Just over the Tennessee border, Watauga Lake rests amidst sprawling mountain tops and forested banks where boaters and fishermen can become acquainted with their sea legs in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Visitors to this pristine location have a variety recreation options available to them, including swimming, camping, hiking, biking and much more. Watauga Lake is the perfect place for aquatic adventure.

 HISTORYSituated in the Cherokee National Forest, Watauga Lake is actually a man-made reservoir, even though its inherent beauty would leave one assuming that its pristine shores were shaped by nature. The lake was created in 1948 as part of the Watauga Dam in order to control flooding in the Tennessee River Watershed.

In order to complete the project, an entire town had to be relocated. Much of Butler, Tenn., known affectionately as the “Town that Wouldn’t Drown,” had to be relocated to higher elevations, thus staying true with the mantra. The town’s population of 600 people, as well as many of the town’s homes and businesses, were relocated to a location that is known today as “New” Butler. All in all, 55 miles of new road had to be constructed and approximately 1,000 gravesites had to be relocated. Today, the relocated Butler is an unincorporated community in Johnson County, Tenn., along the northern shore of Watauga Lake.

Visitors can explore the area’s history at The Butler Museum, located at 123 Selma Curtis Road in Butler, Tenn. The museum is open from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer, and tours can be made by appointment. For more information, click to thebutlermuseum.com.

 ON SHOREWatauga Lake has five U.S. Forest Service-maintained recreation areas where visitors can picnic, sunbathe, grill and even dip their toes in the water. Within the vicinity, there are many options families can enjoy to spend a fun, relaxing day together. Sites requiring reservations and fees can be reserved by clicking to recreation.gov. For more information about USFS maintained areas, click to fs.usda.gov/main/cherokee/home or call the Watauga Ranger District office at (423) 735-1500.

 SHOOK BRANCH BEACHLocated on the southwestern corner of Watauga Lake, this 20-acre site is a great location for family fun and recreation. The site features a large, enclosed swimming area, a sandy beach, 24 picnic tables and a large grassy field fit to let the kids loose in. Shook Branch Beach offers opportunities for individuals or families to enjoy, and visitors may even see dedicated hikers going by, as the Appalachian Trail passes through the area. The area is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Sept. 14.

Activities and amenities: beach area, swimming, picnic areas, grills and restrooms.

Cost: the fee for vehicle access is $2 per vehicle per day or $30 per year with a Cherokee National Forest Pass.


PICNIC AREAThis recreation area offers sprawling views of the lake, while visitors can relax underneath the shaded trees as they gather with their friends and family to picnic or to simply enjoy the view. A gravel trail loops through the nearby forest, and a large pavilion along with other grassy areas adorned with picnic tables are available for group outings until Oct. 12. A number of small picnic tables are available free of charge. No overnight camping is allowed, and swimmers who chose to submerge in the cool waters must do so at his or her own risk. The site is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Activities and amenities: Picnic areas, scenic views, drinking water and restrooms.

Cost: The pavilion and other picnic areas can be reserved for $30.


CAMPGROUNDLocated high overhead and overlooking the 6,430-acres of Watauga Lake, Cardens Bluff offers many great opportunities for campers looking to spend the night underneath the starts and by the water’s edge. The site offers more than 40 sites for tent campers, as well as showers and flush toilets. The site is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. until Oct. 12. Campsites hold a capacity of up to five members and two vehicles.

Activities and amenities: Camping, bathrooms, warm showers and potable water.

Cost: Camping is $12 per night.


CAMPGROUNDFor the more private individuals, Dennis Cove is one of Watauga Lake’s more secluded campsites. The site is located adjacent to the Laurel Fork Creek, which offers trout fishing opportunities for the intrepid angler. A remote, developed campground is popular with those seeking a more rustic experience, and the lush forest surrounding Dennis Cove is especially desirable for those looking to beat the summer heat.

With a network of five trails spanning the distance between the lake and the campground, as well as three more attached to the Appalachian Trail, Dennis Cove is Watauga Lake’s premier location for hikers who are up for a challenge.

Activities and amenities: Camping, hiking, picnic areas, fishing, potable water and restrooms.

Costs: Campsites are $10 for single sites and $20 for double sites. The campground can accommodate 80 individuals, and groups of 75 people may reserve the entire site.


SHOOTING RANGEFor those looking to spend a day on the shooting range, this USFS maintained firearms range is open from dawn to dusk. Sportsmen can take aim at targets set up at 25, 50 and 100 yards away. Interested parties can contact the Watauga Ranger District for more information.

Costs: Fees are $2 per day or $30 per year with a Cherokee National Forest pass.

 ON THE WATERIn order to experience all that Watauga Lake has to offer, you will need a boat. Fortunately, Watauga Lake features three marinas on the lake’s shore that provide rentals as well as docks and slips for individuals looking to keep their boat docked on the lake year round. Boaters who bring their own vessel for a day out on the lake can put in at three convenient USFS launch ramps.

 COVE RIDGE MARINA AND YACHT CLUBThis private marina offers covered slips and long-term RV camping, as well as many activities such as walking trails, horseshoes, volleyball, basketball, a children’s playground, a private beach and a swimming lagoon. For more information, click to coveridgemarina.com or call (423) 768-3760.

 FISH SPRINGS MARINAFish Springs Marina has just about everything you need to get you on the water, including pontoon boat rentals, jet ski tours, stand up paddle board rentals, canoes and kayaks. The marina also offers slip rentals, boat sales, RV campsites and a store on site. For more information, click to fishspringsmarina.com or call (423) 768-2336.

 LAKESHORE RESORTFrom pontoon and ski boats to slips and boats for sale, Watauga Lakeshore Resort and Marina offers a wide variety of services for visitors to the area. A shop on site sells snacks, tackle and beverages, and guests can eat at Captain’s Table Restaurant after a long day on the water. Lakeshore also has rental cabins on site, which offer gorgeous views of the lake and a marina with a 21-boat rental fleet. The resort is visited heavily between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with visitors coming from all over to enjoy its assorted amenities.

For more information about rentals and offerings at the marina, click to laskeshore-resort.com, or call (423) 725-2201.

 MALLARD COVE MARINAA sizable carp population at this marina makes for a unique attraction, in addition to pontoon boat rentals, a boat launch and a snack bar. For more information, call (828) 768-3440.

 RAT BRANCH LAUNCHIn addition to the launch, the site also features a fishing pier and restrooms. Located at the eastern end of the lake, visitors can find the location between Shook Branch Beach and Cardens Bluff off of Highway 321. Parking is $2 per vehicle per day or $30 with a Cherokee National Forest Service Pass. The site open sunrise to sunset year round.

 SINK MOUNTAIN LAUNCHLocated on the Northeastern shore of the lake, east of Butler, there is no charge at this secluded launch at the end of Paved Forest Road 298 off Tenn. Hwy. 167.

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