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A long time ago, an Indian chief named Reelfoot fell in love with a beautiful maiden from a neighboring tribe. Her father didn’t approve of the love because Chief Reelfoot had been born with a deformed foot, hence his name since he walked differently than others. So Reelfoot stole his bride and carried her to his home. The Great Spirit became angry at the theft and stomped his foot, causing the great Mississippi River to overflow and cover Reelfoot’s homeland. Buried at the bottom of this new lake was the chief, his bride and his people. Thus goes the legend of Reelfoot Lake. The scientific explanation is that Reelfoot was formed during ...

A long time ago, an Indian chief named Reelfoot fell in love with a beautiful maiden from a neighboring tribe. Her father didn’t approve of the love because Chief Reelfoot had been born with a deformed foot, hence his name since he walked differently than others. So Reelfoot stole his bride and carried her to his home. The Great Spirit became angry at the theft and stomped his foot, causing the great Mississippi River to overflow and cover Reelfoot’s homeland. Buried at the bottom of this new lake was the chief, his bride and his people. Thus goes the legend of Reelfoot Lake. The scientific explanation is that Reelfoot was formed during 1811 and 1812 as a result of the most violent earthquakes recorded in North America. It is said that the peaceful woodlands rolled like ocean waves. As the Mississippi River valley began to shake and violently move about, Reelfoot was created when the forest was flooded, making it a hunting and fishing paradise. Reelfoot Lake State Park covers 25,000 acres – 15,000 of which are water – and is home to abundant and diverse wildlife, plants and trees. Bird watchers have a field day at Reelfoot, as do fishing enthusiasts. Year-round fishing pulls in crappie, bream, bluegill, largemouth bass, yellow bass and catfish. Boaters on Reelfoot use mostly 40 horsepower and higher motors but they go slow because the lake is full of tree stumps. No running at full throttle on Reelfoot. No water skiing or jet skiing either. Reelfoot has two campgrounds with bathhouses and showers.

Naturalists offer three-hour pontoon boat cruises from May through September to point out the lake’s natural beauty and residents. A free nature center also houses interesting exhibits and a cypress boardwalk nature trail. In the winter, Reelfoot is home to about 200 American Bald Eagles and some spectacular waterfowl. Guided bus tours from early January through early March showcase the beautiful birds. To learn more about the old growth cypress forest at Reelfoot, join a park naturalist for guided canoe trips. Three hiking trails let visitors observe the many beauties of Reelfoot.

Jackie Finch
About the Expert

Jackie Sheckler Finch has written several guidebooks, including The Unofficial Guide to Campgrounds in the Great Lakes States, and four times she was named Travel Writer of the Year by Midwest Travel Writers Association.

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Jackie Finch for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    Autumn, when fall foliage is abundant and weather is cooler.