Reelfoot Lake - Its Legends and Cypress Trees

The legend says that Reelfoot Lake was formed because of love. An Indian chief named Reelfoot took away the maiden from a rival neighboring tribe. The angry father prayed that his loss would be avenged. During the wedding ceremony a great rumbling of the earth caused the ground to swallow Reelfoot’s entire tribe. The result was the formation of Reelfoot Lake. Such was its legendary origin. Whether or not it was because of love, the lake was formed in the winter of 1811-12 by a tremendous earthquake. The scenic beauty of the Earthquake Lake, or Reelfoot Lake, with its plentiful Bald Cypress trees and its aquatic plants is made even more appealing by the fact that it is the largest natural lake in Tennessee. Its scenery and wildlife draw many visitors to enjoy its nature, hunting and fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation.

Located in the extreme northwest corner of the state, Reelfoot Lake is composed of approximately 25,000 acres (15,000 of those are water) with 280 acres around the lake set aside as a state park with many attractions for its visitors. Perhaps the next most notable attraction to Reelfoot Lake State Park (other than its origin) is its population of Bald Eagles, which increases from December to March because of migrations. During these winter months Bald Eagle watchers and admirers visit Reelfoot Lake in large numbers. Naturalists conduct eagle watch tours from the Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center on the south side of the lake also has many programs on the natural and cultural history of Reelfoot. There is a rehabilitation area for eagles and hawks where visitors can observe wildlife close-up. A boardwalk extends out into the lake among cypress trees and permits visitors to get a closer look at the many native plants and animals. Guided pontoon boat tours of the lake make further exploration of the wonders of the lake possible. The tours are conducted from May through September.

Visitors find Reelfoot Lake very scenic and enticing. Its shallowness and cypress tree-lined shores make it especially picturesque. In seemingly open portions of the lake cypress trees are surrounded by lily pads and the lake can be deceptively shallow. Truly it is scenic, but it can be dangerous for boaters unfamiliar with its waters.       

To get to the south side of Reelfoot Lake from Tiptonville take State Highway 21/22 east from the intersection of Highway 78. The Visitor Center is about a mile east of that intersection. Around the Visitor Center and along Highways 21 and 22, motels, restaurants, campgrounds, and resorts await visitors. The resorts on Reelfoot can arrange guided fishing and hunting trips and eagle watch and sightseeing tours on the lake. Package deals are available at most of the resorts. 

Adjacent to the park are two national wildlife refuges (Reelfoot Lake and Lake Isom). The excellent waterfowl habitat that is provided by the proximity of these refuges makes the migration of waterfowl another important attraction. Waterfowl watching and hunting are popular activities on the lake. Side trips to the nearby national wildlife refuges enhance a visit to the area. An auto tour encircles Reelfoot Lake (a pamphlet is available at the Visitor Center). The brochure shows points of interest and has maps of the wildlife refuges and hiking trails that are closed to vehicles. A shorter auto tour of Grassy Island near Walnut Log is also available and is very rewarding. The route extends into the wildlife refuge and terminates at the lake where another boardwalk and an observation tower provide a more isolated look at the flora of Reelfoot.   

A variety of recreational opportunities are available at Reelfoot Lake State Park. Cross-country bike enthusiasts can try a couple of overland trails. Although there are no designated bike trails on the park, a bike ride around Reelfoot Lake is approximately 50 miles and goes by several areas of the lake as well as the Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge. There are longer biking trails that incorporate a portion of Reelfoot Lake. A section of the Mississippi River (Bike) Trail begins at the Reelfoot Visitor Center and goes to the Visitor Center on Mud Island in Memphis (approximately 177 miles). The Mississippi River Trail (MRT) is a seven-state bike route that will eventually offer over 1200 miles of bicycling adventure. Stretching from the northern terminus at St. Genevieve, Missouri to New Orleans, Louisiana the MRT will go through portions of Missouri, southern Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. 

A canoe trail to the Heron Rookery may be of interest. This area is accessible by canoe only during high water, usually in late winter and spring. Check status before making the trip. Guided canoe trips can be scheduled for groups with their own canoes. Reelfoot Lake is an outstanding canoe destination with its cypress trees, abundant flowering plants, and its wildlife.

Reelfoot Lake is one of Tennessee's natural wonders. Its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife entice visitors to sample the wonders. The activities of eagle watching or other wildlife watching, hunting, fishing, and just relaxing and admiring the lake will keep those same visitors busy and happy.

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