eagles and osprey nest near the lakes and, along with hawks and owls, prowl the shorelines looking for their next meal.

Although both lakes feel secluded, they are in close proximity to several residential neighborhoods and a large shopping center. The City owns the entire buffer zone around both lakes and has designated the shoreline as a ‘refuge’ or ‘reserve’. Planning is still underway for any final design for the property, but discussion shows there are hopes for marked hiking trails and more picnic grounds. Tuscaloosa is fortunate to have both lakes near the city that provide outdoor pleasure to residents and visitors.

There are no lodgings directly on either Harris Lake or Lake Nicol. Several campgrounds and RV parks are located near Tuscaloosa, with a campground located on Lake Tuscaloosa’s west side. An Army Corps of Engineers Campground is located a few miles east of Harris Lake and Lake Nicol at the Deerlick Creek Recreation Area on Scales Lake.

Tuscaloosa has a variety of large hotels, a few bed & breakfasts, and several small inns. As home to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa is a metropolitan city which still retains much Southern charm. Several bed & breakfasts cater specifically to those traveling to the area to cheer on the Crimson Tide. Football fans will enjoy the Paul W Bryant Museum with its football memorabilia. The Children’s Hands-On Museum and the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art allow everyone to engage the senses with interesting visuals and creative spaces. The Mercedes-Benz US International Visitor Center and Factory Tour will charm automotive buffs, and the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion provides a perfect glimpse into the palatial living spaces of the 1860s. The city is filled with excellent restaurants and many upscale pubs and nightspots that appeal to the younger crowd.

So, although Tuscaloosa doesn’t publicize its beautiful small recreation lakes, anyone visiting the area should be aware they are there to serve as a quiet place to enjoy nature, paddle the quiet waters, and generally refill their stores of solitude before the Big Game.

* Statistics listed are for Harris Lake only.

Things to do at Harris Lake and Lake Nicol

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Birding
  • Museum
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Harris Lake and Lake Nicol

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Sunfish

Harris Lake and Lake Nicol Photo Gallery

    Harris Lake and Lake Nicol Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

    Water Level Control: City of Tuscaloosa

    Surface Area: 220 acres

    Shoreline Length: 6 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 205 feet

    Water Volume: 2,742 acre-feet

    Completion Year: 1929

    Drainage Area: 30 sq. miles

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    Trophic State | LakeLubbers

    Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

    An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

    A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

    A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

    The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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    Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

    Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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    Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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    Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

    Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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    Completion Year | LakeLubbers

    This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

    The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

    You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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    Water Volume | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

    You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

    Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

    1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

    The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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    Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

    You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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    Average Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

    Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

    Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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    Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

    At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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    Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

    Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

    When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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    Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

    You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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    Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

    This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

    A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

    When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

    You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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    Surface Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

    The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

    You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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    Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

    This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

    Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

    "Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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    Lake Type | LakeLubbers

    There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

    - A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

    - A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

    - A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

    "Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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