Formed by the Thomas Wesley Martin Dam that caps off the Tallapoosa River, the 41,000-acre Lake Martin is the largest manmade lake in Alabama. With 880-miles of shoreline spanning three counties (Coosa, Elmore, and Tallapoosa), the lake is one of the most popular destinations in Alabama, offering so much to do and see that you will find yourself coming back time and time again.
Here are eight of the best things to do and see at beautiful Lake Martin.
Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventures
Get ready for some high-flying, heart-pumping excitement as you take to the skies at Screaming Eagle Adventures in Wind Creek State Park.
Eleven zip lines take you up 70 feet into the canopy where you fly through the trees from station to station, then test your balance as you maneuver over one of six bridge walks. Screaming Eagle offers three different packages with the base level one package starting at $39 per person that lets you tackle six skywalks and eight zip lines. You even get your photo taken.
Visit their website for more information on packages and prices.
Pro Tip: Your safety is of the utmost importance to the employees at Screaming Eagle. You must be eight years or older to participate. The minimum weight for children is 60 pounds with a maximum weight for women of 250 pounds, 285 pounds for men. A minimum of two people is required to open a tour.
Wind Creek State Park
Since we’ve already mentioned Wind Creek State Park and the amazing fun you will have on the zip lines, let’s talk about the park itself. Wind Creek is located on the tip of one of Lake Martin’s many fingers of land that jut into the waterway and is arguably the largest state-operated campground in the United States.
The park has 586 improved campsites — of those, 156 are waterfront. The campground loops are beautiful and clean with modern bathhouses. The park also offers seven nice cabins as well.
Besides camping, the park has an archery range, mini-golf, and three fun hiking trails: The moderate to difficult 3.8-mile long Alabama Reunion Trail, the moderate 1.8-mile Campfire Trail, and the unique Wind Creek Orienteering Trail that is designed to teach you orienteering (using a map and compass to navigate). Maps of all of the trails and information on the Orienteering Trail can be found online.
Pro Tip: Campsites are in high demand, especially waterfront sites. Pick out your prime spot, check availability, and make reservations online.
Wellborn Musclecar Museum
The years between 1960 and 1975 were defined by many things including one truly American classic, the muscle car. The place to see one of the country’s finest collections is at the Wellborn Musclecar Museum in Alexander City.
Whether you lived during the golden age of muscle cars or just love their sleek lines, the Wellborn shouldn’t be missed. Inside the restored 1940s car dealership, you will find Ford Mustangs, Aero Cars, and the last Hemi Dodge Charger ever produced. And that’s only the start. In fact, the museum has so many classic cars that they constantly rotate their exhibits so you never know what will be on display from week to week.
The museum is only open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $11 for adults, children ages 7-17 $7.
Pro Tip: A great way to experience the museum is by scheduling a private tour. $50 will allow up to five people to join the tour through this gas-powered history.
Paddle The Tallapoosa River
While not a fast whitewater river, the Tallapoosa River offers paddlers of all stripes some fast shoals courtesy of large granite boulders and ledges and beautiful scenery. Catalpa trees with their long green bean-like fruit hang from their branches, white flowering magnolias bloom in season, and oak trees blaze in bold colors in the fall.
The best section to paddle is a 6-mile trip from the public landing at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park to Jay Bird Landing. If you do not have a canoe or kayak, never fear. Several outfitters can be found nearby including Off the Beaten Path. They not only rent boats but also provide shuttle services if you don’t have your own and guided tours as well.
Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
On the banks of the wide Tallapoosa, a “U” shaped bend in its swift flowing waters, forms a large grassy field. Visitors can walk — or drive – this area and take in the sights and sounds of the quiet and peaceful Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Daviston. On March 27, 1814, however, this same tranquil piece of land, known as “Cholocco Litabixee” or “horse’s flat foot” by the Creek Indians was anything but as it saw a bloody and tragic battle, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, which ended the Creek Indian War and would forever shape the course of history for Native Americans by signaling the beginning of the Trail of Tears.
Today, Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is a protected National Park Service historic park where visitors can either drive the 3-mile loop road or walk the peaceful 2.8-mile easy walking nature trail. Either way, your trip will take you to key sites of the battle, many with covered shelters to protect you from the sun and interpretive signage describing the battle and the village that once stood there.
Admission to the park is free but a donation is requested.
Pro Tip: Horseshoe Bend is rarely crowded. Guided tours are available. Be sure to view the 15-minute film inside the visitor center to learn about the battle before touring the grounds.
The most incredible views of Lake Martin will be when you climb to the top of Smith Mountain. A moderate 0.9-mile loop trail built by the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association (CRATA), leads you over craggy gneiss bluffs and boulders to the summit.
As you near the top of the mountain, a set of stone stairs built by the CCC in the 1930s leads you to the foundation of the old ranger station that once stood there. And at the peak, a steel fire tower juts up into the Alabama sky. The tower was manned by the Alabama Forestry Commission until 1980. In 2011, CRATA along with a team of engineers rebuilt the tower and now you can climb all the way up to the top of the cab for incredible panoramic views.
Pro Tip: The trail is blazed with white paint markings. The top of the mountain is an open rock area and the tower — and you — are the tallest objects around. If you hear thunder, it’s best to head down off the mountain quickly.
A classic Hank Williams song was written on the banks of Lake Martin. It was the story of a wooden Indian, Kowaliga, that fell in love with another wooden Indian, a maiden he saw in an antique store. As the song was being penned by The Drifting Cowboy, across the street, the ground was being broken for a new restaurant. Today, that restaurant is the go-to place for the most delectable southern fried catfish, gulf shrimp, and other seafood delights as well as other Southern comfort dishes. It’s called Kowaliga Restaurant.
The wooden Indian may be long gone and the restaurant may have been rebuilt several times but the one thing it has never lost is its incredible lunch and dinner menu. And sitting far out into the lake on a peninsula, you are always guaranteed a great dinner show with the best views of the lake and sunsets as you dine.
Pro Tip: The restaurant is open 11 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, with a special split schedule Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail
The first trail built along the banks of Lake Martin by the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association is called, aptly enough, the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail.
The trail is a nice, meandering walk through the pine and hardwood forest, bedecked in mountain laurel from spring through summer. The path passes through large rock outcroppings and bluffs.
The highlight of the trek is the walk along the beautiful clear waters of the lake itself where there are plenty of spots for you to sit and reflect with a cool breeze coming in from the water.
The path is made up of several moderately difficult dirt and rock trails ranging in length from one to 7 miles that begins at the trailhead on Overlook Drive in Dadeville. You can’t miss it. It is a huge stone and cement parking area with a large, engraved granite sign proclaiming where you are. The parking area has picnic tables, informational nature signage, and his and her vault toilets.
Pro Tip: There are several emergency exit trails that cut the loop short and lead directly back to the trailhead if you need to bail out of the hike.
Alabama lakes and parks are popular recreation areas for visitors and locals: