Lake Tenkiller - An Oklahoma Gem

Oklahoma Outdoor Expert, John Gifford, spills his favorite things about Lake Tenkiller along with information to help you plan your visit to one of Oklahoma's most scenic lakes.

The clear, blue waters of Lake Tenkiller are the perfect backdrop for Tenkiller State Park, where guests enjoy camping, hiking, fishing and water sports of all kinds, including an underwater scuba diving park.
Photo Credit: Keli Clark

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Fans of Lake Tenkiller in eastern Oklahoma love it for many reasons, and I’m going to share my top three with you.

Reason #1 - It’s beautiful. Located in eastern Oklahoma’s Cookson Hills, Lake Tenkiller is one of the state’s most scenic lakes. When you first see its high, rocky bluffs and wooded shoreline, you’ll agree.

Reason #2 - Clear, emerald-tinted water. The clear waters of Lake Tenkiller are perfect for boating, fishing, scuba diving and swimming. The lake attracts so many scuba enthusiasts that Tenkiller State Park added an underwater dive park featuring submerged objects such as a plane fuselage, sunken boats and even a helicopter.

Reason #3 - Creature comforts. Lake Tenkiller has lots of amenities to offer visitors. Two state parks, Tenkiller State Park and Cherokee Landing State Park, are located on the shores of the lake offering camping and outdoor recreation amenities. Along with its two state parks, there are numerous marinas, boat ramps, campgrounds, golf courses and restaurants in this area. So visiting this scenic lake means you won’t have to rough it. The Lake Tenkiller Area section of features photos, videos and information about the lake as well as all of the area's attractions, lodging and dining options and fun festivals and events.

Deciding to visit is easy – the hard part is deciding what to do since there are so many options. Let’s consider a few:

Camping at Lake Tenkiller

With everything from cabins and RV hookups to primitive campsites, Lake Tenkiller is a camper’s paradise. Visitors can choose to stay at one of the lake’s two state parks, Tenkiller State Park and Cherokee Landing State Park, or at one of the area’s many privately owned campgrounds. If you prefer a solid roof overhead, check out Fin & Feather Resort in Gore, which offers rental cabins and houses of all sizes.

Water Sports at Lake Tenkiller

The fishing at Lake Tenkiller is fantastic. This 13,000-acre lake is a haven for largemouth and spotted bass, and in the spring, you can catch white bass as they make their annual spawning run into the lake’s headwaters. MarVal Resort, on the Lower Illinois River below the Tenkiller dam, is the place to catch rainbow trout.

Boating is another option and even if you don’t own a boat, you can still have boating fun at Lake Tenkiller. Several of Lake Tenkiller's marinas rent pontoon and ski boats, and personal watercraft such as Jet Skis. Whether you enjoy sailing or powerboating, remember to observe safe boating practices and make sure everyone on board wears a life jacket.

Swimming beaches are found at both of Lake Tenkiller’s state parks and are popular with summer visitors.

If you prefer to experience the lake from beneath the water’s surface. Lake Tenkiller State Park is home to a dedicated scuba park and Nautical Adventures Scuba in Cookson offers dive air, equipment sales and rental, scuba courses and dive tours. Diving here is particularly enjoyable because of Tenkiller’s clear water.


Along with its excellent fishing, Lake Tenkiller offers visitors world-class bird watching opportunities. Songbirds and waterfowl are lakeside favorites, while bald eagle viewing is a popular wintertime activity at the nearby Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge. Guided eagle and loon tours take place most Saturdays from January through March.

Lake Tenkiller State Park has a terrific nature center, which is the site of numerous activities and exhibits. The nature center often offers programs on bird watching, plant identification, and animal species and habitats.

There are several hiking and nature trails located around the lake, including the Overlook Nature Trail at the Tenkiller dam, and the Buzzard Roost Trail at Cato Creek Landing that comprise the Tenkiller State Park Trail System.

Regardless of the activities you choose, Lake Tenkiller is one of Oklahoma’s most special places. Make a plan to visit soon.

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