All About the Tallapoosa River Basin

The Tallapoosa River begins in the Piedmont of northwest Georgia and flows southwest through 4 Georgia Counties and 12 Alabama counties until it meets the Coosa River just north of Montgomery to form the Alabama River. That Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa Rivers form what is collectively known as the ACT River Basin.

The mainstem of the Tallapoosa is nearly 260 miles long and the majority (85%) of the river is in Alabama. The Tallapoosa Basin encompasses 4,675 square miles.

Tallapoosa River south of Tallassee; Photo Credit: Rachel McGuire

The Tallapoosa River Basin is largely underlain by granite bedrock. Granite is a crystalline rock that is resistant to erosion. Due to this, the Tallapoosa River and its tributaries are softer (contain less mineral content), clearer, and less biologically-productive than neighboring river basins.



The Tallassee area was originally inhabited by Creek Indians. The town’s name is likely an adaptation of the name “Talisi” from the Creek language. Another important Creek settlement near this portion of the Tallapoosa was Tukabatchee, one of the four mother towns of the Muscogee Creek Confederacy. White settlers had pushed the remaining Creeks out of the area by 1835. An impressive water feature, Tallassee Falls, drove the textile industry beginning in the 1840’s until well into the 20th century. Historically, before the large dams along the Tallapoosa River and Alabama River, Gulf sturgeon once migrated in the spring as far inland as Tallassee Falls.

The Tallassee Falls at high water viewed from the old Tallassee factory; Photo Credit: Alabama Department of Archives & History
Tallassee Manufacturing Company Building circa 1870s; Photo Credit: Alabama Department of Archives & History

The Benjamin Fitzpatrick Bridge atop Tallassee Falls is one of the world’s longest curved bridges, spanning at 1,738 feet and soaring 143 feet above the Tallapoosa near Thurlow Dam in Tallassee. The last of Tallassee’s textile mills closed down in 2005.


Sunset at Lake Martin; Photo Credit: Jessie Curl

When Lake Martin was created in 1926, it was the world’s largest reservoir. Today it counts for 31% of the water storage volume for the entire Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa Basin. Lake Martin is home to many year-long residents as well as seasonal residents from Auburn-Opelika, Dadeville, Alexander City, and Montgomery areas. In 2010, Lake Martin was designated Alabama’s first and only “Alabama Treasured Lake”.

Chimney Rock at Lake Martin; Photo Credit: Rachel McGuire


Tuskegee National Forest is the smallest National Forest in the U.S. at just over 11,000 acres. Tuskegee is located in Macon County in the East Gulf Coastal Plain rolling hills region. Prior to the federal governmental acquisition in 1935 and 1938 as part of the Submarginal Land Program, the land was heavily-eroded cotton farmland. It was officially designated as a National Forest in 1959 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and is home to the Bartram Trail – the first National Recreation Trail in Alabama.


Horseshoe Bend National Military Park; Photo Credit: Allen Patterson, Flickr

Conflict between settlers and Native Americans came to a head in the Creek War of 1813-1814. General Andrew Jackson, accompanied by a group of Tennessee militia, other soldiers, and Indians attacked Chief Menawa and Red Stick warriors in the “horseshoe” bend of the Tallapoosa River. General Jackson’s forces destroyed the Creeks, leaving an estimated 800 dead. As one American observer noted after the battle, “the Tallapoosa might truly be called the river of blood.” Subsequent to the defeat of the Creeks by the U.S. Army, the Indians relinquished nearly 20 million acres in what is now Alabama and Georgia. Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, created in 1959, preserves a 2,040-acre site of the Battle at Horseshoe Bend

Kayaking downstream of Horseshoe Bend; Photo Credit: Mona Dominguez


The Tallapoosa Basin is full of aquatic life!

A suite of freshwater mussels can be found in the Tallapoosa Basin, several of which are rare, and even federally threatened or endangered. Alabama is home to 182 species of freshwater mussels, more than any other state in the U.S. Explore more about Alabama’s mussels on the ADCNR Mussel StoryMap. The federally listed Finelined Pocketbook is a member of the genus Hamiota.

The finelined pocketbook is a medium-sized freshwater mussel that rarely exceeds 4 inches. Individuals an live for up to 100 years. Pocketbooks, like other freshwater mussels, are filter feeders of algae and bacteria that are typically found in habitats with stable gravel or sandy-gravel substrate.

Staring in 2019, biologists from Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have cooperated to survey stretches of the Tallapoosa River for finelined pocketbooks. Learn more by watching the video below.

Additional endangered freshwater mussels inhabit the Tallapoosa Basin including the Ovate clubshell and the Southern clubshell. Both species are small to medium-sized mussels with historical ranges in AL, GA, MS, and TN. Critical habitat has been established within the Tallapoosa Basin for both species (see map below).

Chewacla, Uphapee and parts of Choctafaula creeks are critical habitat for Ovate clubshell and Southern clubshell; Map Credit: Sydney Zinner

Fish species found in the Tallapoosa Basin include the lipstick darter, speckled darter, Tallapoosa darter, stippled studfish, Tallapoosa shiner, largemouth bass, redeye bass, Alabama spotted bass, etc.

Less than 10 years ago, the Redeye bass was split into five species, one of which is the Tallapoosa bass. The beautiful Tallapoosa bass (pictured below) is an Alabama endemic species that prefers rocky habitat with flowing water. They are typically between 5-16 inches long, slender, and known by anglers to be an especially hard-fighting fish.

Tallapoosa Bass; Photo Credit: Drew Morgan


Alabama Power Company operates all the major hydroelectric dams on the Tallapoosa River. R. L. Harris Dam forms R. L. Harris Lake which is also known as Lake Wedowee. It was impounded in 1962 and covers 10,661 acres. Martin Dam forms Lake Martin, one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States, was formed after the completion of Martin Dam in 1926. The water is over 150 deep at Martin Dam. Lake Martin is the largest in Alabama in terms of volume of water. Lake Martin has an especially long retention time for a reservoir of 190 days. Yates Dam forms Yates Lake, which was impounded in 1930 and covers 1,980 acres.


In the Tallapoosa Basin, there are 37 waterbodies listed as impaired on the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) 303(d) List of Impaired Waters. This includes Yates Lake, Lake Martin, Thurlow Lake, and R. L. Harris Lake, totaling 7,817 acres of reservoirs, and 380 miles of rivers and streams.  All of the waterbodies have designation of Fish and Wildlife, seven are also classified for Public Water Supply, and five for Swimming. Seven waterbodies are listed for metals (mercury) impairment via atmospheric deposition. One waterbody is listed for organic enrichment (BOD) via nonpoint source runoff. Eleven waterbodies are listed for pathogen (E.coli) impairment via animal feeding operations, pasture grazing, collection system failure, agriculture, and sources outside the state. Ten waterbodies are listed for siltation from agriculture, surface mining, urban development, and urban runoff/ storm sewers.  Cane Creek near the Alabama-Georgia border is designated as an Outstanding Alabama Water. 

Bodies of water in red are listed on the 2020 ADEM 303(d) List. Map Credit: Sydney Smith Zinner


Map of Alabama Water Watch volunteer monitoring sites in the Tallapoosa Basin. Data can be viewed here:  

Do you have photos or videos on the Tallapoosa River or any of its tributaries you would like to share with AWW? If so, upload your photo/video through this submission form.