Tugboat pushing barges on Lake Guntersville.

10 Most Beautiful Lakes In Alabama

When considering Alabama, water is not necessarily the first image to spring to mind. Sure, the state lays claim to the massive Mobile Bay and a solid stretch of beaches that open up to the Gulf of Mexico, but beyond that, what is there? Well, Alabama has over 100 lakes, many of which are the products of damming major rivers. These artificial waterways provide energy, drinking water, flood mitigation, and lovely places to splash around, cast a line, and just generally unwind alongside other carefree visitors. 

Guntersville Lake

Aerial overhead view of marina and campground at Jackson County Park on Lake Guntersville in Scottsboro Alabama.
Aerial overhead view of marina and campground at Jackson County Park on Lake Guntersville in Scottsboro Alabama.

The long, lean, and peaceful Guntersville Lake awaits eager Alabamians in the state's Northeast corner. This 69,100-acre, 75-mile-long lake stretches from the Guntersville Dam in the small Marshall County city of Guntersville, at the Southwest end, to the Nickajack Dam in Southeastern Tennessee, with the nearest Alabama settlement being the Jackson County border city of Bridgeport. Visitors, therefore, have ample shoreline from which to choose and loads of smaller towns to lodge while staying at Guntersville. Anglers, in particular, love this lake for its bounty of large bass. Those less inclined to pass the day waiting for a nibble can take to Lake Guntersville State Park for beautiful views and various outdoor activities. 

Wheeler Lake

Wheeler Lake in Decatur Alabama
Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Alabama.

West of Guntersville Lake and connected by the Tennessee River, Wheeler Lake is another sizable gem in the Northern reaches of Alabama. This lake was constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority to mitigate flooding from the Tennessee River and for the Wheeler Dam to generate hydroelectric power while it is at it. Today it continues the area's trend of tremendous fishing opportunities. In fact, a 111-pound blue catfish was reeled in by a hardy angler back in 1996, which was a world record at the time. Between the renowned fishing tournaments, long stretches for boaters to open up in, and camping opportunities, robust crowds are drawn to Wheeler's shores – likely holing up near the Morgan County city of Decatur, as the adjacent Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is particularly known as a reliable fishing spot. At the Northwestern terminus, just beside Wheeler Dam, Joe Wheeler State Park is a great spot to flock to outside of town. 

Wilson Lake

Sunset on Wilson Lake Alabama
Sunset on Wilson Lake, Alabama.

Completing the state's Northern trifecta is the human-made Wilson Lake, which is immediately West of Wheeler, and once again connected via the Tennessee River. The Wheeler Dam defines the Eastern terminus, while the Western boundary is capped at Wilson Dam, some 15 miles on, at Lauderdale County, in the college town (though actually a city) of Florence. This 15,500-acre lake is yet again a favorite amongst anglers, but the multiple golf courses that line both shores are magnets in their own right. The Wilson Dam Waterfall is another attractive focal point, with hiking, biking, and picnic options to complement the cascade. 

Lake Nicol 

A pleasant respite within the Western Alabama city of Tuscaloosa can be found at Lake Nicol. Located less than a 20-minute drive Northeast of downtown, this scenic spot is easy to get to and has well-maintained, basic, unobtrusive infrastructure. Though the lake is relatively small, there are several beaches to choose from, making it a perfect swimming hole on those sweltering summer days. The calm waters also invite beginner paddlers to hone their craft (pun intended). Lake Nicol also has hiking trails on each side that scale the surrounding cliffs. And when the day's activities are done, fixed grills, picnic tables, and a cute gazebo will facilitate a dinner that can be enjoyed as the sun sets.

Lake Martin

A sailboat floats past the rock formation known as Chimney Rock on Lake Martin on a sunny spring day.
A sailboat floats past the rock formation known as Chimney Rock on Lake Martin on a sunny spring day.

The many, almost ninja-star-looking tendrils of Lake Martin amount to almost 900 miles of elegant shoreline and a total area of 41,000 acres across the counties of Tallapoosa, Elmore, and Coosa. Given its impressive footprint, Lake Martin is even considered "Alabama's Freshwater Coast." Par parks, marinas, and uninhabited islands facilitate a solid range of activities, including boating, water skiing, camping, hiking, golfing, fishing, and a slew of cultural events. Alexander City, which resides at the tip of the Northern arm of the lake, puts on a mean Fourth of July fireworks display, an annual jazz festival, and rotating shows at the Lake Martin Amphitheatre. 

Lake Shelby

Lake Shelby in Alabama
Marsh land view of Shelby Lakes at Gulf State Park.

Way down on the Southern shore, mere meters removed from the Gulf of Mexico, is the humble footprint of Lake Shelby. Though white sandy beaches line the gulf, Lake Shelby offers a freshwater alternative. Surrounded by Gulf State Park, between the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Lake Shelby is actually one of three little lakes in the immediate vicinity (including Middle Lake and Little Lake) that can be casually mixed and matched depending on one's whim or the popularity on any given day. Together, these three oases amount to almost 900 acres of refreshing waters perfect for paddling, rinsing off the gulf's salty sting, or casting a line for a mix of freshwater and saltwater fish. 

Lewis Smith Lake 

Lewis Smith Lake in Alabama.
The beautiful Lewis Smith Lake in Alabama. Image credit: Quintaped via Wikimedia Commons.

Taking it back to the North, though not quite as far as the Tennessee River trio, Lewis Smith Lake (or simply, Smith Lake), is a 21,200-acre reservoir with over 500 miles of sprawling shoreline. This remarkably clean (said to be the third cleanest in the country), surprisingly deep (maximum depth of 264 feet), and uniquely-shaped creation spans the counties of Cullman, Walker, and Winston, with its Western portion drifting into the 180,000-acre Bankhead National Forest. Lewis Smith Lake is the result of the 300-foot-high Smith Lake Dam on the Black Warrior River (Alabama's only Wild and Scenic River). Many small towns and marinas pepper the perimeter, giving visitors lots of choices on where to launch their vacation (or retirement). 

Lake Lurleen State Park

Camping at Lake Lurleen State Park.
Camping at Lake Lurleen State Park. Image credit: Kenny Johnson, Outdoor Alabama/Flickr.

Another pristine place to visit near Tuscaloosa is Lake Lurleen State Park, which sits about 9 miles Northwest of the city. The focal point of this 1,625-acre park is the 250-acre lake by the same name. There are boat launches and rental options on site, a cozy little beach, playgrounds, campsites (there are over 91 serviced sites), public-use areas, and over 20 miles of hiking and biking trails of varying difficulty. Named after the first female Governor of Alabama, Lake Lurleen offers city-slickers a simple day-trip outlet in which to soothe the mind, cool off the body, connect with nature, and have some fun.  

Lake Tuscaloosa

Aerial view of Lake Tuscaloosa
Aerial view of Lake Tuscaloosa.

A third beautiful lake to visit from the basecamp of Tuscaloosa is the long, 5,885-acre wonder just North of the city. Though much of the 177-mile shoreline is privately owned, complete with authentic cabins and modern mansions, there are several public boat launches, as well as pontoon boat, canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals for anyone visiting. Getting out on the water in one fashion or the other is a great way to take in the jagged cliffs and greenery that border the water's edge. Tuscaloosa was created in 1970 as a result of damming the North River. The lake now provides Tuscaloosa residents with abundant clean drinking water and a clear, humidity-splicing swimming hole.

Lay Lake

Cloud reflections on Lay lake in Alabama
Cloud reflections on Lay lake in Alabama.

For our last stop on this Alabama tour, take an afternoon to lay down beside the 48-mile-long, 12,000-acre reservoir stemming from the Coosa River known as Lay Lake. Located only 50 miles Southeast of Birmingham, bordering the counties of St. Clair, Talladega, Shelby, Coosa, and Chilton, this human-made body of water makes for a splendid retreat from the big city. Like so many artificial lakes in the state, Lay Lake is famous for its fishing, thanks to the local fisheries that spawn a variety of species of bass and catfish. The lake also has seven public access areas that provide boat access, 5 of which have docks for the always-thrilling, running-start cannonball. 

While these ten lakes may not pass the sniff test for nature purists, artificial or not, these reservoirs are beautiful spots to pass the day, weekend, or extended vacation. Nothing beats a refreshing summer swim, let alone when contending with those spicy Southwestern U.S. climates. Fans of fishing will feel particularly at home, but no matter what you are into, there is something for everyone to enjoy at these attractive Alabama lakes. 


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