Tenkiller Ferry Lake Information

Tenkiller Ferry Lake lies in Cherokee and Sequoyah Counties in the Cookson Hills of the Ozark Mountains in eastern Oklahoma. Cookson Hills are the southernmost extension of the Boston Mountains, which are part of the southern extension of the Ozark Mountains. Tenkiller Ferry Lake is commonly called Tenkiller or Tenkiller Lake and known as "Oklahoma's Clear Water Wonderland". Tenkiller covers 12,900 acres with over 130 miles of shoreline, an average depth of 50 feet, and a maximum depth of 132 feet.

The Illinois River feeds Tenkiller Lake. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Tulsa District, owns and manages Tenkiller. The towns of Gore, Muskogee, Sallisaw, and Stillwell, Oklahoma, flank Tenkiller along with a few tiny towns. Ft. Smith, Arkansas, is the closest metroplex at about 40 miles southeast from the middle section of Tenkiller. Tenkiller is deep, and there are dangerous drop offs under water that cause drowning deaths every year. Two Hundred-foot-high cliffs also lure divers to their deaths.

The Tenkiller Wildlife Management Area consists of 2,950 acres on the southwest shoreline of the lake. The Cherokee State Game Refuge comprises approximately 31,360 acres is a few miles northwest of the southern portion of Tenkiller. The Cookson Hills State Game Refuge covers 14,725 acres of uplands wildlife area and is scattered with meadows and low-elevated openings. Oklahoma SH 82 runs along the length of the eastern shore of Tenkiller.

Midway on the east side of the lake, the community of Cookson is the hub of lake area activity, which includes Lake Tenkiller Airpark, the only airport on the lakeshore. This facility is a publicly owned, publicly used airport and is a part of the Oklahoma System of Airports. Scenic bluffs, rolling hills, secluded coves, and dense woodlands characterize Tenkiller’s landscape.

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History of Tenkiller Ferry Lake

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers built Tenkiller Ferry Lake for the purposes of flood control, hydroelectric power generation, water supply, and recreation between 1947 and 1952. Tenkiller went into full operation in 1953. Tenkiller Lake and dam are named for the Tenkiller family, prominent Cherokees, who owned the land and ferry, which the Corp of Engineers bought to build the lake.

Army engineer and explorer, Major Stephen Harriman Long, after an 1820 expedition, characterized the area, including Oklahoma, as a desert. Long wrote that it was “unfit for cultivation and...uninhabitable by a people depending on agriculture.” Long suggested that America’s rivals - Russia, Spain, and Britain - would never try to cross it because of its miserable conditions.

The Cherokee Indians rebuilt their nation after their westward trek from Georgia over the Trail of Tears. Tenkiller Crossing, where the dam is now located, was a major route across the Illinois River in frontier times. In Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the Cherokees published Oklahoma’s first newspaper in both Cherokee and English, and built a tribal government with schools. The historic Cherokee capital, the old tribal prison, the Cherokee Supreme Court Building, and the Cherokee Female Seminary built in 1889 are in Tahlequah. 

Cookson, Indian Territory, got its name from Jack Cookson, who operated the local post office from his home. The Cookson Post Office opened in April 1895. One of the first stores to open in Cookson was the Ballew Brother’s Store, and the Ballew descendants still live in the area today. The Ballews originally settled on the Illinois River under the Cookson Bluffs. Their store supplied locals with food, guns, and tools.

The old town of Cookson lies under Tenkiller. Scuba divers visit the ruins of Cookson and other communities that Tenkiller inundated. Many farmers and cattlemen lost their land. A team of mules pulled he Cookson Store up a hill to its new location. The U.S. Corp of Engineers moved some Illinois River communities and cemeteries. It moved the Pettit Bay School to where it is now at the Pettit Cemetery on the northeastern edge of Tenkiller. Today, tiny communities and many businesses catering to visitors surround Tenkiller Lake.

Fishing Tenkiller Ferry Lake

Predominant game species are largemouth, smallmouth, spotted, striped hybrid, and white bass, bluegill, bream, black and white crappie, blue, channel, and flathead catfish, alligator gar, sauger, saugeye, green and redear sunfish, and walleye. In addition, there are eight miles of trout fishing along the Illinois River. Ten marinas, 14 parks, and 24 boat ramps dot Tenkiller. Children 16 and under may catch their limit of three fish per day with no charge or permit required in the kids' fishing pond at Tenkiller State Park.

If you are new to fishing or looking to brush up your fishing skills, Tenkiller Lake fishing clinics offer fishing education and fun for individuals of all ages, including the little ones who have their very own fishing pond. Pick up some tips from a seasoned instructor,  rent a fishing boat, and test your new skills on the water. If you catch some local trout, bring it back to your camp, cabin, or vacation rental for an old-fashioned fish fry.

Creel Limits

  • Black and White Crappie: 37 combined white or black/ no size limit.
  • Walleye: 6 limit/ 14″ minimum
  • Sauger: 6 limit/ 14″ minimum
  • Saugeye: 6 limit/ 14″ minimum
  • Trout: See ODWC Regulations
  • Channel Catfish: 15 Combined/ Only one Blue over 30″
  • Blue Catfish: 15 Combined/ Only one Blue over 30″
  • Catfish Flathead: 5 limit no size limit
  • Spotted Bass: no limit or size
  • Striped Bass: 5 limit(except for Lake Texoma) No size limit
  • Striped Hybrid Bass: 20 limit/ Only 5 can be over 30″
  • White Bass: No limit/ No Size Limit
  • Largemouth Bass: 6 per day minimum 14″
  • Smallmouth Bass: 6 per day minimum 14″
  • Alligator Gar: 1 a day/ No size limit

Year-round fishing is excellent for black bass, white bass, crappie, catfish, bream, and walleye. White bass give excellent spring fishing opportunities as they head to the upper Illinois River to spawn. Carter's Landing to Horseshoe Bend is the best area to catch the spring run. Crappie fishing is usually best in the spring. Look for small pea gravel type banks and shallow willow trees for crappie.

Largemouth bass move to deeper water during the hot summer months. Night fishing is popular because of the heavy, summer, day traffic on Tenkiller. Smallmouth bass hang out in the upper Illinois River and Baron Fork Creek. White bass school during the summer months. Areas near Cookson, Chicken Creek, and Snake Creek are good choices. Crappie moves to deep water during the summer. Catfishing is excellent in the summer.

In the fall, largemouth bass and crappie head to shallow waters, and crappie swim in submerged brush. White bass opportunities are fair to good along the windy, rocky points. Catfish swim in ten to 20 feet of water.

In the winter, largemouth and white bass head to deeper water, and like deep underwater structures. White bass also seek deeper water. Crappie fishing is good near one of the heated fishing docks dotted around the lake. Tenkiller is heavily trafficked. There are loads of guide services on Tenkiller, and many offer charters 24 hours a day.

Find experienced local guides on our Tenkiller Ferry Lake Fishing Guides page.

Boating Tenkiller Ferry Lake

Tenkiller boasts ten marinas, 14 parks, 24 boat ramps, great beaches, five floating restaurants, and many islands, including Goat Island, which is famous for the goats that live on it. Swimmers need be very aware of dangerous underwater drop-offs, which cause deaths every year.

Cliff diving is popular on Tenkiller, but dangerous. Divers need to be extremely aware of what they are diving into. Cliff diving or cliff jumping is a dangerous sport and divers must take every precaution. Many people have died cliff diving at Tenkiller, even from a low height. Other people have altered the rest of their lives because of injuries from cliff diving. Use common sense.

Tenkiller is one of the best places in Oklahoma for scuba diving. Its waters are clear from eight to 28 feet. Two diving pro shops are located on the lake and offer training, certification, and equipment rental. Tenkiller’s Scuba Park is a diver's dream, with a sunken airplane fuselage, school bus, a helicopter, and two boats to explore underwater. In some areas of the lake, divers can see the remains of old Cookson, homesteads, and artifacts from before Tenkiller impoundment.

Visitors can find excellent lodging and dining at the many resorts, cabins, vacation homes, hotels, motels, resorts, and restaurants around Tenkiller. Paved roadways surround Tenkiller and lead into each recreational access point. Businesses thrive all around Tenkiller and the Illinois River to meet the needs of boaters and vacationers. Numerous boat repair shops and boat, canoe, kayak, and pontoon rental services are available.

Find the best place to put your boat in with our Tenkiller Ferry Boat Ramps Map, keep an eye on the Tenkiller Lake Level and find or sell a boat on our Tenkiller Ferry Lake Boats for Sale page.

Tenkiller Ferry Lake Marinas

Ten marinas call Tenkiller their home. They are highly diverse in amenities, so finding a good fit for your boat will take some research. With so many options, you only need to decide on your priorities for a great slip rental or dry storage and which part of Tenkiller heaven you want to hang out at. tenkillerferrylake.com is here to help you make the perfect decision for your boat’s home in the Ozark Mountain foothills.

Plan your trip to the lake by finding a marina on our Tenkiller Ferry Lake Marinas page.

Tenkiller Ferry Lake Real Estate

Tenkiller Ferry Lake real estate is the fourth largest market for lake homes and lake lots in Oklahoma. Typically, 70 lake homes and 130 lake lots and land are for sale on Tenkiller at any given time. Tenkiller lake homes for sale have an average list price of $208,000, with many homes and lots offered at higher and lower price points.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a one-hour drive northwest, and Ft. Smith, Arkansas, is only 40 miles southeast. There are plenty of restaurants and clubs all over the lake. There are three Dollar General stores within a short drive from Tenkiller’s shores, and two Walmarts in Sallisaw, on the south, and Tahlequah, on the north.

Cave Springs Public Schools and Keys Public Schools are the nearest school districts to Tenkiller. Tenkiller is a busy lake during season, and it supports lively communities just about anywhere around the lake, plus secluded and serene places to live, along with yearly festivals and events. Plenty of nature tops off a grand lifestyle at Tenkiller Ferry Lake.

To find your dream lake home, explore our Tenkiller Ferry Lake Homes for Sale page.

Tenkiller Lake Cabins and Vacation Homes

At Tenkiller State Park, guests can choose from 38 cabins, ranging from one to three-bedroom styles. All the cabins, except for the three-bedroom models, are duplexes. Cabins come equipped for the maximum number of guests with dishes, linens, full kitchens, heat, air conditioning, and satellite television. Some cabins are pet friendly. Tenkiller State Park has 22 one-bedroom cabins, 14 two-bedroom cabins, and two three-bedroom cabins.

In addition, some marinas and parks have cabins for rent, and many private owners rent cabins and vacation homes. Your options are unlimited for amenities and features. You can rent them by the day, week, or month. You can even find midweek discount rental prices. They range in size and styles, with so many features like magnificent views, private docks, decks, fire pits, grills, and homes that sleep over ten people.

Other lodging options at Tenkiller include hotels, motels, resorts, and condo rentals.

Find the perfect vacation home on our Tenkiller Ferry Lake Cabins page.

Camping at Tenkiller Ferry Lake

Visitors can go to the Tenkiller State Park’s Visitor Center for helpful information about everything Tenkiller. Tenkiller State Park is called Oklahoma's “heaven in the hills.” Tenkiller State Park offers RV and tent sites scattered between 10 campgrounds. You must make online reservations for RV and tent campsites. Outdoor facilities include a volleyball court, a basketball court, two playground areas, four group picnic pavilions, and 172 picnic tables. An outdoor swimming pool is available to guests staying at the park for a small fee and includes a water slide and splash pad.

Primitive campgrounds include Bluff View, Cedar Ridge, Eagle Point, Fisherman’s Point, Goose Neck Bend North and South, and Hickory Flats. RV campgrounds with 30-amp electric and water hookups include Blue Jay Knob and Flying Squirrel. The Shady Grove and Fox Squirrel campgrounds both offer full hookups, with 50-amp electric service. Seven comfort stations with restrooms and showers are available in this park, and there are two on-site waste dump stations.

There are over a dozen other parks surrounding Tenkiller including a half-dozen campgrounds and RV parks offering group shelters, picnic areas, nature trails, breathtaking views of 200-foot limestone bluffs rising from Tenkiller’s scenic waters with modern facilities, impressive vistas, convenient access to boating and fishing, and plenty of opportunities to view wildlife.

Check out our list of campgrounds and RV parks for your family adventure on our Tenkiller Ferry Lake Camping page.

Trails at Tenkiller Ferry Lake

Tenkiller State Park features two multi-use trails and one nature trail. The Tenkiller Multi-Use Trail is a handicap accessible paved trail of 1.5 miles and begins at the pool area. This gently winding trail takes visitors past many of the park's attractions, including the kids' fishing pond, swimming pool, playground, cabins, and nature center.

The Nature Center Trail runs 1.5-miles from the Visitor Center to below the cabins and rated strenuous. It has some rocky, steep areas that require climbing. The Gum Springs Trail is for advanced-level hikers only, 2 miles long, and located near the Gooseneck Bend North area.

Its Gum Springs Trail is for advanced-level hikers only and runs between one and two miles. This hiking trail provides beautiful views of bluffs and a small creek. During most of the year, the creek is dry, but the trail can be difficult to navigate during rainstorms.

Overlook Trail at Tenkiller Ferry Lake is an out-and-back 2.21-mile trail that provides an excellent opportunity to view wildlife near Gore, Oklahoma.

Tenkiller Ferry Lake Hunting

A map of public hunting areas is available from the project office of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and it is included in the public hunting atlas published by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. State laws apply on these lands, so hunters need to familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations.

Two Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) within a few miles of Tenkiller have public hunting grounds, and dozens of pockets of U.S. Army Corp of Engineers public hunting grounds sit right on Tenkiller’s shores, and you can find their locations here:


The Cherokee State Game Refuge WMA is divided into a 16,000-acre Public Hunting Area (PHA) and a 15,360-acre Game Management Area (GMA). The PHA is usually open year round for legal hunting seasons, while the GMA is open mainly for controlled hunts. This WMA is located on near the southern end of Tenkiller on the north side.

The Cookson Hills State Game Refuge WMA consists of approximately 14,725 acres in southeastern Cherokee and southwestern Adair Counties with its entrance about six miles east of SH 82 on Blue Top Road. It includes a lengthy deer archery season and offers controlled deer hunts. One designated primitive camping area is available for hunters.

Principal game species at Tenkiller are white-tailed deer, turkey, bobwhite quail, mourning dove, cottontail rabbit, squirrel, and waterfowl. A more detailed list of game species include:

  • Bear: No season. Animals are present but very secretive.
  • Deer: White-tailed deer are present in good numbers but are highly sought after.
  • Turkey: Eastern wild turkeys are present in fair numbers but are highly sought after.
  • Quail: Bobwhite quail are present in very limited numbers.
  • Rabbit: Cottontail rabbits are present in good numbers.
  • Squirrel: Both fox and gray squirrels are abundant.   
  • Furbearers: Coyote, bobcat, gray fox, and raccoon are found in the area.
  • Dove: Very limited opportunity. Not a major game species on the area.
  • Waterfowl: Limited opportunity. Restricted to area ponds.
  • Elk: Present in low numbers. Limited hunting through the controlled hunts program.

Hunters can check out Oklahoma State hunting rules and regulations here:


Hunting seasons can be found here:


Things to Do at Tenkiller Ferry Lake

There are plenty of eating establishments serving various cuisines, beer, wine, and cocktails are scattered around Tenkiller and along the Illinois River. Yearly festivals and events, plus music venues are abundant. Three golf courses, Cherokee Trails Golf Course, Cherokee Springs Golf Club, and Tahlequah City Course are located a few miles north of Tenkiller’s northern tip. Besides fishing, boating, scuba diving, hiking, and camping, check out the following Tenkiller local attractions.

Visit the Cherokee Heritage Center in nearby Tahlequah, where you can tour the Diligwa Living History Village and Outdoor Museum to see reproductions of Cherokee homes and villages dating back to the 1700s, and experience its world-class Trail of Tears Exhibit. The center offers hands-on craft demonstrations and courses for visitors to learn about Cherokee traditions. Find it at Cherokee Heritage Center. 21192 S Keeler Drive, Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Sign the family up for Lake Tenkiller Loon Tours at Tenkiller State Park. Skilled guides take visitors through Tenkiller State Park to view yellow-billed loons, common loons, Pacific loons, and yellow-billed loons. Bring your camera because you also might catch a glimpse of a bald eagle or two, depending on the season. Bring your binoculars because you may see some loons from your campsite, RV, or cabin rental.

Many Oklahoma natives have become music legends, and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and Museum honors every performer who has made and who continues to make the state proud. Take a short road trip from Tenkiller into Muskogee to catch a live music show at the Hall of Fame or take a walking tour of the museum, where you’ll find memorabilia of Oklahoma inductees such as Merle Haggard, Gene Autry, and Vince Gill. It is located at 401 S 3rd Street, Muskogee, Oklahoma.

For an interesting combination of breathtaking scenery and Oklahoma History, visit the Murrell Home, located within close proximity of Tenkiller in Tahlequah at 19479 East Murrell Home Road, Park Hill, Oklahoma. Millionaire George Michael Murrell owned the home where visitors learn about the history of Oklahoma during the Civil War. Built in 1845, the Murrell Home is the only remaining antebellum plantation home in Oklahoma. Tour its finely manicured grounds and attend a hands-on blacksmithing or food preparation presentation, where staff members reenact life in the 1800s.

Plan your trip with our What To Do At Tenkiller Lake page and the Tenkiller Event Calendar.

Tenkiller Ferry Lake Weather & Climate

Tenkiller Ferry Lake sees an average of 49 inches of rain, with six inches of snow, and 223 days of sunshine per year. The winter low in January is 27 degrees with a summer high in July of 91 degrees. May, September, and October are the most comfortable months for this region.

Keep an eye on the skies with our Tenkiller Ferry Lake Weather Forecast page.

Tenkiller Ferry Lake Zip Codes

Cherokee County: 74347, 74359, 74364, 74427, 74434, 74439, 74441, 74444, 74451, 74452, 74457, 74464, 74465, 74471, 74931.

Sequoyah County: 74435, 74901, 74936, 74945, 74946, 74948, 74954, 74955, 74962.

Tenkiller Ferry Lake Flora and Fauna

Other than the goats on Goat Island in Tenkiller, so many varieties of animals, birds, and insects inhabit the Tenkiller region like monarch butterflies, bald eagles, beaver, bears, several species of ducks and geese, white-tailed deer, mourning dove, feral hogs, several species of loons and warblers, minks, mountain lions, otters, bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbits, squirrels, waterfowl, and wild turkeys.

The Tenkiller region features a mixture of upland and riparian habitat. Oak and hickory trees cover the upland portion of Tenkiller. Tenkiller’s riparian portion contains mostly willow, sycamore, hackberry, elm, ash, and birch trees. Bring your cameras and binoculars to get the best shots and views of the diverse wildlife viewing opportunities and amazing scenery.

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Tenkiller Ferry Lake Current Weather Alerts

There are no active watches, warnings or advisories.


Tenkiller Ferry Lake Weather Forecast


Mostly Sunny

Hi: 83

Monday Night

Partly Cloudy

Lo: 63


Partly Sunny

Hi: 84

Tuesday Night

Partly Cloudy

Lo: 64


Mostly Sunny

Hi: 87

Wednesday Night


Lo: 67


Mostly Sunny

Hi: 90

Thursday Night

Mostly Clear

Lo: 68

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