Douglas Lake, TN: The Perfect Summer Escape
Looking for a great place to enjoy the great outdoors near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge? A place to get out on the water and enjoy a relaxing and fun day with your family? Douglas Lake may be just the place. Easy to get to and has miles of swimming beaches, many marinas with boats and kayaks for rent, and lots of nature trails and wildlife viewing options. There is a quiet cove for everyone and swimming in the cool water is just what the doctor ordered for hot summer days. Anglers will love the bass, sauger, and crappie fishing with a view of the mountains in the background.
Douglas Lake is a large man-made reservoir located in southeastern Tennessee that is a popular recreation area for water sports and nature lovers. The lake is known for its bass fishing, boating, and swimming beaches. Numerous access areas and marinas are located around the lake, making it easy to enjoy a summer day on the lake for visitors and locals alike.
Douglas Lake was created when the Tennessee Valley Authority built the Douglas Dam on the French Broad River near Sevierville. The dam was constructed in 1942 to control flooding in the Tennessee Valley and to create hydroelectric power. Construction of the dam was fast-tracked during the height of World War II to ensure enough energy production for the increased mining of magnesium and aluminum, both of which desperately needed to make warplanes. The damming created a 40-mile long reservoir with over 550 miles of winding, scenic shoreline. This major project required rerouting several roads and purchasing properties that are now flooded. Portions of the town of Dandridge required levies to be built since some parts of the town lie below the maximum flooded elevations of the lake.
While the primary purpose of the dam at Douglas Lake was to create electricity, there were many other benefits. For one, the dam regulates water levels downstream. The navigable channel from Knoxville carries cargo barges down the river to the Ohio River. This requires eight-foot depths that would not be possible year-round unless water levels were regulated by the dam. Regulating water levels also allows for a year-round drinking water supply for the citizens and visitors of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The levels of Douglas Lake vary significantly at different times of the year.
Much of the shoreline of Douglas Lake is privately owned. Beautiful lakefront homes line the beaches, but luckily there are plenty of spots to check out even if you don’t own Douglas Lake real estate. Boat ramps, marinas, swimming beaches, and scenic overlooks can be found all around the lake, offering excellent public access to this beautiful area.
Douglas Lake is located in southeastern Tennessee and is bordered by Cocke, Sevier, Jefferson, and Hamblen counties. While the historic town of Dandridge is often associated with Douglas Lake, the Lake is very near other resort areas including Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The enormous reservoir is bordered and accessible from Interstate 40 on the north, Highway 441 on the south, Winfield Dunn Parkway to the west, and State Street to the east.
The Douglas Reservoir Dam is located on the west side of the lake near Sevierville, TN. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has a picturesque campground and public access facilities near the dam.
Bordering Cities and Towns to Visit
Which town is closest to Douglas Lake? Dandridge, TN is the town most associated with Douglas Lake. This historic town pre-dates the lake, and a saddle dam had to be built to protect some parts of the city from flooding when the lake was created. The city is home to slightly less than 3,000 people and was founded in 1783. Dandridge is a charming small town right on the water. Here you will find shopping, dining, a lakefront resort, and a municipal park on the water. Dandridge is located on the north side of the lake off of Interstate 40, Highway 70 and State Route 92.
On the west side of the lake, near the dam, you will find the city of Sevierville. Only a few miles from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Sevierville is the most popular access point to Douglas Lake. Several great facilities are located near the dam, including a campground, boat ramp, marina, and county park.
While the city was founded in 1795, pioneers had been settling in the area for many years. This area was initially populated by the Cherokee Indians. Today, the town is known as a favorite vacation spot, close to Douglas Lake and Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Great shopping, lodging, and dining options can easily be found in and around Sevierville, TN. Sevierville lies on the Parkway just north of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Continuing south, you can easily access Great Smoky National Park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
The quiet resort town of Baneberry, TN lies on the eastern shores of Douglas Lake. The city is known for its picturesque golf course that winds its way through the center of town.
Just south of Baneberry you will come to Newport, Tennessee. The second largest city located around Douglas Lake, Newport has about 7,000 residents. Interstate 40 passes through Newport on its way from North Carolina. Here you will find big-box store shopping and many lodging and dining options. Newport is a good jumping off point for exploring Douglas Lake further or heading deeper into the Smoky Mountains.
Public Access to Douglas Lake
The Douglas Dam Headwaters Campground is located on the south side of the dam near Sevierville. The Campground area features a popular boat ramp, 60 RV or tent camping sites, and a great swimming beach. The park offers grills for picnics and a great spot to launch kayaks or paddleboards. Views of the historic dam structure are great from here as well as from the Douglas Tailwater Campground located a quarter mile down the French Broad River. The Tailwater Campground features 61 campsites, grills, hiking, and wildlife viewing, and is pet-friendly. It’s about a seven-minute drive from the Dam Campground to the Tailwater Campground. This is a great place to launch kayaks or boats if you want to explore the river downstream from Douglas Lake. The TVA also maintains a few nature trails that cover a wooded area near the dam. The trailhead takes off from the Dam Campground and features several loops with a beautiful overlook of the dam.
Sevier County Park is located near Sevierville right off CR 338 on the lake shore. The location is just south of the TVA Douglas Dam Campground. The park provides an excellent access point for swimming, picnics, and kayak or paddleboard launches.
The Shady Grove Boat Launch is located on the north shore of the lake on CR 139 about halfway between the dam and the town of Dandridge. This is a simple ramp facility perfect for launching your own vessel, be it a pontoon boat or a paddleboard. There are no facilities here.
The Dandridge Municipal Park is located on the lake right off Chesnut Hill Road. Here you’ll find a busy boat ramp with plenty of parking. There are winding beaches and a campground here as well.
Across the street from the Dandridge Municipal Park, you will find The Point Resort. The resort features rental suites, a full-service restaurant, a marina, and a campground. From their vantage point on the lake, you can enjoy views of the bridge and old downtown Dandridge. This one-stop shop is a perfect place to explore the lake. You can rent a boat at the marina or launch your own at their ramp. Their marina offers wet slips if you are interested in staying at the resort or exploring the town.
Douglas Lake Fishing
Spring is crappie season at Douglas Lake when vast numbers of these fish gather for spawning season. The lake is stocked annually with sauger and crappie for fishing, but anglers also know it’s an excellent place to catch many types of bass, walleye, catfish, sunfish, and bluegill. You can fish year-round at Douglas Lake and never be disappointed. According to Visit My Smokies, Douglas Lake is ranked in the top 10 lakes in the nation for bass and crappie fishing.
If you take your fishing pretty seriously, Douglas Lake is the site of a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open tournament every September. Bass anglers from all over gather on the lake with serious cash prizes up for grabs.
If you’d like to try your hand at Douglas Lake, TN fishing, you can grab your favorite pole and head to the nearest shore. Most marinas sell tackle and bait. You may also want to consider renting a pontoon or fishing boat which will enable you to scope out your own fishing holes. Many anglers also enjoy fishing from kayaks and canoes on the lake. This gives them the ability to enjoy a relaxing day on the water from nearly anywhere.
Everyone over the age of 13 fishing on Douglas Lake will require a fishing license. Licenses are available from many outfitters in the area or online from the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. Special short-term permits are available for out of state visitors.
Swimming and Beach Going
The cool waters of Douglas Lake, TN provide a wonderful playground for young and old on hot summer days. The lake is lined with beaches, ensuring plenty of perfect spots to relax, enjoy a picnic, and go swimming. The Douglas Dam Headwater Campground offers a lovely swimming beach along with nature trails and a boat ramp.
Another great Douglas Lake, TN swimming beach is at the Sevier County State Park on the west side of the lake. With easy access from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, this park offers a great way to spend the day at the lake.
If you’d like to find a hidden swimming spot all to yourself, consider renting a boat from one of the many marinas located around the shoreline. Pontoon boats are a great way to check out the scenic lake and allow you to swim anywhere you want!
Spend a Day on the Water
Watersports enthusiasts of all types enjoy spending the day on Douglas Lake. Whether your pleasure is cruising at breakneck speeds on a jet ski, practicing your latest moves on the wakeboard, or spending some quiet time paddling and wildlife viewing, Douglas Lake has the perfect spot for you to discover.
Several popular marinas line the shores, making Douglas Lake, TN boat rentals a fun and easy way to explore this spectacular area. There are marina options no matter which town you set out from. Pontoon boats are the craft of choice, allowing you access to quiet coves for swimming or enough power for wakeboarding or water skiing. Each marina offers slightly different amenities, some offer jet ski, kayak, or paddle board rentals as well. The kids will love tubing on the calm lake waters, so be sure to ask your marina if they rent towables too!
The Marina at Mountain Harbor Inn, also known as the Douglas Lake Marina, is open from 8 a.m. To 8 p.m. year round. They have pontoon boats, kayaks, paddle boards, and rental tubes and gear. The marina is located in Dandridge on Highway 139.
Smoky Mountain H2O Sports is located on the southern shore of Douglas Lake in Dandridge. They offer jet ski/wave runner rentals, paddleboards, and pontoon boats, as well as towables for fun on the water.
Nearer to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, you’ll find the Mountain Cove Marina and Campground, located in Sevierville. They offer jet skis and pontoon boats, and The Harbor Grill is onsite. Check out their website for current rates and hours. The marina is located halfway between the Douglas Dam Campground and Sevier County Park.
If you’re looking for someplace closer to the eastern end of Douglas Lake, Swann’s Marina has everything you might need. Their facility features a full-service marina with boat rentals, a campground with cabin rentals, and a country store. The Millstone Restaurant is on-site and features “wholesome, regional food.” Swann’s Marina is located east of Dandridge off of Highway 70.
Douglas Lake Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding
Paddlers can find a lot to enjoy at Douglas Reservoir. Not only are the many twists and turns of the lake itself great for relaxed paddling, but the French Broad River also has many launches and places to explore as it snakes its way toward Knoxville.
Where can you go kayaking on Douglas Lake? If you’re bringing your own kayak or paddleboard to the lake, there are several options for access. Boat ramps are favorite spots to launch, and there are many all along the shoreline of the lake and the French Broad River. Additionally, the parks that line the shores of Douglas Lake are great spots to put in non-motorized vessels.
Wildlife Viewing and Birdwatching
From late July to early October, Douglas Lake is a popular stopover for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. Birdwatchers can spot their favorite species along the shallow muddy shoreline from both the land side and the from the water. Here you’ll see long-legged waders like herons and egrets, along with hopping shorebirds like killdeers, sandpipers, and plovers. Keep your eyes out for rare finds at the lake, like the majestic American White Pelican or Black-necked Stilts.
Besides the non-resident migratory species, you’re also sure to catch a glimpse of our permanent residents. Keep an eye skyward for circling Golden and Bald Eagles, Canada Geese, hawks, falcons, and Osprey. You will surely see many species of ducks floating by. If you venture through the shoreline woods for a hike, keep an eye (and an ear) out for owls, Indigo Buntings, Orioles, and wild turkeys.
Birds aren’t the only wildlife you’ll spot around Douglas Lake. Squirrels and rabbits are very common, along with deer, raccoons, and opossums. If you’re out in the early morning hours and watching carefully, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a bobcat, the area’s only wild cat species. Coyotes, foxes, boars, otters, and black bear are also spotted in the area from time to time. Check out this complete list from the City of Bane Berry.
A favorite spot for bird and wildlife viewing on the lake is the quieter north end of the lake, in an area known as Rankin Bottoms. This area is less frequented by visitors and more peaceful. It’s a great place to see and photograph birds while hiking, kayaking, or canoeing. For directions on how to reach the Rankin Bottoms Wildlife Area and other great birding sites around the lake, check out the Tennessee Watchable Wildlife website.
Picnicking on Douglas Lake
Nothing beats a picnic! Whether it’s a raucous family affair or a romantic getaway, the fresh air and beautiful scenery at Douglas Lake will suit the occasion. Many tables are set up in the parks and public access points. Swimming beaches offer a great place to have your feast atop a picnic blanket. For the more adventurous, consider renting a pontoon boat, and dropping anchor in a quiet cove for a lovely picnic on the water.
Where to Stay When Visiting Douglas Lake
Being so close to the major stops of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Douglas Lake is blessed with many options for visitors to enjoy their time. The cities near and around the lake all offer numerous lodging options, from large chain hotels to mom and pop country inns.
If you are arriving by RV, Douglas Lake, TN camping is easy to come by. The TVA runs the Douglas Dam Campground and the Tailwaters Campgrounds, located in Sevierville. Other private campgrounds for both trailers, RVs, and tent camping are located all around the lake. Many offer spectacular views, quiet swimming beaches, and boat ramps.
The area is also a great place to consider a cabin rental. Cabin rentals can be found in every corner of southeastern Tennessee, but are especially popular in the mountains around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and around the shores of Douglas Lake. Cabin rentals offer visitors to the area the maximum privacy and flexibility in planning their vacations. You can find cabins or chalets in every shape and size, and the perfect one for every family, group, or couple in any budget.
Douglas Lake is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon or a week. You can explore the shores and swim at the beaches. Rental boats are easy to come by and a great way to find your own quiet cove for a relaxing picnic. Birders and nature lovers will love paddling the quiet bays on the north end. The kids will love tubing behind a pontoon boat. Douglas Lake is big enough that you will return again and again and find a new, favorite spot each time!