top of page

All About Watauga Lake - History, Important Stats, and a Boating Guide

Watauga Lake is a reservoir in Carter County, Tennessee, just east of Elizabethton. It has an area of about 10 square miles and has the distinction of being the highest reservoir in Tennessee, at a surface elevation of 1,959 feet.

The lake is used for a wide variety of recreational purposes as well as to generate power for the region and control flooding.

Brief History of the Watauga Lake

Butler, Tennessee was founded in the 1760s, but the location was poor. Flooding became a way of life. Eventually, the decision was made by the Tennessee Valley Authority to build Watauga Dam, which created Watauga Lake. Butler itself was drowned under the lake, but was rebuilt on higher ground.

Construction began in 1942, but it was interrupted by World War II and did not restart until 1946, with the dam being completed in 1948. The dam was also constructed to provide hydroelectric power.

The lake is also surrounded by Cherokee National Forest and is a major recreational area with access to the Appalachian Trail.

Essential Stats and Information About Watauga Lake

Watauga Lake is an artificial lake designed for flood control and power generation. Here are some key facts:

  • Area: 10.05 square miles

  • Surface elevation: 1,959 feet

  • Shore length: 104.9 miles

  • Length: 16.16 miles.

  • Height of dam: 318 feet

  • Length of dam: 900 feet

  • Hydroelectric generation capacity: 63 megawatts

  • Flood storage capacity: 152,800 acre-feet

The lake is great for boating and has several marinas and boat rental areas.

Water Sports On The Lake

Watauga Lake is a major center for water sports and activities. These include:

  1. Boat rentals. You can rent a variety of powered and non-powered boats to enjoy the lake if you are not from the area. Lakeshore Marina has some great rentals.

  2. Marinas. If you bring your own boat, you can launch from a variety of places around the lake. Lakeshore Marina has boat slips available for short-term use.

  3. Swimming. You can swim in the lake at Shook Branch Recreational Area, summer season only.

  4. Tail water activities. Below the dam, you can engage in kayaking and rafting. TVA offers scheduled releases to provide dependable whitewater flow below the dam.

To engage in all of these sports, you can rent a cabin by the lake. Lakeshore Marina's cabins come with television, mini fridge, microwave, coffee maker, air conditioning, and private balconies with great views across the lake.

Top Activities On The Lake

When you have your boat, you can enjoy the best views of the lake - from the water - and also engage in the best activities. These include:


Watauga Lake is excellent for both bank and on water fishing. Best game fish are smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, crappie, walleye, and trout. The lake is stocked with walleye, rainbow, brown, and lake trout in the reservoir.

Be aware that the lake has creel and/or length limits for some fish. There are also restrictions for fishing downstream and on nearby rivers. A Tennessee license is required, and if you wish to catch trout, you will need to get the Avid Angler package. If you need a fishing guide, you can hire one at several places around the lake.

Observe Flora and Fauna

Watauga is mostly surrounded by forest and has relatively difficult road access. The steep shoreline means that the lake is not built up, meaning that you can observe well from the water. Wildlife is abundant and bald eagle sightings are fairly common. Waterfowl are more common below the dam, but often seen on the lake itself.

One advantage of observing fauna from the lake is that if you see a bear, you don't have to worry about your safety or that of your lunch!

Dining Options

Although fairly remote, there are several lakeside restaurants around Watauga, most of them seasonal. There are three directly on the water:

  1. Southern Craft Barbecue, which recently opened and features classic barbecue options including pulled pork, catfish po'boys and, of course, ribs.

  2. Cove Ridge Grill. Dock at the Cove Ridge Marina and enjoy traditional southern cooking.

  3. Mallard Cove Marina Snack Bar. Dock at Mallard Cove Marina and get a quick lunch...burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and fries served right on the dock. Great if you want to take your food out on the water.

There are various off water restaurants in Butler too, including a Thai restaurant and a deli.

State Parks, Forests

Watauga Lake is surrounded by Cherokee National Forest. This offers over 700 miles of hiking trails, seven whitewater rivers, and 30 developed campgrounds and picnic areas. Watauga Lake has three good day hike areas. You can also go to Pond Mountain Range for target shooting, bringing your own targets.

There is also the Watauga Point Recreation Area, which is a developed park with drinking water and bathrooms. It's a great place for picnicking but bear in mind that all food and beverages must be stored in a locked vehicle or bear-proof container.

There is access to the Appalachian Trail from Watauga dam.

Other Tourist Attractions

The area around Watauga Dam is mostly forested, but there are plenty of other things here worth seeing. Here are some things to consider:


The town of Butler was moved to higher ground when the dam was built. Modern Butler is a small unincorporated community on the northern shore of the lake. It has a couple of restaurants, basic facilities including a post office, and the Butler Museum, which covers local history.


Hampton is a larger town a bit away from the lake. Hampton offers a supermarket and a hardware store, as well as being a great place to get bait, ammo, etc. Hampton is a very short drive from Lakeshore Resort and Marina.


The county seat at Elizabethton is the sitre of the first independent American government west of both the Eastern Continental Divide and the original Thirteen Colonies. It is the nearest sizable town and has a small municipal airport for general aviation.

South Holston Lake

If you brought a boat and trailer, you can combine your trip with South Holston Lake, which is a larger lake that provides lots of recreational activities. South Holston River is a nationally recognized trout fishery. It's also home to the third-largest earthen dam in the world at 285 feet high and 1,600 feet in length. It is, however, busier and more built up than Watauga Lake, which generally makes for a quieter vacation.

If you are intrigued by a boating adventure on Watauga Lake, Oasis Marinas can help. Contact our Watauga Lake Marina to reserve a boat trip, boat rental, and/or cabin.

64 views0 comments
bottom of page