TN--Reelfoot Lake SP, Reelfoot NWR, Black Bayou Refuge, Lake Isom NWR

Discussion in 'Tennessee' started by Travelhoveler, Jan 23, 2012.

  1. Travelhoveler

    Travelhoveler New Member

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    So it was Friday night and we'd planned to head south to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge for a weekend of birdwatching. Trouble is, it's raining pretty hard, and the forecast was for rain all weekend to the south. So we check forecasts and see it will quit raining to the west that morning, and would be warming up and clearing. We decide to go to bed for a few hours, wake up early (2:30 AM), and take off to West Tennessee for an overnighter at Reelfoot Lake in northwestern Tennessee. We love driving in the wee hours of the morning listening to podcasts. The rain let up about the time we crossed the Tennessee River but temps were dropping steadily. We arrived at Reelfoot Lake about 8 in the morning.

    If you don't know Reelfoot Lake, it's Tennessee's largest lake and it was formed just one century ago by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12. The "big shock" was so strong that land sunk, the Mississippi River flowed backwards for a while, and the Reelfoot Basin filled with water. It's a series of lakes (called basins) connected by bayous and ditches, and surrounded by enormous swamps. It's managed by three state and federal agencies and is a major attraction, for crappie fishing (in the spring) and duck hunting (this time of year). It's also hauntingly gorgeous. If you've seen the movies Raintree County or In the Heat of the Night, you've seen it it in film.

    Our Saturday at Reelfoot was cold and breezy, with the temps never rising out of the 30s. It was also overcast all day. Not the conditions most people want for camping, but ideal for watching waterfowl. And we saw waterfowl in numbers we'd rarely seen before. At dusk in the Black Bayou Wildlife Refuge (state) bordering the lakes southwest shore, the sky was literally blackened at times with massive flights of ducks several miles long. We saw a few eagles, herons, and lots of winter songbirds as well.

    Reelfoot Lake State Park has a number of units along the shoreline. There is an excellent visitor center on the south shore with a museum, raptors and other wildlife, and they offer daily tours. There are picnic areas and boat launch areas. The main campground is on the south shore but it's closed in winter; we stayed at the smaller "Airpark" campground on the west shore.

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    Much of the north and northeast shore is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge. They have an auto tour system, hiking trails, observation towers, and their own excellent visitor center. This is the best area to experience the "wild" side of Reelfoot. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency operates the Reelfoot Wildlife Management Area and the Black Bayou Refuge, public hunting lands mostly on the west and southwest shore. The highest waterfowl concentrations this weekend were in the TWRA areas. Hunters were giving the duck a real pounding this weekend but there were still half a million around.

    Here are a few pics of the area. My good camera needs some work so these are just from a point-and-shoot...

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    Our campground was the "Airpark" campground on the northwest shore, adjacent to the small Reelfoot Lake Airport (which didn't have a flight all weekend). It has 18 sites in two loops, picnic tables, fire rings, and water and electric at each site. $20 a night. We were the only campers that weekend.

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    When we woke up Sunday it was warmer (low 40s) and foggy. The forecasted "mostly sunny" was never realized; in fact, the weather was now calling for big storms to set in that evening. We packed up and drove a few miles south to check out the Lake Isom National Wildlife Refuge; here we saw carpets of snow geese and thousands of Canadian geese.

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    Typical for us, we dallied around on our way home on back roads and got back to Nashville just as the first series of storms were setting in. But it was a great trip overall and we look forward to heading back to Reelfoot, next time with the kayaks. We are truly blessed in our state to have such varied ecosystems ranging from the Mississippi Delta to the Canadian arboreal habitat in the mountains, but Reelfoot is a true anomoly.
     
  2. papachaz

    papachaz New Member

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    wow these two places look awesome! definitely adding them to the 'i wanna go' list....LOL

    thanks for the pics and the wonderful write up!
     
  3. kentuckyrascal

    kentuckyrascal Member

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    What a sight to see well worth the dodging of the storms.
     
  4. presyoung

    presyoung New Member

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    I've never stayed at the airpark but it is very quiet even during peak camping season. I rode through mid June Friday afternoon and there were only two campers there. The main campground was 75% full.
     
  5. mcmhayes

    mcmhayes New Member

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    I camped there as a child (in a pop up!) and loved it. I went back as an adult and went at the WRONG time of year. The bugs were so thick when it became twilight and was something out of a horror movie. We ended up leaving that night. Call and find out about the bugs before you go! It is a beautiful park with awesome camp sites!
     
  6. presyoung

    presyoung New Member

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    I stayed there with my parents and grand parents when I was kid. Worked there a few times and really like it. Bugs can be bad in the summer. We play softball tournaments there and stay at the main cg when we go. It's also a great base when spending a weekend at the Discovery Park in Union City.
     

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