When the temperatures rise and the Alabama summer begins to heat up, there’s only one place to go—and that’s to the water. While many flock to the Gulf for sun, sand, and surf, there’s another option that’s a bit closer to home for Alabama residents who don’t have the luxury of living close to the coast. With more than 30 lakes scattered across the state, lake living is a huge draw for folks looking to beat the Alabama heat with a dip in cool waters. 

Most Alabamians have a favorite lake to escape to for long weekends and day trips, and one of the most popular is Smith Lake in North Alabama near Cullman. With more than 500 miles of lush tree-lined coastline, the 21,000-acre Smith Lake is one of the state’s most expansive reservoirs for swimming, boating, and general recreation. And with water temperatures averaging around 80 degrees, the conditions are just right for jumping in! If you’re planning to take a trip to Smith Lake this summer, here’s how to make the most of your visit. 

Find the Perfect Stay 

(Smith Lake Bed and Breakfast/Facebook)

There are a number of great lake house rentals, from large homes that fit multigenerational families to tiny cottages for just a couple, all located directly on the water. You can wake up with the sun rising over the sparkling lake, then watch the same big ball of red lower over the horizon while you toast to another great day on the lake with

a glass of wine. If you’d rather have someone else manage your stay, book a room at the Smith Lake Bed & Breakfast in Crane Hill. The lakefront property features two luxury suites, as well as tricked-out Airstream trailers for those who are interested in trying out glamping. All guests have access to fishing gear, floats, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards. 

Get on the Water

(Cappy’s Boats/Facebook)

There’s nothing like feeling the wind in your hair while cruising along the placid lake via pontoon boat, speed boat, or jet ski. Smith Lake features 10 different marinas, as well as public boat launches around every turn, so there are plenty of places to drop in. If you need a vessel, try Cappy’s Boats in nearby Cullman, where you can rent pontoon boats—plus all the gear you need to keep your passengers safe—in full and half-day increments. 

While you’re out, make a stop at Indian Head Rock, a locally famous hotspot for those looking for an adrenaline rush. The natural rock outcropping is easy to climb and offers several ledges that are the perfect platform for jumping into the deep blue water below. 

With acres and acres of open water for exploring, you’re sure to see your fair share of water skiers, wakeboarders, and tubers. For those who prefer the thrill of the catch, Smith Lake is also a great place for fishing. More than 70 different species of fish, including all types of bass, as well as sunfish, crappie, and catfish, call the lake home, and there are plenty of fishing piers to fish from if you prefer to stay near shore. Experienced anglers can book a trip with Fishing 24-7 Guide Service to catch trophy-sized striped bass. 

Visit Smith Lake Park 

(Smith Lake Park/Facebook)

A hub for activity year-round, Smith Lake Park is the spot for special events, fishing and sporting tournaments, and more. The 50-year-old park has a little of something for everyone, from a sandy beach on the shores of Smith Lake to paddleboard and canoe rentals and a giant fishing pier. For family-friendly fun, check out the park’s giant swimming pool and putt putt course. In addition to being a hotspot for day visitors, Smith Lake Park also offers several RV hookups, tent campsites, and nine cabins for rent. Explore part of the park’s 150-acre expanse through a 3.5-mile walking and biking trail that winds through the park. 

Grab a Bite to Eat

(The Grille at Trident Marina/Facebook)

If you’re looking for some lakeside grub, look no further than locally owned and operated Brothers on Smith Lake. The bar and restaurant specializes in anything that sounds good to a ravenous Alabamian after a long day on the water. Fried shrimp, a giant juicy burger, fish tacos? They’ve got it all. The restaurant also features a full bar that regularly whips out waterfront favorites like bushwackers, strawberry daiquiris, and margaritas. Another great option is The Grille at Trident Marina, where you can soak up gorgeous views of the water while you dine on house-smoked wings, fried catfish, or a light and fresh Summer Sunset salad. And there’s no better way to end a day on the lake than with the aptly-named Day on the Lake cocktail (vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, and cranberry mix).