Lake Guntersville

Alabama Living Magazine

State’s largest lake offers recreational options for all ages.

(First in a series on Alabama’s lakes)

Ed. note: Alabama is blessed with an abundance of natural lakes that provide a variety of opportunities for fishing, swimming, skiing, birding, camping and just plain relaxing. We’ll be featuring several of these lakes in coming editions of Alabama Living. Let us know your favorite lake at

By John Felsher

Lake Guntersville, Alabama’s largest lake, spans 75 miles along the Tennessee River from Nickajack Dam in Marion County, Tenn. to Guntersville Dam near the town of Guntersville named for John Gunter, an early Alabama settler. This huge body of water offers unlimited opportunities to fish, ski, swim or cruise the lake.

There’s a reason  that every year “Lake Guntersville is rated in the top 10 lakes in the United States,” says Tami Reist, president and chief executive officer of Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA). “It offers a wide variety of things to do that any age group can enjoy.” 

Kayakers and canoeists have more than 900 shoreline miles to explore. Photo courtesy of Marshall County Tourism and Sports

An excellent place to start exploring all that Lake Guntersville offers is atop Taylor Mountain, where Lake Guntersville Resort State Park Lodge and its 69,100 acres provide a scenic overlook. Visitors can stay at this park and two other parks in Marshall County to explore the surrounding forests, fish the lake or go camping, bird watching, or golfing at the Lake Guntersville park’s 18-hole course. Lodging ranges from primitive tent camping to all the amenities of a resort hotel.

For people who like to explore the lake more slowly and observe nature along the way, Lake Guntersville offers kayakers and canoeists nearly 900 shoreline miles. Paddlers should probably stick to the smaller creeks flowing into the lake. People without their own kayaks or have never paddled before can rent kayaks or other boats and sign up to participate guided group paddling adventures. People can also rent boats at the Town Creek Fishing Center, part of the state park.

Screaming Eagle Ziplines offer views of the lake from 190 feet in the air. Photo courtesy of Marshall County Tourism and Sports

While paddling the creeks, watch for birds, especially bald eagles. During the winter, northeast Alabama hosts a sizeable bald eagle population. In January and February, Guntersville State Park holds “Eagle Awareness” weekends that include field trips to see the birds and their nests.

“Marshall County has seven spots on the Alabama Birding Trail,” adds Haley Rutland, communications director for Marshall County Tourism & Sports. “Lake Guntersville State Park offers many great programs where people can learn all about eagles and other birds.”

The parks offer a number of wildlife and nature programs where visitors can learn more about the outdoors. The parks also offer miles of hiking and biking trails where people can explore on their own. On the trails, hikers might see deer, a multitude of birds and other wildlife. For a different way to travel through the woods, try the Screaming Eagle Ziplines and get a view of the lake from 190 feet in the air!

“Marshall County is the only county in Alabama with three state parks,” says Rutland. “Besides Lake Guntersville State Park, people can visit Cathedral Caverns State Park or Buck’s Pocket State Park.”

Located in Woodville, Cathedral Caverns derives its name from a massive cave. The enormous cavern entrance measures 126 feet wide and 25 feet high. At Bucks Pocket in Grove Oak, you can drive off-road vehicles on the only trail in Alabama specifically designed for them.

Feel a need for speed? Check out what’s sometimes referred to as “NASCAR on the Water,” the Guntersville Lake Hydrofest (June 24-25 this year) that features various classes of boats racing across Lake Guntersville. Some hydroplanes propelled by turbine engines producing more than 3,000 horsepower can hit speeds exceeding 220 miles per hour as they race around a two-mile oval course. These boats can throw huge “roostertails” or streams of water that can reach 60 feet high and a football field long!

City Harbor, a new development on the water, has restaurants, retail stores, condos and more. Photo by Quiet Hands Photo + Video

Dining and shopping

If you’re looking for top-notch eating, shopping and accommodations, check out the new $30 million City Harbor mixed-use development. 

“City Harbor at Lake Guntersville offers 55,000 square feet of restaurants, entertainment, retail outlets, hospitality and more,” says John Rollings, hospitality and event manager. “With a 6,000 square foot event space, that has a view to behold, City Harbor can provide you with the perfect venue for your wedding, reception or next corporate event. For those who wish to arrive by boat, City Harbor has an array of day slips for boaters to use while visiting.” Condo rentals are also available and a Home2Suites by Hilton is on tap for a groundbreaking sometime this summer. 

Restaurants include the popular Big Mike’s Steakhouse, Another Broken Egg, La Esquina Cocina, The Brewers Cooperative, the Wake Eatery by Big Mike’s and Levi’s on the Lake, a full service bar. Retailers include Home Re.Decor and the Cigar Room.

Make an afternoon of fishing with family on the lake. Photo courtesy of Marshall County Tourism and Sports

Top fishing destination

Of course, no sportsman can visit one of the best fishing destinations in the nation without at least thinking about catching a few whoppers. Most anglers know Lake Guntersville for its giant largemouth bass. The lake record weighed 14.50 pounds. 

“Lake Guntersville is one of the best largemouth lakes in the country,” says Phil Ekema, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division district fisheries supervisor in Tanner. “It’s a very fertile lake with good aquatic vegetation and many different habitats for bass.”

The northern portion of the reservoir retains much of its riverine characteristics. For the best largemouth action head to the southern portion with its vast grass flats, creek channels, points, coves and ledges. To fish such a huge waterbody, visitors should hire a guide to put them on fish.

“Several double-digit bass are caught each year on Lake Guntersville,” says Mike Carter with Mike Carter’s Pro Guide Service. “My biggest bass weighed 11.97 pounds. We’ve seen several bass in the 11- to 13-pound range in recent years with some over 13 pounds.”

The lake also holds smallmouth bass and spotted bass. Duanne McQueen set the lake smallmouth record with a 5.85-pounder.

“Lake Guntersville is renowned for its largemouth bass, but it also has some smallmouth and a fairly good spotted bass population,” Ekema says. “Smallmouth are around the bluffs in the riverine section and in the rocky areas at the lower end in deeper, clearer water near the dam.”

Crappie probably rank second only to largemouth bass in popularity. Lake Guntersville tied the state record white crappie with a 4.8-pound fish. The spring and fall offer the best times to catch crappie.

“We do most of our crappie fishing from Goose Pond south,” says Mike Gerry with Fish Lake Guntersville Guide Service. “When the water warms in the spring, crappie move up to feed on edges with a little current. In the winter, we mainly fish small jigs. Our crappie average about 1.75 to 2.5 pounds, but we get one over three pounds every now and then.”

Lake Guntersville also produces great numbers of bluegills, redear sunfish, longear sunfish and other sunfish species. In addition, the lake delivered the state record yellow bass at 2.5 pounds, the state record buffalo at 57 pounds and the state record grass carp, a 73-pounder. The lake also holds sauger, walleye and yellow perch.

“Sauger numbers are making a pretty good comeback,” Ekema says. “Yellow perch are becoming more popular. Lake Guntersville is also a fantastic reservoir for catfish. It holds some 100-pounders, but 75-pound blue catfish are pretty common.”

Cathedral Caverns is home of one of the largest stalagmites in the world, measuring 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference. Photo courtesy of Marshall County Tourism and Sports

Need a break from the outdoors?  Check out the Guntersville Museum to learn about the history and culture of the area. Once the home of the Guntersville Armory and built in 1936 as part of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, the stone building now houses collections of Guntersville historic lore, Native American artifacts, watercolors and more. 

Nearby, the Sand Mountain Park and Amphitheater in Albertville periodically hosts concerts, and during the hot summer months, the water park offers a perfect spot to cool off.

For more information on Lake Guntersville and nearby attractions, visit:




Boat rentals:

Nearby parks and attractions:

Cathedral Caverns:

Bucks Pocket State Park:

Sand Mountain Park and Amphitheater:


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