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Weekend Getaways

What is the largest artificial lake in Alabama?

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Located between the cities of Guntersville and Bridgeport, Guntersville Lake is the largest man-made lake in Alabama. At just over 69,000 acres, it’s also the state’s largest lake. This freshwater reservoir plays an important role in the state economy. In addition to generating electricity from the nearby Guntersville and Nickajack Dams, the reservoir also provides water for local agricultural production, controls flooding in the area, and provides recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.

How the largest artificial lake in Alabama was formed

Guntersville Lake was created by the construction of the Guntersville Dam in 1939. The dam impounds the reservoir and empties into nearby Wheeler Lake. Meanwhile, the Tennessee River continues to feed upstream into the reservoir via Nickajack Dam. Measured from Guntersville Dam to Nickajack Dam, the lake is almost 75 miles long. Several other waterways feed into the reservoir, including Scarham Creek, Big Spring Creek, and Honeycomb Creek. The lake features numerous inlets and inlets and approximately 949 miles of shoreline. Although the lake covers a large area, it is not that deep. Although it has a maximum depth of 60 feet, most don’t measure more than 15 feet deep. Unlike some reservoirs, Guntersville Lake’s water level varies little year-round, averaging just 2 feet per year. Therefore, the lake retains a storage capacity of around 1,049,000 acres year-round.

At just over 69,000 acres, Guntersville Lake is the largest artificial lake in Alabama.

©Carl Banks Photography/

Guntersville Lake activities

Residents and visitors alike boast of the beauty of Guntersville Lake. The lake frequently tops polls for Alabama’s best lakes, and it’s easy to see why. Low mountains and verdant forests surround the lake, providing scenic vistas for hikers, campers, and beach-goers. Boating, kayaking, canoeing, wakeboarding, and jet skiing are popular water activities on Guntersville Lake. Many people also come to Guntersville Lake to fish. In fact, many knowledgeable anglers consider Guntersville Lake one of the best bass fishing spots in the country. Aside from fish, you’ll find countless other animals that live in and around the lake, including a variety of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Whether you want to take your kids to one of the many playgrounds located around the lake or just stroll along the shore and enjoy the scenery, Guntersville Lake has something for everyone.

Fishing on Guntersville, the largest man-made lake in Alabama
Guntersville Lake is one of the best bass fishing spots in Alabama.


History of Guntersville Lake

Before the arrival of European settlers, numerous native tribes lived along and around the Tennessee River. Notable tribes are the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Muscogee, all of which belonged to the unofficial group of five civilized tribes. For hundreds of years, these tribes lived and hunted on the land that is now Guntersville Lake. Before the creation of the lake, dozens of tribal sites were found in the area as part of the state’s largest archaeological project. Unfortunately, most of these sites now rest at the bottom of the lake.

In the early 19th century, authorities and residents of the Tennessee River Valley faced numerous obstacles. The canals on the river were narrow and the traffic on the river had become unbearable. In addition, frequent flooding affected agricultural yields from nearby farms and the viability of residential communities. However, it took almost 100 years for the authorities to find a long-term solution to these problems. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. The law provided the funds to develop nearly 640 miles of the Tennessee River. Proposed projects included 9 dams along the river and the creation of numerous reservoirs and canals to control flooding, generate electricity and improve irrigation of farmland.

Construction of the Guntersville Dam began December 4, 1935 and ended January 17, 1939. The dam is 94 feet high and 3,979 feet long. Today, the Guntersville Dam generates approximately 140,400 kilowatts of electrical energy. The dam also features a navigation lock that can move watercraft up to 45 feet in length between Guntersville Lake and Wheeler Lake. The Tennessee Valley Authority owns and operates the dam to this day.

Guntersville Lake and Guntersville Dam both take their names from the nearby town of Guntersville, Alabama. The city, in turn, takes its name from John Gunter, the founder of Guntersville and great-grandfather of the famous American humorist Will Rogers. Gunter operated a successful salt mine in the area in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. To expand his mining operation, Gunter married the daughter of a nearby Cherokee tribe who lived on the land he wanted. Over the years, a town grew up next to his mine. Originally known as Gunter’s Ferry and then Gunter’s Landing, the town changed its name to Guntersville in 1854. Today, the city has numerous lakefront properties and serves as the county seat of Marshall County.

Guntersville Dam Alabama
The Guntersville Dam was built to control flooding, generate electricity, and improve irrigation of farmland.

©Judy Kennamer/

Guntersville Lake Geography

Guntersville Lake is located on the upper reaches of the Tennessee River in northeast Alabama. The southern portion of the lake is in Marshall County while the northern half is in Jackson County. The Tennessee River flows into the north end of the lake via the Nickajack Dam. Meanwhile, it exits the south end of the lake via Guntersville Dam. Although the Tennessee River serves as the lake’s main tributary, several smaller streams also flow into the lake. These include North and South Sauty Creeks, Brown’s Creek, Scarham Creek, Big Spring Creek, Town Creek and Honeycomb Creek.

Alabama State Route 79 runs along the western shore of the lake. Numerous small towns dot the shores of Guntersville Lake. The town of Guntersville sits on a peninsula on the south shore of the lake. Other notable cities include Scottsboro on the lake’s northwest shore and Langston on its east shore. Nearby attractions include Lake Guntersville State Park, Cathedral Caverns State Park and Bucks Pocket State Park. The area also offers numerous campgrounds, wildlife centers, boat ramps, marinas and public areas. Some of the most popular public areas are Jackson County Park, Goose Pond Colony Resort and Marshall County Park.

Guntersville Lake is a lowland lake. The lake is mostly shallow and infested with yarrow grass and snag beds. These characteristics make the lake one of the best fishing spots in the region. While it is best known for largemouth bass fishing, the lake is home to numerous other bass species, including smallmouth bass, striped bass, white bass and squid. You can also find crappie, bream, perch, sucker, drum, bluegill, sunfish and catfish in its waters.

Tennessee River
The Tennessee River serves as the main tributary of Guntersville Lake.

©Tracy Burroughs Brown/

Guntersville Lake reviews

Guntersville Lake reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Many people both inside and outside the state consider it one of the best (if not the best) lakes in the state. Reviewers keep mentioning how beautiful the lake looks in summer and fall. The lake offers numerous places for visitors to stop and have a picnic, camp, or simply enjoy the view. Thanks to the surrounding mountains, the area offers several areas where you can watch the sunset over the lake.

If you like water sports, Guntersville Lake offers many ways to get on the water. The lake has numerous marinas, boat ramps, and docks where you can rent or launch a boat. Whether you enjoy skiing, kayaking or canoeing, Guntersville Lake has something for you. The lake also hosts one of Alabama’s premier water sports events, the Guntersville Lake HydroFest. Each summer, the lake hosts an intense series of boat races, featuring some of the world’s fastest watercraft.

If fishing is more your thing then look no further than Guntersville Lake. Professional and amateur anglers alike rank the lake among the best bass fishing spots in the country. The lake offers numerous excellent fishing spots including lesser traveled creek channels and backwaters. If you enjoy fishing, make sure to stop by Guntersville Lake on your next visit to northern Alabama.


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