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Lake Nicol, AL: Complete Recreational Guide

Lake Nicol is a popular fishing, paddling, and boating destination near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In summer, it offers swimming opportunities and serene picnic spots.
itiswild.com Lake Nicol Guide

Located 14 miles northeast of downtown Tuscaloosa, Lake Nicol is one of two significant impoundments of Yellow Creek in the area. 

This 384-acre reservoir serves as a source of drinking water for residents of Tuscaloosa. 

Water that drains through the spillway continues along Yellow Creek for less than 3,000 feet before flowing into Lake Harris, an earlier impoundment of the creek created to hold potable water. 

a long lake in Alabama
Source: dreamstime

Completed as a reservoir in 1956, this lake presently serves as a secondary water source after Lake Tuscaloosa. 

With almost 3.3 billion gallons of water, this lake has gained a reputation as a popular place for locals to fish for bass and catfish. 

Birdwatching in the forested location is enjoyed by many visitors, along with warm-weather swimming and year-round boating, canoeing, and kayaking. 

In 2022, conversations started about expanding amenities along the lake and nearby areas. Future upgrades may include a camping area or other facilities to increase eco-tourism in the area. 

History

Lake Nicol Spillway
Source: flickr/public domain

Lake Nicol was the second impoundment created along Yellow Creek. 

The northern portion of Lake Harris, the original reservoir created in 1929, sits less than 3,000 feet to the south of Lake Nicol’s spillway. 

That 220-acre body of water remains under the oversight of the city’s water utility. 

Crews built Lake Nicol in 1956, with waters from the Yellow Creek filling many low-lying areas to create a lake with great fishing opportunities in many small alcoves surrounded by small hills and elevated areas. 

After workers created Lake Tuscaloosa in 1970 as the city’s primary source of drinking water, Lake Nicol became a secondary source of water for the area. 

Fishing and bird watching along this lake, surrounded by small, rolling hills and pine forests, have been popular activities since the reservoir’s creation in the mid-1950s. 

Activities

An attractive reservoir northeast of Tuscaloosa, Lake Nicol is known as a destination for paddlers, boaters, swimmers, and birdwatchers.

Swimming: 

  • Swimming is not prohibited in Lake Nicol, though officials have discouraged it in the past.
  • There are no designated swimming areas, though people often take a dip near the boat launch area along Nicol Park Road. 
  • The Cliffs at Lake Nicol are impressive, but getting caught diving from them could lead to a $500 fine.

Boating: 

  • Boaters should have a valid Alabama license
  • Glass containers are prohibited throughout the lake, including on vessels.
  • Water skiing, jet skis, wakeboards, and similar personal watercraft have been prohibited at Lake Nicol since 2014. 
  • Boaters in possession of items that could allow water skiing, wakeboarding, and similar activities may get a citation, even if such items are not in use on the lake.
  • Although gas-powered boats are prohibited on nearby Lake Harris, they are permitted on Lake Nicol.
  • Boats must keep speeds at or below 25 miles per hour and remain at least 50 feet away from motionless boats, smaller skiffs, and paddlers. 

Paddling: 

  • Canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding are popular within this lake.
  • Motorized boats are required to keep a minimum distance of 50 feet from any paddlers, motionless boats, or smaller craft.

Fishing: 

  • Largemouth bass and spotted bass are the top catches at Lake Nicol.
  • Catfish, bluegill, and black crappie also frequent these waters. 
  • Lake Nicol has no state fishing records at present.

Camping:

  • There are no campsites in the area immediately near the lake, though there are commercial campgrounds in the Tuscaloosa area and sites at Lake Lurleen State Park, a drive of 19 miles to the west. 

Hiking: 

  • Lake Nicol Spillway: This 0.7-mile roundtrip trail is an easy pathway that starts near the spillway and continues through the adjacent woods. 
  • Outer Cliff Trail: A 1.1-mile trail open year-round that provides great views of the cliffs area and the lake. 

Wildlife

  • Aside from the occasional deer, Lake Nicol is highly regarded as a place to enjoy birdwatching. 

Access points

  • Access to the boat ramp and trails at the northern end of the lake is available by taking Nicol Park Road from Watermelon Road (Tuscaloosa County Road 47).
  • A small, dirt parking area is also located on Lake Nicol Road (Tuscaloosa County Road 42), near the spillway. It offers access to the Lake Nicol Spillway Trail and possibilities for bank fishing. 

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