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Set against the spectacular scenery and steep walls of the Tennessee River Gorge, Nickajack Lake is the perfect place to relax on the water, fish, or explore the nature and wildlife of the Cumberland Mountains.
Nickajack Lake is an impoundment of the Tennessee River and one of nine reservoirs on the river managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The lake was created for flood control, navigation, and power generation. Construction on Nickajack Dam started in 1964 and was completed in 1967 replacing the existing Hales Bar Dam. Hales Bar Dam was built in 1913 by the Chattanooga and Tennessee Power Company and was bought by the TVA in 1939, but there were leaks in the dam's foundation that couldn't be repaired. Hales Bar Dam Lock and Powerhouse are still visible six miles above Nickajack Lake and the Lock was converted to a coal barge terminal.
When the TVA built Nickajack Lake and Dam, they planned ahead for future expansion. Nickajack Lock can lift nine large barges at one time 41 feet, allowing more than 2.5 million tons of raw materials and goods to pass through the Tennessee River Gorge every year. If the lock is ever insufficient to handle the traffic, there is already a 110 foot by 800 foot underwater structure for a future lock. The observation platform at Nickajack Lock re-opened to the public in 2015 after a 14-year closure following 9/11.
Located in Marion County half an hour from Chattanooga, Nickajack Lake extends 46 miles upstream from the Nickajack Dam to the Chickamauga Dam. Lake levels are controlled by the TVA and fluctuate as needed for power generation and navigation. With over 10,300 acres of water and almost 180 miles of shoreline to explore, anglers will find plenty of fish to challenge them especially black, spotted, and largemouth bass. The catfish and pan fish are also plentiful. There are fishing berms around Nickajack Lake, an ADA accessible fishing pier and several public boat launches. Along with fishing from the shore or by boat, visitors to Nickajack Lake can boat, water ski or Jet Ski. The TVA also manages camping, swimming, and picnicking at several spots.
Nickajack Lake was named for a Chickamauga leader whose renegade band hid out in Nickajack Cave. The cave has a rich history. It was mined for saltpeter by James Orr starting in 1800. The cave was mined continuously until 1863 or 1864. Today Nickajack Cave partially flooded by Nickajack Lake is a wildlife refuge managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. From late April to early October the cave is home to a colony of around 100,000 endangered gray bats. The bats use the cave as a maternity roost and arrive to give birth in the spring. At dusk thousands of bats fly out to feed in a big gray cloud. The entrance to the cave is protected and blocked to people, but visitors can watch the bats from a specially designated area.
Nickajack Lake extends into the Tennessee River Gorge. The Gorge is about 27,000 acres carved through Cumberland Mountain. Known as the Grand Canyon of Tennessee, it's a 26-mile long steep walled gorge. Home to bald eagles and osprey, the scenery around the gorge is extraordinary.
Abundant wildlife, plentiful fishing and the spectacular backdrop of the Tennessee River Gorge combine to make Nickajack Lake a fantastic outdoor getaway. Add all the attractions of nearby Chattanooga and there is sure to be something to please everyone at Nickajack Lake.
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