Tellico Reservoir, Tennessee, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - South - Tennessee - East -

Also known as:  Tellico Lake

About 30 minutes south of Knoxville, nestled in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, Tellico Lake is the lake that almost wasn’t. Extending 33 miles along the Little Tennessee River, the lake has become an asset for commerce and recreation.

Construction on Tellico Dam began in 1967, but Tellico Lake or Reservoir wasn’t completed until 1979. The reservoir was planned as an extension of Fort Loudoun Lake and is linked directly by canal. In 1973 when the dam was substantially completed, David Etnier discovered snail darters, a small endangered fish, in the waters of the section of the Little Tennessee River affected by the dam. Under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, construction of the dam was halted. Although over $100 million had already been spent on the dam, the Supreme Court ruled the snail darter must be protected and the dam should not be completed.

Proponents of Tellico Reservoir rallied and drafted an amendment to the Endangered Species Act that would allow exemptions to be granted by a committee of cabinet level members. When the amendment passed by Congress in 1978 it seemed like a sure victory for Tellico Lake. The country was having a hard time understanding how a three inch fish could stop a $100 million project, but when Tellico Reservoir went before what was being called the “God Committee” its exemption was denied. In 1979 Congress unanimously denied the lake’s exemption stating that it was an ill-conceived project from the start. Once again proponents of the reservoir banded together, and after several more rejections, the exemption was passed by Congress and President Carter. Tellico Lake was filled later that year.

One of the last major reservoirs built by the Tennessee Valley Authority, Tellico Lake is part of a network of dams and reservoirs intended to protect Chattanooga from flooding and improve navigation on the Tennessee River. The canal that links Tellico Lake to Fort Loudoun Lake lets barges enter the Little Tennessee River without having to pass through a lock increasing commercial barge traffic. The same canal diverts water to Fort Loudoun Lake to generate hydroelectric power. The lakes are separated by just a mile.

The shoreline of Tellico Lake is mostly undeveloped, but there are several recreation facilities including public boat ramps, campgrounds and hiking trails. There is good fishing for trout and largemouth bass, and the lake is stocked with walleye and rainbow trout. With over 15,000 acres of water to explore, boaters will find plenty of room to move around, and the sailing is exceptional. Tellico Lake and the other reservoirs in the chain opened the waters of North America to “Great Loop Cruising.” Tellico Lake’s water levels fluctuate about six feet a year with the highest elevations from May through November.

In addition to exploring the shores of Tellico Lake, visitors will find lots of wildlife and adventure at the nearby Great Smoky Mountain National Park. With over 800 miles of maintained trails and one of the best collections of log buildings in the Eastern United States, it’s easy to see what makes the park the most visited park in the nation.

History buffs will also find lots to explore at Tellico Lake. When the lake was filled it flooded the area where 18th century British Fort Loudoun was. The fort was moved, raised 17 feet and reconstructed. Visitors to the lake can tour some of the reconstructed buildings. The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum is also nearby. Born in 1776 the son of a fur trader and a Cherokee chief’s daughter, Sequoyah developed the written Cherokee language.

With its rich if slightly troubled history, beautiful water and diverse wildlife, Tellico Lake is a great Eastern Tennessee getaway.

Things to do at Tellico Reservoir

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park
  • Museum

Fish species found at Tellico Reservoir

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Darter
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout
  • Walleye

Tellico Reservoir Photo Gallery

Tellico Reservoir 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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