Whether you are an out-of-area visitor, or a life-long area resident, you'll probably find the Reelfoot Lake pontoon boat cruise well worth the time.
There are a variety of cruises available, ranging from short, one-hour trips, up to three-hour trips, plus sunset cruises, and other special trips throughout the season.
If you are a first-time visitor, the short one-hour cruise will be the perfect treat, especially if you have children. You depart from the dock at the Ellington Hall Visitor's Center, on Tenn. 21, east of Tiptonville. You'll pass the boardwalk gazebo, and head east along the shoreline of the lake, up to the point where Reelfoot drains out via a spillway. Your trip then returns along the same route.
Guides will occasionally stop the boat to point out lake features, or history. You may encounter ducks, snakes in the water (but usually not on the boat), or other types of wildlife around the lake. The guides will point out the old riverbed that use to flow through Reelfoot before the earthquakes of 1811-12. They'll tell you about fishing here, and allow you to ask questions. It's very informative and entertaining.
For those wanting to see more of the lake, there is the three-hour cruise. It follows the same path as the one-hour up to the spillway. At that point, it veers northward to an upper portion of the lake. This trip features a stop on an island (with a pit latrine). You are advised to bring insect repellant and a small cooler for drinks, if you like. This trip is not for small children. They'll get bored, and it'll seem like a century to them. But for the nature-minded adults, this trip lets you see a portion of the lake that is not as heavily bordered by homes, playgrounds, roads or other man-made objects. You'll see lilypad fields and cypress trees in the lake in similar ways that many of the first visitors saw them two centuries ago.
Now I have never been on the Sunset, Fourth of July, or other special cruises they have. I've always heard good things about them, however.
Reservations are highly recommended in advance. If you don't, you may encounter a group tour which will fill the boat. Even with reservations, cruises are not always guarenteed to operate. Low water levels and weather can play havoc on the runs. Reelfoot cruises usually operate at least on weekends from May thru October, with daily runs in the summer season. Call the visitors center at [--]. Also please note: If you are staying at the Reelfoot Lake State Park Inn, you are about 13 miles, or so, from where these rides originate from. You'll have to drive back to Tiptonville, and then east on Tenn. 21 to arrive at the dock. Do not call the park inn for reservations. They'll just give you the number to the vistior's center.
Normally, the short cruises go out around 1:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. The three-hour cruise leaves at 9 a.m. Sunset cruises depart around 6 p.m. Call the park office for specific schedules. The price for the long cruise and the sunset cruise is $9 adults, and $6 ages 16 and under. The short cruise is $6 for all ages.
I highly recommend one of these cruises to local residents and visitors alike. It'll make your lake experience much more enjoyable.
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