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12 Incredible Recreational Lakes near Birmingham, AL

Birmingham has an excellent selection of lakes and reservoirs, most of which are large impoundments offering swimming, boating, waterskiing, and some of the best fishing in the country.
ItIsWild.com Best Lakes near Birmingham Alabama

The selection of lakes around Birmingham is impressive. Most of the choices here are large reservoirs offering swimming, boating, waterskiing, and some of the best fishing in the country.

However, access to these lakes isn’t as good as in other states. Considering the size of some reservoirs, public parks are few and far between. Instead, most of the lakes have private marinas, RV resorts, and fishing camps. 

Whether you enjoy lakeside camping, fishing, or wakeboarding, the choice near Birmingham is huge.

Check out what the city has to offer!

Lakes near Birmingham:

  1. Lake Purdy
  2. Oak Mountain State Park 
  3. Bankhead Lake
  4. Logan Martin Lake
  5. Inland Lake
  6. Weiss Lake
  7. Neely Henry Lake
  8. Lewis Smith Lake
  9. Lake Tuscaloosa
  10. Lay Lake
  11. Lake Howard
  12. Guntersville Lake
Lakes near Birmingham Alabama Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Lake Purdy

Lake Purdy Alabama
Source: flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Website: Lake Purdy
  • Distance from Birmingham: 17 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Paddleboarding

A drive 17 miles east-southeast from downtown Birmingham offers an opportunity to fish at Lake Purdy. This 990-acre impoundment of the Little Cahaba River was designed to provide a source of drinking water for the city and surrounding areas. 

Workers originally created a reservoir in the early 1900s, expanding its capacity during the 1920s. Before the dam flooded this valley, a small farming community known as Bridgeton existed in this area. 

Birmingham officials began to acquire this Shelby County settlement in 1906-1907, and Lake Purdy covered this farmland less than five years later. 

Birmingham Water Works still owns Lake Purdy today. To keep the water clean, this body restricts activities within the lake. 

To keep invasive species from coming into Lake Purdy, Birmingham Water Works only allows boats rented from an on-site facility to access their reservoir, though outsiders can attach outboard motors they bring with them. 

Most of the lake’s perimeter, aside from the controlled access points, remains off-limits, except for a few bank fishing areas. 

Lake Purdy has abundant populations of largemouth bass, spotted bass, and crappie. Bream and catfish are found here as well. 

Nonprofits such as the Cahaba Riverkeeper and Cahaba River Society monitor the river and Lake Purdy reservoir and advocate for their preservation. 

2. Oak Mountain State Park 

Oak Mountain State Park Alabama
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Oak Mountain State Park
  • Distance from Birmingham: 21 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Located in Pelham, south of Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park is the largest park in the state’s system. Started as a 940-acre park under the Alabama State Lands Act of 1927, Oak Mountain now has 11,632 acres with shelters and a dam created by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. 

The National Park Service transferred much of the site to the state in 1943, including four notable lakes. Oak Mountain Lake and Lunker Lake are long and narrow bodies of water at the northeastern corner of the park. 

A smaller Oak Lake sits in an area near many of the park’s historic cabins. Double Oak Lake, on the park’s western side, has a marina and a large dam. Peavine Falls, a cascade that drops 65 feet, is at the southern end of the park. 

The park offers many activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and fishing. Oak Mountain has more than 50 miles of trails, a BMX course, campgrounds, cabins, an interpretive center, an 18-hole golf course, swimming and beach areas, the Alabama Wildlife Center, and horseback riding facilities. 

A demonstration farm has animals to visit. Boating, paddling, and kayaking are also popular activities. Species found in the lakes for year-round fishing include bass, crappie, catfish, and bream.

3. Bankhead Lake

Lake cottage in Alabama
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Bankhead Lake
  • Distance from Birmingham: 36 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Sailing

A drive a little more than 35 miles west of downtown provides access to an impounded section of the Black Warrior River known as Bankhead Lake. 

Alabama Power operates a hydroelectric plant at the location where the US Army Corps of Engineers built and manages Bankhead Lock and Dam. 

The first Bankhead Dam went into service in 1915 as one of 17 navigational locks between Mobile and Birmingham. The current lock was finished in 1975. 

Alabama Power has generated electricity from the dam on this 9,200-acre reservoir since 1963. Beyond hydroelectric power and flood control, Bankhead Lake offers opportunities for boating and fishing, as well as nearby camping. 

Similar to other impounded segments, such as Holt Lake downriver, Bankhead Lake retains a river-like appearance as it meanders, though in a more swollen fashion. Much of the shoreline remains a forest. 

Those who fish in Bankhead will find plenty of bass and crappie, with some catfish and sunfish. The state record for striped bass, a catch weighing 69 lbs. 9 oz., was caught here in 2013, which is possibly the world record for a rod-and-reel catch of this fish. 

4. Logan Martin Lake

lake and boathouse in alabama
Source: pixabay
  • Website: Logan Martin Lake
  • Distance from Birmingham: 38 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Sailing

Logan Martin Lake is a little more than 35 miles east of Birmingham, near Pell City. Alabama Power Company built Logan Martin Dam in 1965 as one of its impoundments of the Coosa River. 

The reservoir accommodates more than 15,250 surface acres along its 49-mile length upriver to the Neely Henry Dam, offering 275 miles of shoreline. 

Seasonal water fluctuations may expand this body of water, sometimes known as the “Lake of a Thousand Coves,” to more than 17,000 acres. 

Boating, fishing, waterskiing, and swimming are popular activities on the lake. Unlike most lakes, houseboats are permitted within Logan Martin Lake. 

Spotted and largemouth bass are found here in abundance, with striped, white, and hybrid bass as well. Crappie, gar, and bream also swim in these waters. 

5. Inland Lake

  • Website: Inland Lake
  • Distance from Birmingham: 35 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Waterskiing

Located between Springville and Oneonta, Inland Lake is a 1,557-acre reservoir that holds water from the Little Warrior River’s Blackburn Fork. 

The dam built in 1939 on the northwest side of the lake serves the metropolitan area’s drinking water needs. One of the deepest and clearest reservoirs in the state, Inland Lake and the adjacent land are owned by Birmingham Water Works. 

Lake access is offered at two points. Limited bank fishing is available in the boat launch areas, but no trails or other recreational amenities are available. The Blount County Sheriff’s Department regularly patrols the area near the ramps. 

Those who take vessels on the lake enjoy the serene environment. Drawdowns usually lower lake levels by late fall to meet the needs of Birmingham-area consumers before the rainy season. 

Fish often caught here include bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie, and sunfish.

6. Weiss Lake

Weiss Lake
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Weiss Lake
  • Distance from Birmingham: 91 miles (1hr 35min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Sailing

Located 91 miles northeast of the city, near the Georgia border, is Weiss Lake, which also carries the title of “Crappie Capital of the World.” 

This 30,200-acre lake was created after Alabama Power Company built the Weiss Dam that impounded the Coosa River, as well as the Little River and the Chattooga River. 

A variety of shoreline fishing locations near coves and shallow flats are found near Centre, Leesburg, and Cedar Bluff. 

The Weiss Boat Ramp along Alabama State Road 9 is a popular starting point. Visitors unfamiliar with the area should be aware of many shallow areas where boats may get stuck. 

In addition to crappie, the lake is abundant with various species of catfish, bass, and sunfish, as well as walleye and rainbow trout. 

While in the area, visitors should stop at Little River Canyon National Preserve. Although motorized boats are prohibited, fly fishing is great near Canyon Mouth Park. The rim drive beginning near Canyon Falls Park offers incredible views, including a few additional seasonal waterfalls.  

7. Neely Henry Lake

Neely Henry Lake Alabama
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Neely Henry Lake
  • Distance from Birmingham: 62 miles (1hr 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Sailing

Just above Logan Martin Lake, Neely Henry Lake became an impoundment of the Coosa River created by Alabama Power after the H. Neely Henry Dam went into service in 1966. 

This 11,200-acre reservoir northeast of downtown near Rainbow City and Gadsden includes more than a 77-mile segment of the river with 339 miles of shoreline. 

The lake has two distinct areas. North of Gadsden, the lake resembles the original footprint of the Coosa River, where spotted bass communities thrive. South of the city, areas of the reservoir fan out into open waters that resemble a traditional lake. 

Anglers visiting this area will find crappie and largemouth bass. Catfish and sunfish also swim in these waters. 

Alabama Power offers public access sites, and others are available in Gadsden, such as the Jack L. Ray Family Park and the Coosa Landing Recreational Park.

8. Lewis Smith Lake

  • Website: Lewis Smith Lake
  • Distance from Birmingham: 47 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Sailing

Located 47 miles north of downtown near Cullman, Lewis Smith Lake is a magnet for those who enjoy fishing throughout north and central Alabama. 

Halfway between Birmingham and Huntsville, this is the perfect destination to fish for largemouth and spotted bass on the 21,200-acre lake while taking in the hills, forests, and scenery of the region from a boat. 

Alabama Power Company’s 300-foot high dam, erected in 1961, formed Smith Lake by impounding the Black Warrior River’s Sipsey Fork. 

The Bankhead National Forest surrounds much of the western portion of the lake. The best facilities along that section are at the Clear Creek Recreation Area, where visitors can find boat ramps, a swimming beach, picnicking, and camping sites. Fishing near the dam is popular.

Smith Lake has a reputation as a place to get on a boat and enjoy the surrounding landscape while casting a line. The large size of this reservoir ensures plenty of great fishing spots.

9. Lake Tuscaloosa

Lake Tuscaloosa
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Lake Tuscaloosa
  • Distance from Birmingham: 63 miles (1hr 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

A drive of approximately 60 miles southwest of Birmingham, Lake Tuscaloosa took shape after the City of Tuscaloosa hired crews to build a dam along the North River in 1970-1971. 

The 5,885-acre reservoir provides residents and businesses of that area with potable water along with Lake Nicol and Lake Harris in that city. 

During the last half-century, the lake has offered a wide array of recreational opportunities that include tubing, swimming, fishing, and waterskiing. 

Anglers will find that the upper reaches of Lake Tuscaloosa are more fertile than areas closer to the dam. Binion Creek Landing Park is a great place to launch a vessel. 

Freshwater drum, bluegill, crappie, bass, and blue and channel catfish inhabit this lake. The state record bowfin, weighing 18 lbs. 6 oz., was caught in Lake Tuscaloosa in 2005.

10. Lay Lake

a lake in alabama on a peaceful day
Source: pixabay
  • Website: Lay Lake
  • Distance from Birmingham: 40 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Sailing

A popular place for boating and tournament fishing, Lay Lake is located approximately 40 miles southeast of downtown. The first section of the Coosa River that was impounded, Lay Lake expanded along low-lying terrain in 1914. 

Unlike later impoundments, many stumps remain under this 12,000-acre reservoir created by Alabama Power, requiring boaters to exercise caution. Multiple public ramps and greenways provide vessel and bank access to Lay Lake. 

Spotted and largemouth bass reign supreme in these waters, especially near shallow inlets and sloughs. 

Bream and crappie are found throughout the lake, with catfish and hybrid striped bass found mostly at the lake’s upper end, near Logan Martin Dam. 

11. Lake Howard

  • Website: Lake Howard 
  • Distance from Birmingham: 51 miles (1hr 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Located about 50 miles southeast of Birmingham, Lake Howard is near Sylacauga and the Talladega National Forest. 

A dam impounds a portion of the Tallaseehatchee Creek to create a 180-acre reservoir, one of multiple smaller lakes created in this section of the National Forest. 

The City of Sylacauga maintains a public park with a hiking and bike trail, though swimming is not permitted. This lake serves as a source of drinking water for Sylacauga.

Anglers who visit Howard Lake will enjoy a relaxing getaway in a scenic section of the forest. Bluegill, largemouth bass, black crappie, catfish, and redear and pumpkinseed sunfish are frequently caught in Lake Howard.

12. Guntersville Lake

Guntersville Lake
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Guntersville Lake
  • Distance from Birmingham: 74 miles (1hr 20min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Sailing

Covering a distance of almost 75 miles, Guntersville Lake is the name of 69,000 acres of the Tennessee River that stretches from the Nickajack Dam at New Hope to the Guntersville Dam, southwest of Huntsville. 

Alabama’s largest lake, the majority of this body follows a northeast-to-southwest trajectory from the Alabama-Tennessee state line to the city of Guntersville. 

The terrain along the southern shore of this lake has more hills due to a large plateau known as Sand Mountain. 

Numerous tributaries, such as Town Creek, South Sauty Creek, and Raccoon Creek, offer great fishing opportunities. This is one of the top fishing destinations in northern Alabama, having the most fishing state records.

Although largemouth bass is the top fish harvested from the lake, catfish, bream, and sauger are also popular catches. 

Parks and public access sites are available on both sides of the lake. One near Scottsboro – Jackson County Park – offers cabins and campsites, as well as a boat launch. 

The top recreation destination in the region is Lake Guntersville State Park. For impressive views of the lake, visit the lodge atop the bluff. 

Anglers spend much of their time at the boat ramps near the campground or Short Creek. The park hosts many fishing tournaments.

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