Wilson Lake, Alabama, USA

Also known as:  Wilson Reservoir

Welcome to the ultimate guide to Wilson Lake — things to do, where to stay, fun facts, history, stats and more. Let’s dive in!

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Looking for Wilson Lake cabins or other accommodations? Save time and use this interactive map to find, compare and book at the best rates. Or explore our comprehensive list of favorite travel partners.

All About Wilson Lake

Once known as the “Smallmouth Capital of the World,” outdoor enthusiasts enjoy Wilson Lake for its fishing, boating, hiking, and exploring the natural beauty of the area. Wilson Lake is located in northern Alabama’s Mountain Region near the town of Florence. Named for President Woodrow Wilson, Wilson Dam was the first dam built on the Tennessee River. Construction on the dam under the control of the United States Army Corps of Engineers was started in 1918, a year after the United States entered World War I.

The USA built two nitrate plants at Muscle Shoals to make explosives, and the dam was intended to supply those nitrate plants with power. World War I ended before the dam was completed, leaving questions about its future.

In 1921 Henry Ford and Thomas Edison visited Wilson Lake. Ford talked about bringing new manufacturing to the area and offered to buy Wilson Dam for $5 million, a fraction of what had been spent on its construction. Refusing to accept Henry Ford’s offer, Congress formed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), but talk of Ford’s plans led to an economic boost for the area.

Construction of Wilson Dam was completed in 1924. Wilson Dam remained under the control of the United States Army Corps of Engineers until 1933, when it was acquired by the TVA.

There is debate as to how Muscle Shoals got its name, but until the construction of the dams and reservoirs, it blocked navigation on the Tennessee River. Today locks and reservoirs allow cargo barges and boats to move freely, and together they opened the river to “Great Loop Cruising,” recreational travel of Eastern North America by water. Wilson Lock, named a national historic landmark in 1966, is the highest single lift lock east of the Rockies and one of the highest in the world. It has a maximum lift of 100 feet.

Cars can drive across the dam that provides hydroelectric power for Muscle Shoals and other areas in the South. The overlook on Wilson Dam is worth a stop. There is also a new fishing pier that is ADA accessible.

The deep channel carved by the Tennessee River and the flooded fields of the man-made Wilson Reservoir combine to make excellent fish habitat. There are good populations of black and largemouth bass and channel catfish. Smallmouth bass fishing is exceptional. Wilson Lake once held the record for a 10 pound 8 ounce smallmouth brown bass caught in 1950. The tail waters of Wheeler Dam are an especially good place to fish either from the bank or by boat, and there are several feeder creeks with good fishing and beautiful scenery.

There are several marinas and boat ramps on 15-mile long Wilson Lake and plenty of ways to enjoy the water by boat, jet ski or water skis. There are over ten miles of trails for hiking, biking, and bird watching along the lake, and there is camping nearby. The area provides an ideal habitat for ferns, and visitors can see “walking ferns” considered rare for the region.

Old First Quarters is a wildlife area set aside to preserve Civilian Conservation Corps structures, wildflowers, and bird habitat. It was named for the complex that housed engineers during the construction of the dam.

From Wilson Lake it is an easy drive to tour Helen Keller’s Birthplace and see the place where Annie Sullivan taught Helen to sign “water.” The Tennessee Valley Art Center has the Martin Petroglyph Exhibit, a collection of prehistoric Native American stone carvings. It’s also a quick trip to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum House, the only structure by Frank Lloyd Wright that now exists in Alabama.

Things to Do at Wilson Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding

Fish Species Found at Wilson Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Brown Bass
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Smallmouth Bass

Find Places to Stay at Wilson Lake

If you’re considering a Wilson Lake lake house rental or hotel, we’ve made it super easy to find the best rates and compare vacation accommodations at a glance. Save time using this interactive map below.

Recommended Sites to Book a Wilson Lake Vacation

If you want to take a deeper dive to find waterfront lake cabins, cottages, condos, hotels or resorts, check out our favorite Wilson Lake lodging partners.

  • VRBO – Use VRBO to find the perfect lake rental home, condo, cabin, cottage or other vacation property.
  • Booking.com – One of the world’s leading digital travel companies, Booking.com connects travelers to everything from cozy B&Bs to luxury resorts.
  • Expedia – Expedia is a popular online travel agency with more than 140,000 lodging properties worldwide.
  • Hotels.com – With more than 325,000 hotels in 19,000-plus locations, Hotels.com is an industry leader in online accommodations.
  • TripAdvisor – Read traveler reviews and compare prices on hotels, vacation rentals and more at TripAdvisor.
  • Trivago – Trivago helps travelers compare deals for hotels and other accommodations from a variety of booking sites.
  • KAYAK – KAYAK scours hundreds of other travel websites at once to find the best deals on hotels and other travel-related services.
  • RVshare –RVshare connects travelers interested in renting a motorhome with owners who have RVs to rent.
  • CampSpot – Campspot offers premier RV resorts, family campgrounds, cabins and glamping options across North America.

Note: These are affiliate links so we may earn a small commission if you book through them. While there is no extra cost to you, it helps provide resources to keep our site running (thank you)! You can read our full disclosure policy here.

Wilson Lake Statistics & Helpful Links


Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Tennesee Valley Authority

Surface Area: 15,500 acres

Shoreline Length: 166 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 508 feet

Water Volume: 586,600 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1924

Lake Area-Population: 35,852

Drainage Area: 30,750 sq. miles

We strive to keep the information on LakeLubbers as accurate as possible. However, if you’ve found something in this article that needs updating, we’d certainly love to hear from you! Please fill out our Content Correction form.

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