Reelfoot Lake, Kentucky & Tennessee, USA
Reelfoot Lake makes its home in northwestern Tennessee and extends into southern Kentucky. The lake is young: popular history says that after the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812, water from the Mississippi River flowed into the newly-formed land, creating what we now call Reelfoot Lake. Today, at approximately 10,400 acres and 22 miles of shoreline, Reelfoot Lake is the largest natural lake in Tennessee.
Regardless of how the lake was created, Reelfoot Lake is undisputedly a popular destination for hunting, fishing, and nature watching. The lake has an ideal aquatic environment for many types of fish, so anglers come to the lake 365 days a year to catch bass, bream, catfish, and crappie, the four most prolific species in the lake. In fact, up until 2003, Reelfoot Lake was the world’s only legal commercial fishery for crappie, a testament to the fish’s high population.
The State of Tennessee owns more than 24,000 acres in and around Reelfoot Lake. In 1941 the State leased 7,860 acres to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for 75 years to implement provisions of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The leased land also includes the spillway and gates that control water levels on Reelfoot Lake. The Tennessee acres, along with 2,300 adjacent Kentucky acres owned by FWS, became the Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is a major stop-over and wintering place for up to 500,000 migratory waterfowl, due to its proximity to the Mississippi River.
Approximately 200 American Bald Eagles over-winter at Reelfoot Lake. Viisitors can take one of the daily Bald Eagle and Waterfowl Tours, which provide a glimpse at the birds in their natural habitat. Look through a telescope, binoculars, or your own naked eye to view the graceful and powerful eagles, perched in trees, soaring through the skies, or snatching fish right out of the lake. The tour’s informative speakers will fill you in on bald eagle life as well as the history of this beautiful lake.
Another popular activity at Reelfoot Lake is boating, and you’ll find everything from speedboats and pontoon boats to individual canoes and kayaks. If you choose to use a power boat, be forewarned that the lake is shallow and you should always go slowly. The maximum depth is 18 feet with an average depth of 5.5 feet. No water skiing, wake boarding, or tubing is allowed. And if you’d prefer to leave the driving up to someone else, take a guided Pontoon Boat Cruise available May through September. These cruises introduce visitors to the natural splendor of the lake and provide educate about area vegetation.
The nature lover in you will go wild for the abundant offerings of the area, beginning with the three hiking trails at Reelfoot Lake State Park. Varying in difficulty, the hiking paths weave through old cypress forest, wind along the shores of lake, and trek through the old bayou, giving you the opportunity to see some of the lake’s natural and spectacular wildlife. Reelfoot Lake State Park also features the R.C. Donaldson Memorial Museum, a nature center where you can learn about the fauna of the area on your own time. Read about raptors, snakes, birds, and water dwellers at Reelfoot, and leave a bit more knowledgeable than you entered.
Reelfoot Lake is large, beautiful, and a wonderful place to spend a weekend, week, or more. Beautiful landscapes are made even better by setting suns, bright blues skies, and the occasional swooping eagle. As any previous visitor will tell you, time spent at this Tennessee lake is certainly time well spent.
Things to do at Reelfoot Lake
- Vacation Rentals
- Water Skiing
- Wildlife Viewing
- National Wildlife Refuge
- State Park
Fish species found at Reelfoot Lake
Reelfoot Lake Photo Gallery
Reelfoot Lake Statistics & Helpful Links
Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed
Water Level Control: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Surface Area: 10,427 acres
Shoreline Length: 22 miles
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 282 feet
Average Depth: 6 feet
Maximum Depth: 18 feet
Water Volume: 80,300 acre-feet
Drainage Area: 240 sq. miles
Trophic State: Eutrophic
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