Located between the cities of Guntersville and Bridgeport, Guntersville Lake is the largest man-made lake in Alabama. At just over 69,000 surface acres, it also ranks as the largest lake in the state. This freshwater reservoir serves an important role in the state economy. In addition to generating power via the nearby Guntersville and Nickajack Dams, the reservoir also provides water for local agricultural production, controls flooding in the region, and offers recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.
How the Largest Man-Made Lake in Alabama Was Created
Guntersville Lake was formed due to the construction of Guntersville Dam in 1939. The dam impounds the reservoir and feeds into nearby Wheeler Lake. Meanwhile, the Tennessee River feeds into the reservoir via the Nickajack Dam further upstream. When measured from Guntersville Dam to Nickajack Dam, the lake measures nearly 75 miles long. Multiple other waterways flow into the reservoir, including Scarham Creek, Big Spring Creek, and Honeycomb Creek. The lake features numerous coves and inlets, as well as approximately 949 miles of shoreline. While the lake encompasses a large area, it doesn’t measure that deep. Although it has a maximum depth of 60 feet, most measure no more than 15 feet deep. That said, unlike some reservoirs, the water levels of Guntersville Lake barely fluctuate throughout the year, averaging just 2 feet per year. Therefore, the lake maintains a storage capacity of around 1,049,000 acre feet year-round.
Guntersville Lake Activities
Residents and visitors alike boast about the beauty of Guntersville Lake. The lake frequently ranks first in polls of Alabama’s best lakes, and it’s easy to see why. Low mountains and verdant woodlands surround the lake and provide picturesque views for hikers, campers, and beachgoers. Popular water activities on Guntersville Lake include boating, kayaking, canoeing, wakeboarding, and jet skiing. Many people also come to Guntersville Lake to fish. In fact, numerous knowledgeable anglers consider Guntersville Lake one of the best bass fishing spots in the country. Aside from fish, you can find myriad other animals living in and around the lake, including a wide range of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Whether you want to bring your children to one of the several playgrounds around the lake, or simply walk along its shores and take in the scenery, Guntersville Lake offers something for everyone.
History of Guntersville Lake
Prior to the arrival of European settlers, numerous native tribes lived along and around the Tennessee River. Notable tribes include the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Muscogee, all of which belonged to the unofficial group the Five Civilized Tribes. For hundreds of years, these tribes lived and hunted on the lands where Guntersville Lake now resides. Before the creation of the lake, the largest archeological project in the state found dozens of tribal sites in the area. Unfortunately, most of these sites now rest at the bottom of the lake.
By 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. Moreover, frequent floods affected agricultural yields from nearby farms and the viability of residential communities. However, it took nearly 100 years before authorities came up with a long-term solution to these problems. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. The act 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 power, and improve the irrigation of farmland.
Construction of the Guntersville Dam began on December 4, 1935 and finished on January 17, 1939. The dam measures 94 feet high and 3,979 feet long. Today, Guntersville Dam generates approximately 140,400 kilowatts of electric energy. The dam also features a navigation lock that can move watercraft up to 45 feet long between Guntersville Lake and Wheeler Lake. The Tennessee Valley Authority continues to own and operate the dam to this day.
Guntersville Lake and Guntersville Dam both get their name from the nearby city of Guntersville, Alabama. The city in turn gets 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 century. In order to expand his mining operation, Gunter married the daughter of a nearby Cherokee tribe that lived on the land he wanted. Over the years, a town grew 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 town features numerous lakefront properties and serves as the county seat of Marshall County.
Guntersville Lake Geography
Guntersville Lake is located on the upper reaches of the Tennessee River in northeastern Alabama. The southern portion of the lake resides within Marshall County while the north half resides in Jackson County. The Tennessee River flows into the northern end of the lake via Nickajack Dam. Meanwhile, it exits the southern end of the lake via Guntersville Dam. Although the Tennessee River serves as the lake’s primary tributary, several smaller streams also feed 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 shoreline of Guntersville Lake. The city of Guntersville is located on a peninsula along the southern shores of the lake. Other cities of note include Scottsboro, on the lake’s northwestern shore, and Langston, on its eastern shore. Nearby attractions include Lake Guntersville State Park, Cathedral Caverns State Park, and Bucks Pocket State Park. The area also sports numerous campgrounds, wildlife centers, boat ramps, marinas, and public access areas. Some of the top public areas include 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 milfoil grass and stump beds. These features make the lake one of the prime fishing spots in the region. While best known for largemouth bass fishing, numerous other bass species live in the lake, including smallmouth, striped, white, and spotted bass. You can also find crappie, bream, perch, sauger, drum, bluegill, sunfish, and catfish within its waters.
Guntersville Lake Reviews
The reviews of Guntersville Lake are overwhelmingly positive. Many people both within and outside the state consider it among the best (if not the best) lakes in the state. Reviewers consistently mention how beautiful the lake looks in summer and fall. The lake features numerous places for visitors to stop and have a picnic, make camp, or simply take in the views. Thanks to the surrounding mountains, the area sports several areas where you can watch the sunset on the lake.
If you like water sports, Guntersville Lake offers plenty of opportunities for you to get out on the water. The lake features numerous marinas, boat ramps, and piers where you can rent or launch a boat. Whether you like to ski, kayak, or canoe, Guntersville Lake has something for you. The lake also hosts one of the top water sport events in Alabama, the Guntersville Lake HydroFest. Each summer, the lake hosts an intense series of boat races involving some of the fastest watercraft in the world.
Meanwhile, if fishing is more of your thing, look no further than Guntersville Lake. Professional and amateur anglers alike rank the lake among one of the best bass fishing spots in the country. The lake features numerous excellent fishing spots, including less-traveled creek channels and backwaters. If you like to fish, make sure to stop by Guntersville Lake the next time you visit northern Alabama.
More from A-Z Animals
The Featured Image
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.
- , Available here: https://digitalalabama.com/alabama-native-american-tribes/alabama-native-american-tribes-of-alabama/12123
- , Available here: http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2621
- , Available here: https://www.lakeguntersville.org/profile-of-guntersville/history/