Visitors Guide to
Union City, Tennessee
Reelfoot Lake is located in the northwest corner of
Tennessee and is Tennessee’s largest natural lake. A large depression was
formed in the region during the New Madrid earthquakes during the winter of
1811 and 1812.
What was once woodlands became a partially submerged forest
encompassing 25,000 acres, 15,000
of which is a shallow lake. Legend has it that the
lake was named for a Chickasaw warrior chief born with a deformed foot
causing him to "reel" as he walked. According to the legend, the chief
incurred the wrath of the gods when he kidnapped a Choctaw princess, and
took her as his bride. Reelfoot, his princess, and tribe were eternally
entombed at the bottom of Reelfoot Lake when the gods created the depression
into which the waters of the Mississippi River flowed.
The formation of Reelfoot Lake created a valuable wetland area which became
a haven for many wildlife species and harbors almost every kind of
mid-American shore and wading bird. Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge is
located on the northern portion of Reelfoot Lake and was established in 1941
by the Federal government in cooperation with the State of Tennessee.
Additional land purchases extended the refuge into Kentucky to its present
size of 10,428 acres. Due to the proximity to the Mississippi River the
refuge is a major stopover point and wintering area for waterfowl of the
Reelfoot NWR is divided into two management units, Grassy Island and Long
Point. The primary access to the Grassy Island Unit is the 2 1/2 mile auto
tour located north of the Visitor’s Center. Open year-round the auto tour
gives visitors a unique opportunity to observe a remnant of bottomland
hardwoods from the comfort of a vehicle. The auto tour terminates at a boat
ramp and a boardwalk with an observation deck where visitors can view the
scenic lake. The boardwalk has rails that extend to the up to the observation tower.
Parking is provided along the way for the 1/2 mile Grassy Island Hiking
Trail that is barrier free and open year-round. This hiking trail is
about half way between the information kiosk that marks the border of the
refuge and the parking lot. The bottomland hardwood forest area is closed from
November 15 through March 15. The waters of the refuge are closed from
November 15 through January 31.
The Long Point unit is the refuge's primary waterfowl management area where
farmers plant crops and leave behind a percentage and natural vegetation are
managed to attract waterfowl. Ten miles of gravel roads are open to the
public use from March 16 to November 14. During the winter this area is
closed for use as a waterfowl sanctuary except for a parking area and
observation tower on the main entrance road. The observation tower is great
for waterfowl viewing. The Refuge Visitor’s Center contains numerous natural
and historical exhibits related to the Reelfoot Lake area. Outside the
Visitors Center is the backyard living exhibit that contains a 1/2 mile
walking trail and demonstrates how visitors might attract wildlife to their
own backyards. Information about the refuge and surrounding area can be
found at this facility.
The natural aspects of Reelfoot Lake NWR
change throughout the seasons. Here are some of the highlights:
Reelfoot Lake is one of the major wintering, migrating and production
areas for waterfowl in the southeast. Beginning in October bald eagles begin
to arrive and are plentiful by Thanksgiving. The Grassy Island walking trail
offers excellent viewing of waterfowl, and songbirds. October also is the
month that ducks, primarily mallards, gadwall, American widgeon and ringneck
ducks, begin arriving. By January waterfowl concentrations reach their peak
with up to 400,000 ducks and 150,000 geese making Reelfoot Lake their
temporary home. By February the bald eagle population reaches its peak.
Reelfoot Lake NWR gives free guided eagle and wildlife tours from December through
February. In March the bald eagles begin their northward migration and are
replaced by ospreys who are returning from South America and by large
numbers of shovelers and blue-winged teal arriving on their northward
migration. The lakes resident wood ducks return and begin their nesting
activity. In April Shorebirds and ducks are abundant in the refuge’s moist
soil units and temporary wetlands. May is an excellent time for birders at
Reelfoot Lake. Up to 240 species have been documented. Songbirds are
abundant, especially warblers and Mississippi kites. In June herons, egrets
and cormorants can be observed fishing in shallow water. In September marsh
hawks can be observed near the refuge’s headquarters in September and in
October large numbers of gadwall and American widgeon begin arriving.
and Wildlife Service
checklist for birds
that can be seen in the refuge.
For anglers February is a good month for cold weather crappie fishing.
The Grassy Island Unit opens for fishing on February first. In March the
Long Point Unit and Lake Isom open to sport fishing on the fifteenth. The
spring turkey hunt is conducted on the first weekend in April. In May
bluegill fishing is at its peak. The annual youth fishing rodeo held at
maintenance shop pond in conjunction with National Fishing Week in June. The
Refuge squirrel season opens on the fourth Saturday of August. Fall fishing
for "stripes," crappie, and bass begins in September. The archery deer
season begins on October 1 and the raccoon season begins off during the last
two weeks of the month.
Reelfoot Lake’s wildflowers begin blooming in April. May is the month
for frog listening, especially spring peepers and tree frogs, and for seeing
deer and wild turkey in the early morning and late evening. Deer fawns
become visible in June. June is also the month that emergent and floating
aquatic vegetation begin blooming. In July mosquitoes and deerflies swarm
the bottomland forest.
Visiting Reelfoot National Wildlife
The Visitor Center is open
daily from 8 am - 4 pm except for Federal holidays.
The bottomland hardwood forest area of the Grassy Island
Unit is closed from November 15 through March 15.
The land and water areas of the Long Point Unit are closed from November 15 through
March 15 except for the observation tower.
The waters of the Grassy Island units are are closed
from November 15 through January 31.
There is no charge to visit Reelfoot National
Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge
is located on the northeastern side of
The Refuge Headquarters is
located approximately 15 miles southwest of Union City, Tennessee.
From Union City take AR-22 north approximately 15 miles and turn
right on AR-157. The Refuge Headquarters is located exactly 1 mile
Learn more about the
Union City, and
Reelfoot National Wildlife
The official website of the
Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge.