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Watauga Lake

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) impounded the Watauga and Elk Rivers to create this reservoir in 1948. Representing the reservoir with the highest elevation in Tennessee, Watauga Lake is accessible only by winding mountain roads. Only one third of the shoreline is privately owned, and a major portion of the lake is surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest. This lake is a favorite among anglers who seek record-breaking Ohrid and lake trout.

The Appalachian Trail crosses over the lake at Watauga Dam, which empties into Wilbur Lake. Visitors can reach Wilbur Lake -- a 72-acre reservoir -- by taking Wilbur Dam Road. That road also leads to more TVA campgrounds, fishing ramps, and picnic grounds.


Some Watauga Lake fish available to anglers include black bass, crappie, rainbow and lake trout, and walleye. Forage fish include gizzard shad, alewife, bluegill, and minnows. Smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing is good, especially along the lower end of the reservoir. Two record fish caught in this lake include an Ohrid trout at fourteen pounds and five ounces in 1986, and a 22-pound, two-ounce lake trout in 2008.


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    Watauga Lake Tennessee Coordinates:
36.0970N -85.8269W
Map It:
Lake Type:
Surface Area:
6,000 acres
Maximum Depth:
265 ft
1,959 ft
Normal Water Clarity:
3 ft
Major City:
Charlotte, NC
Charlotte, NC


Although automobile access to the lake is limited via winding mountain roads, a new handicap-accessible pier at Rat Branch is available at the lake. Boaters also have access to eight public boat ramps, seven marinas, and two recreation facilities along the lake.


Watauga Lake can only accommodate a few tourists, but luxury rental properties are available as well as a campground. The Watauga Dam Tailwater Campground offers 29 sites with electric hookups. The lack of motels and lakefront development provides a great sense of isolation. Visitors who want hotel rentals can find them in Elizabethton.

Review the Lake Resource Guide for additional lodging.


Located in Carter and Johnson Counties in Tennessee, Watauga Lake is about 145 miles from Knoxville, and 128 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. However, Elizabethton, Tennessee, is located just about an hour from the lake, and it offers a municipal airport. Other towns located nearby in Tennessee include Johnson City and Milligan. Nearby North Carolina towns include Sugar Grove and Boone.

Fun times at Watauga Lake  Watauga Lake

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Average Temperatures Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High  45 Avg. High  50 Avg. High  59 Avg. High  68 Avg. High  76 Avg. High  83 Avg. High  86 Avg. High  85 Avg. High  79 Avg. High  69 Avg. High  59 Avg. High  48
Avg. Low  25 Avg. Low  28 Avg. Low  34 Avg. Low  42 Avg. Low  51 Avg. Low  60 Avg. Low  64 Avg. Low  63 Avg. Low  55 Avg. Low  44 Avg. Low  35 Avg. Low  28