Known as “Quake Lake,” this unassuming, 15,000-surface-acre lake has in Tiptonville Tennessee, offers great opportunities for eagle watching. 

Three eagles on branches at Reelfoot Lake in Tiptonville, Tennessee (photo by David Haggard)

Tucked into the far northwest corner of Tennessee lies Reelfoot Lake, an unassuming, 15,000-acre expanse of water with a big history. Earthquakes in the region during 1811 and 1812 were so violent they sank a lowland cypress swamp in the area, causing the Mississippi River to reverse course and fill the basin.

Gnarly cypress trees, some predating the earthquakes, rise around the lake, while others are submerged in the shallows — their vegetation creating a great habitat for crappie and bluegill to flourish. For more than a century, Reelfoot Lake has attracted anglers and waterfowl hunters, but visitors have discovered a whole new reason to explore: It is a prime spot for bald eagles.

Pollution from the insecticide DDT eliminated almost all nesting bald eagles in the Lower 48 states by the 1960s, but a few would spend the winter here. They were such a rarity that Reelfoot Lake State Park initiated eagle tours in 1973. A hacking program (human–assisted hatching and rearing of eagles) began in 1981, and those eagles saw this area as their home. Park rangers estimate there are 40 nests on the lake and approximately 150 nearby, making it a great location for eager birders.

The state park offers eagle tours by van and bus in January and February and organizes an eagle festival the first week of February. Fishing guides become eagle guides in winter to lead visitors through the tour, sharing knowledge about the birds and showing off the best places to spot them.

Lodging choices on the lake are modest. Campers will find two campgrounds at the park that have electricity. For something cozier, cabins at the state park are available, as well as rooms at privately owned locations in the area. Reelfoot Lake State Park: 2595 Highway 21 E., Tiptonville, Tennessee 38079, 731/885-5455,