Not long ago, I posted a photo of Watauga Lake taken from the overlook near the dam (see here). Today's photo was taken while standing on Watauga Dam itself. It's actually quite remote when compared to other easily accessible TVA dams in our area such as Wilbur, South Holston, Boone, Patrick Henry and Douglas. There are three ways to get to Watauga Dam. The first, and most direct, is to walk the gated access road (Lookout Road) which leads directly to the dam (click here for map). It's a steep climb and descent, and not very imaginative, but it definitely will get you there quickly (0.6 miles). The second route is to take the Appalachian Trail from Watauga Dam Road. This route is thoroughly described in Doris Gove's book, Hikes in the Southern Appalachians, excerpt here. This short portion of the AT is beautiful, especially this time of year when great views can be had of the lake through the trees as you walk the ridge (See panoramic photo below). Eventually, after 0.8 miles the AT meets up with Lookout Road (from Option 1) and you'll turn right following that down to the dam for 0.4 miles. The third option, and the longest at approx. three miles, would have you come in from the other side, picking up the AT from the Hampton, TN side of the lake at Shook Branch Recreation Area (trail described here). I think this is the most scenic option, especially since significant portions of the AT along this stretch has been relocated to better follow the contours of the lake.
If coming in from the Elizabethton side... my advice is to park in the small parking area where the AT crosses Watauga Dam Road, and take the AT to the dam, and then take the access road (Lookout Road) back to Watauga Dam Road and then walk the short distance (1/4 mile) back to the AT parking area to the left.
In the photo above you can see the Watauga Overlook just left of center, as well as just how low the water level is right now. On the far side of the lake, you can see snow in the shaded areas on the shore. To the right of center is the water intake tower for the dam. Click photo to enlarge.