With a water level elevation around 1960 feet, Watauga Lake is one of the highest TVA reservoirs. It was created by filling the Watauga River valley with water after construction of Watauga Dam was completed in 1948. Many homes and the entire community of Butler were displaced. The lake is about 17 miles long with over 100 miles of shoreline. Near the dam the depth exceeds 280 feet in the old river channel. The upper end of the lake, above Butler Bridge, is not much over 110 feet in depth. During the summer months the water temperature at the surface is quite warm and good for swimming. At lower depths the water is cool with large trout swimming around 90 feet deep. In the colder months, the trout are found closer to the surface. The lake does not freeze over in the winter.
Much of the shoreline of Watauga Lake is Cherokee National Forest land, which has helped limit overdevelopment of this beautiful location. The Appalachian Trail passes through Shook Branch Recreation Area, runs around the southwest end, crosses the dam, and runs along the crest of Iron Mountain on the northwest side of the lake. The upper half of Watauga Lake is in Johnson County, where it is fed by Roan Creek, the Elk River, and the Watauga River.
Watauga Lake offers some of the best sailing in the Appalachian region. Finding wind for an afternoon sail is rarely a problem due to the location and orientation of the lake. Many sailboats are moored at the local marinas. Races and events are hosted by the Watauga Lake Sailing Club.
Watauga Lake is well stocked with a variety of fish, including bass, walleye, and trout. Many state record lake trout have been caught in Watauga Lake. There are a number of public boat ramps. Picnic areas, swimming areas, and camping are found at the lake. Events at the lake include bass tournaments, a large July 4th boat parade, and the Frostbite sailing race on New Years Day. For the latest lake and fishing news, try one of the marinas on our resources page. Find a roadmap here. For fishing regulations check the TWRA site. View a video of Watauga Lake in the fall.
Downstream from Watauga Dam is Wilbur Lake and Wilbur Dam. Wilbur and Watauga both generate hydroelectric power for the TVA. Wilbur Lake and the Watauga River downstream are fed by water from the bottom of Watauga Lake. The water is a nearly constant cold temperature all year round and is popular with trout fishermen. Wilbur Lake is home to some unusual species of waterfowl. There is a river access location at the base of Wilbur Dam for white water rafting down the Watauga River into Elizabethton. Most of the rapids aren't too extreme. The countryside is pastoral and scenic. We've done it in inflatable kayaks a few times. Floating down the river is a great way to spend an afternoon. Respect the power of the river and be safe. There are several local outfitters that conduct expeditions on the Watauga River. Here's an mp4 video of Wilbur Lake.
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