Nickajack Lake, Tennessee, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - South - Tennessee - East -

Also known as:  Nickajack Reservoir

Set against the spectacular scenery and steep walls of the Tennessee River Gorge, Nickajack Lake is the perfect place to relax on the water, fish, or explore the nature and wildlife of the Cumberland Mountains.

Nickajack Lake is an impoundment of the Tennessee River and one of nine reservoirs on the river managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The lake was created for flood control, navigation, and power generation. Construction on Nickajack Dam started in 1964 and was completed in 1967 replacing the existing Hales Bar Dam. Hales Bar Dam was built in 1913 by the Chattanooga and Tennessee Power Company and was bought by the TVA in 1939, but there were leaks in the dam’s foundation that couldn’t be repaired. Hales Bar Dam Lock and Powerhouse are still visible six miles above Nickajack Lake and the Lock was converted to a coal barge terminal.

When the TVA built Nickajack Lake and Dam, they planned ahead for future expansion. Nickajack Lock can lift nine large barges at one time 41 feet, allowing more than 2.5 million tons of raw materials and goods to pass through the Tennessee River Gorge every year. If the lock is ever insufficient to handle the traffic, there is already a 110 foot by 800 foot underwater structure for a future lock. The observation platform at Nickajack Lock re-opened to the public in 2015 after a 14-year closure following 9/11.

Located in Marion County half an hour from Chattanooga, Nickajack Lake extends 46 miles upstream from the Nickajack Dam to the Chickamauga Dam. Lake levels are controlled by the TVA and fluctuate as needed for power generation and navigation. With over 10,300 acres of water and almost 180 miles of shoreline to explore, anglers will find plenty of fish to challenge them especially black, spotted, and largemouth bass. The catfish and pan fish are also plentiful. There are fishing berms around Nickajack Lake, an ADA accessible fishing pier and several public boat launches. Along with fishing from the shore or by boat, visitors to Nickajack Lake can boat, water ski or Jet Ski. The TVA also manages camping, swimming, and picnicking at several spots.

Nickajack Lake was named for a Chickamauga leader whose renegade band hid out in Nickajack Cave. The cave has a rich history. It was mined for saltpeter by James Orr starting in 1800. The cave was mined continuously until 1863 or 1864. Today Nickajack Cave partially flooded by Nickajack Lake is a wildlife refuge managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. From late April to early October the cave is home to a colony of around 100,000 endangered gray bats. The bats use the cave as a maternity roost and arrive to give birth in the spring. At dusk thousands of bats fly out to feed in a big gray cloud. The entrance to the cave is protected and blocked to people, but visitors can watch the bats from a specially designated area.

Nickajack Lake extends into the Tennessee River Gorge. The Gorge is about 27,000 acres carved through Cumberland Mountain. Known as the Grand Canyon of Tennessee, it’s a 26-mile long steep walled gorge. Home to bald eagles and osprey, the scenery around the gorge is extraordinary.

Abundant wildlife, plentiful fishing and the spectacular backdrop of the Tennessee River Gorge combine to make Nickajack Lake a fantastic outdoor getaway. Add all the attractions of nearby Chattanooga and there is sure to be something to please everyone at Nickajack Lake.

Things to do at Nickajack Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding

Fish species found at Nickajack Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Catfish
  • Largemouth Bass

Nickajack Lake Photo Gallery

Nickajack Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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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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