Sunk Lake Class II Natural-Scientific State Natural Area

Sunk Lake Cypress

Sunk Lake is a 1,873-acre natural area located in Lauderdale County about 18.5 miles northwest of Covington. It is located in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and included in the Eastern Gulf Coastal Region of the southeastern United States. Sunk Lake supports excellent examples of bald cypress swamp, bottomland hardwood forest, and emergent marsh aquatic habitat. The diversity of wetland and upland communities offer a wide range of habitat for waterfowl and other birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians. Rare plant species at Sunk Lake include American featherfoil (Hottonia inflata), lake cress (Neobeckia aquatica), ovate-leaved arrowhead (Sagittaria platyphylla) and cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia).

The forests at Sunk Lake surround a series of eight shallow depressional lakes within the floodplain of the Mississippi River. The Five Hundred Pound Lake name derives from a local fisherman’s account of having caught 500 pounds of buffalo fish there in one day. The lakes within the preserve were created by the same series of the New Madrid earthquake that created Reelfoot Lake. Floodwaters from the Mississippi River recharge the lakes approximately every five years. Previously deforested areas within the natural areas have been planted with cherrybark oak, nuttall oak, willow oak, and other bottomland species to restore the bottomland hardwood forest, once the dominant ecosystem of the Mississippi Alluvial Floodplain. Forest restoration will help reduce lake siltation, which is a primary threat to their longevity.

Sunk Lake is cooperatively managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Tennessee Natural Areas Program. It is classified by the Fish and Wildlife Service as a Public Use Natural Area and a Wildlife Refuge. Public access rules differ for the northern and southern units. The southern unit is only open to the public from March 16 – November 14 because of its refuge status. A 180-foot boardwalk provides an observation viewing area of one lake. A boat ramp provides lake access for fishing boats and canoes. Gasoline powered boats are prohibited. The northern unit is open year-round.

Site Management

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge, 234 Fort Prudehomme Dr., Henning, TN 38041, phone (731) 738-2296. Division of Natural Areas, Jackson Field Office, 1625 Hollywood Drive, Jackson TN 38305, phone (731) 512-1369. Division of Natural Areas, William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower, 312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue, 2nd Floor, Nashville, TN 37243, phone (615) 532-0431.

Public Access

Open to the Public - Full Access.

The southern unit of Sunk Lake is open to the public from March 16 – November 14. Parking, a boat ramp, and a boardwalk are provided. The northern unit is open year-round. Please refer to refuge brochure for more information.

Parking: Yes
Trail: Yes
Dogs on Leash: No
Hunting: No in the south tract; yes in the north tract
Fishing: Yes
Camping: No


From Covington, take U.S. Hwy. 51 north to Henning. Turn west onto Hwy. 87 and continue for approximately 7 miles to Sunk Lake Road. Turn right on Sunk Lake Rd. at the Three Points Community and travel for 2.4 miles to a gravel road on the right; follow the graveled road to the parking area and boat ramp.

Details & Map

  • Map to Sunk Lake
  • Owned by the State of Tennessee
  • Fort Pillow 7.5-minute quadrangle
  • Mississippi Alluvial Floodplain Physiographic Province
  • Designated in 1986