Payne Lake Recreation Area offers the outdoor enthusiasts solitude, a scenic lake, and picturesque campsites. Payne Lake Recreation Area has two swimming beaches and bathhouses for users of the recreation area. Each bathhouse has restrooms and showers. Camping is permitted at 76 developed sites along the shoreline of the 110-acre Payne Lake. Each site has a picnic table, cooking or fire circle, and tent or trailer pad.
Payne Lake Recreation Area is open year round and offers boating, nature trails, fishing, picnicking and swimming opportunities for Forest users. A trailer dump station is located in the campground.
It is really beautiful here. The lake was full of lily pads in bloom when we arrived mid-morning. We looked at every single site upon arriving and narrowed it down to a few great ones, but ultimately chose based on the "neighborhood." While there were only 5-6 other occupied sites, the camp host said it was completely full last weekend. Since we had our choice, we splurged $18 for a full hookup RV site just because we liked it best. There are no primitive sites open at this time (the Eastern Side Campground is closed) but about half with just water. There are multiple bath-houses and they're on the clean side of standard. There are also several trash receptacles in the campground, so you don't have to trek to a dumpster. There are lots of trees for hammocks, but I would say that the sites aren't very private if it were to be crowded. The host also let us know we could scavenge any fire pits or pick anything brown off the ground for a fire.
Payne Lake is a pretty popular destination for locals, but it wasn't packed. The lake has a sandy beach and a roped-off swimming area. It's full of lily pads and fed through a marsh so it feels really clean.
There's a nature trail past the campground. It's a trek uphill if you walk, but you can drive/bike to the the trailhead as well. The trail itself is not long, but it's pretty overgrown. A lot of it is planked, some rotten. Y'all. It's kinda creepy, definitely swampy. We turned around about a third of the way around the loop when the trail became hard to find. I would not consider this for a hiking-centered trip.
We got an afternoon rain shower and, afterward the bugs were gnarly. Eaten alive. Be prepared for biting things, for sure, not just mosquitos. Didn't get any ticks. Also, there are supposedly alligators here but we didn't see any. The bird watching here is probably great, I heard lots of less common bird calls. Several people were fishing from boats but no motors are allowed on the water, which is great.
All in all, this was a great site and we'll likely come back for a day trip from Tuscaloosa. It's clean and well pretty well maintained. It's close to home for us but feels very remote. Great for just getting out of town.