For any place you visit, one thing always holds true: Locals know best. So that’s why we asked Lake Martin resident Chad McWhirter for the lowdown on his favorite lake haunts to help you plan a weekend getaway to Alabama’s largest lake.
“The best thing about Lake Martin is that there is something for everyone,” says McWhirter, a realtor with Big Fish Real Estate Group.
Located in Tallapoosa, Elmore, and Coosa counties, Lake Martin is an easy drive from Birmingham and Montgomery making it a popular getaway for those seeking relaxation or adventure on and off the water.
“Lake Martin is not a secret anymore,” McWhirter says. “Life at the lake is booming right now. Growth in the housing market at the lake has led to more lake-based businesses opening—it’s an exciting time to be here.”
McWhirter admits that a weekend will not be long enough to experience all that Lake Martin has to offer, but here’s a guide for what might be many more lake weekends to come! Here’s what he recommends:
Where to Stay
Bolton Cove: Nestled in the Parker Creek area of Lake Martin, you’ll find home rentals at Bolton Cove, a gated community with a common boat dock, swimming pool, and playground. With homes ranging from three to four bedrooms, it’s ideal for families.
Bayou Lodge and Guesthouse:Located in the Blue Creek area near StillWaters, Bayou Lodge is the perfect vacation spot for family reunions, wedding parties, and retreats with eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms in the main house plus a guesthouse with three bedrooms and one bathroom.
Burke Cove: Especially convenient for visitors driving from Montgomery, Burke Cove is ideally situated near Anchor Bay Marina and can accommodate groups as small as two and up to 30 with flexible accommodations in a gorgeous setting right on the lake. All rooms in the “Big Lodge” have private bathrooms. There is also an off-shore cabin that sleeps eight.
Paradise Bed and Breakfast on Lake Martin: With three bedrooms with private bathrooms, you will feel right at home in this quaint bed and breakfast with beautiful lake views, waterfront access and homemade breakfast. You’ll also have access to a paddleboat, two kayaks, and fishing equipment.
Where to Eat
Chuckwalla’s Pizzeria at Chuck’s Marina: Hands down this is the lake’s best pizza joint. Check Chuck’s Facebook page to see when and who will be playing live music on the deck during the weekends in the summer.
Niffer’s Place: It wouldn’t be the lake without an order of Niffer’s famous corn nuggets. The expansive menu features tasty pub food plus lighter options. Dine outside on the patio and deck or indoors.
Lake Martin Creamery:Go ahead and indulge—you’re on vacation! Lake Martin Creamery offers waffle cones, sundaes, floats, shakes, banana splits, and apple pie—oh my!
Nirvana Latte: Rev up for the day with your favorite hot or cold coffee drink at Nirvana Latte. Make sure to grab a ham, egg, and cheese biscuit with your coffee.
(The Social at Lake Martin/Facebook)
The Social at Anchor Bay Marina:The Social is the spot for brunch at Lake Martin—try the Shrimp N Grits with a Bloody Mary. Evenings are also fun with live music and a delicious drink called the Lake Water Cocktail.
Kowaliga:Get ready for classic Southern dishes using fresh, local ingredients at Kowaliga, one of the lake’s most renowned restaurants. Start with the hickory-smoked Conecuh sausage served with pimento cheese and Wickles Pickles—you will thank me!
Spring House at Russell Crossroads: Perched on a hilltop with amazing views, Spring House offers a memorable upscale dining experience with an ever-changing menu highlighting the season’s freshest ingredients. The restaurant imbues a rustic yet sophisticated ambiance with a main dining room, two outdoor patios, and an upstairs bar and dining area. Connected to Spring House with an underground tunnel is the WellHouse, a dining room for private dinners for up to 12.
Catherine’s Market at Russell Crossroads: Discover this gourmet market for the finest ingredients, local produce and great wines. Catherine’s is also home to a European inspired café with favorites such as Roast Beef Panini and Chicken Avocado Caprese Salad.
(Nibbler’s Lake Martin/Facebook)
The Landing at Parker Creek: An open air restaurant—welcome to lake life! Dock your boat and order a Bushwacker from the full service bar while you contemplate what to order for lunch from the gastro-pub inspired menu. The kids will work up an appetite playing in the beach and swim area. Check Facebook for nightly specials such as fresh Gulf Red Snapper.
Nibblers: Food truck? How about food boat? Sidle up to the roaming Nibblers boat for great to-go food such as burgers, tacos, milkshakes, and Hawaiian shaved ice. Check the Facebook page to see where the boat will be on the weekends in the summer.
(As you would expect, life at the lake revolves around boating, and many restaurants feature boat access.)
What to Do (on and off the water)
Lake Martin is a dream come true for water sports enthusiasts with boats, jet skis, kayaks, and canoes crisscrossing the lake all day long. You’ll see any number of boats pulling tubes, skurfers, wake boarders, skiers and more. Here are some stops (on and off the lake) to add to your must-do list.
Goat Island: Aptly named, Goat Island is an island in the lake where the sole residents are goats. They roam the rocky cliffs of the island and entertain visitors with their cuteness. You can find Goat Island just north of Martin Dam.
Go Fish:Book a guided fishing trip on Lake Martin. Hook N Up river and lake guide service specializes in family fishing trips for all ages and skill levels. You can also check out fishing spots across the lake with this handy map from Alabama Power.
Take a Swing: While boating around the lake, keep your eyes peeled toward the shore. There’s a good chance you’ll spy one of the many rope swings that pop up and stay in service as long as the rope doesn’t get stuck on a high branch.
Chimney Rock: One of the most famous landmarks of Lake Martin is Chimney Rock with its spray painted graffiti (its official name is Acapulco Rock though no one calls it that). The brave at heart cliff jump while boats full of onlookers watch and gasp as jumpers plunge into the lake. You can find Chimney Rock between Goat Island and The Ridge neighborhood.
Smith Mountain Fire Tower: Atop Smith Mountain with breathtaking views of the lake, you’ll find an historic fire tower. Built in the 1930s for use by the Alabama Forestry Commission, the tower has been restored and is open to the public to visit.
Church in the Pines: Set aside time on a Sunday morning for a visit to this open-air, nondenominational church. The setting is inspirational and the service features different ministers each Sunday in the summer. Many boaters anchor off the shore of the waterfront church and worship in their boats.
Horseshoe Bend National Military Park (National Park Planner/npplan.com)
Horseshoe Bend National Military Park:History buffs will not be this close to a national military park without planning a visit. Located northeast of the lake on the Tallapoosa River, Horseshoe Bend National Military Park commemorates the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 when General Andrew Jackson defeated the Creek Indians effectively ending the Creek Indian War. The park is situated at the scenic horseshoe bend of the river and features a 2.7-mile nature trail, two picnic spots and a boat ramp where shore fishing is allowed.
Take a Hike: Lace up your hiking shoes and head to the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail for a 4.2 mile moderate-rated loop with amazing lake views that garner it the description of “most scenic trail in Alabama.” For a more challenging hike, head to the James M. Scott Deadening Alpine Trail for a 3.6 mile difficult-rated loop along the cliffs of the Tallapoosa River with views of Lake.
Rent a Boat: The lake is more fun with a boat! If you need to rent a pontoon boat or jet ski, Southern Boat Rental can take care of you. They offer multi-day discounts as well.
Learn a New Skill: When you’re ready to go all in on lake life, sign up for wake boarding lessons at Lake Martin Wake Boarding. The pros offer instruction in wakeboarding, wakeskating, wakesurfing, and boat driving for all skill levels.