When the Cherokee Bluffs Dam was finished back in 1926 and the Tallapoosa River began backfilling more than 44,000 acres of land southeast of Birmingham, it created what was then the largest man-made body of water in the world. And while it may no longer be No. 1 in the record books, Lake Martin (and the since-renamed Martin Dam) is among the most spectacular destinations for recreational boating in the Southeast, and an easy trip from the Midwest.
Beyond the natural beauty of the crystal clear lake’s 750-mile shoreline and pristine Alabama pine forest, one of the things that visitors will notice about this area is the relaxed, distinctly Southern charm and welcoming sense of community. Whether you’re enjoying a stroll through quaint Alexander City on the northwest side of the lake, exploring the Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, or making your way south to see the famed Chimney Rock and Acapulco Rock Islands, the lake offers a wide variety of activities that will keep the entire family happy.
Where To Dock
With the lake at near full pool (around 480 feet), there are numerous available launch ramps with ample parking, as well as plenty of wonderful marinas that can accommodate your boat for a night or a week. Some of the top options are Russell Marine in Alexander City (www.russellmarine.net), Bay Pines Marina in Jackson Gap (www.baypinesmarinalakemartin.com) and Harbor Pointe Marina in Dadeville (www.harborpointe.net). Each has a well-stocked store, as well as full service departments for anything you might need during your trip.
Where To Stay
Two of the more popular places to stay while you’re in the area are Alexander City and Dadeville. Both offer a number of lodging options ranging from waterfront camping to beautiful resorts. On the south side of the lake (near the popular rock formations), check out the Creekside Lodge & Conference Center (www.creeksidelodgelakemartin.com, and on the northwest side, you can step back in time at the Mistletoe Manor Bed & Breakfast (www.mistletoebough.com). Wind Creek State Park (www.alapark.com/windcreek/) is the biggest camping option, with more than 500 sites available for rent. There are also some great house rental options for bigger groups (www.lakemartin.com/Rentals/), and many have private docks.
Where To Eat
As you might expect, the local cuisine is decidedly Southern, with plenty of fantastic barbecue to be found. Try the pulled pork or ribs at Big B Bar-B-Que or 280 BBQ Pit Stop, or the delicious country cooking at Jake’s Restaurant, Red Hill Cottage and Oskar’s Cafe (www.oskarscafe.com).
Great waterfront options include The Harbor Restaurant & Bar (www.harbordocksrestaurant.com) and Niffer’s Place (www.niffersplace.com). Diners looking for a truly unique experience will enjoy SpringHouse (www.springhouseatcrossroads.com) and the classic Carlisle Drug Soda Fountain.
What To See
In addition to the previously mentioned points of interest, Lake Martin is convenient to the state capital of Montgomery to the southwest, Auburn University to the southeast and the expansive Talladega National Forest and Talladega Speedway to the north.
Annual events include the Alexander City Jazz Festival, a concert series at the Lake Martin Amphitheater (a.k.a. the Amp) and a Creek War Commemoration at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park the last weekend of March. The new Wellborn MuscleCar Museum has also been a popular attraction, featuring a large collection of classic American automobiles from the 1960s and 1970s.
Guide To Fishing
Like many large reservoir lakes in the Southeast, there are numerous sport-fishing opportunities on Lake Martin, and the favorite targets are the hard-fighting bass (largemouth, spotted and striped are the prized species), along with crappie and catfish.
While the incredibly clear water and rocky bluffs can make it challenging for anglers, the payoff is exciting action when you find a hotspot. Fishing guide services are plentiful, and can give you a solid head start if you spend some time with them early on your trip. There’s even a full schedule of professional and amateur fishing tournaments on the lake throughout the year.
Guide To Hiking
There are miles and miles of great hiking trails along both the south and north shores of Lake Martin for all skill and fitness levels. Popular options include the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail and the trailhead at Wind Creek State Park, which include waterfront trails and overlooks.
With so much to do, Lake Martin isn’t just an amazing boating destination, it’s a beautiful spot for an active family vacation. The sparkling blue water is just the centerpiece of one of the best-kept secrets in the Southeast. See www.lakemartin.com for more travel information.