25 Best North Carolina Lakes
The eastern state of North Carolina is full of lakes and reservoirs that offer wonderful opportunities to fisherman of all kinds and ages. Here you can find The Carolina Bays, a natural phenomenon whose origination no one can actually explain and a site that is certainly worth exploring. You can find designated camping along the shore of most lakes in the state and all offer views beyond compare. The Appalachian mountains do their part to help add variety to water temperatures and wildlife alike. North Carolina has a variety of options for families or singles to enjoy the refreshing water scattered throughout the state. Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/Fotolia
Bass Lake has a lovely paved trail that loops its 1.7 mile circumference and is shaded by lots of full trees. Convenient benches are located along the trail for visitors to relax and take in all the views and plentiful wildlife. The lake is nestled in the 3,500-acre Moses H. Cone Memorial Park and is surrounded by many trails for both hikers and horseback riders alike. The lake also boasts multiple picnic areas and nicely maintained restrooms. There is ample free parking for visitors as well. You can also visit Flat Top Manor, which sits to the North of the lake and was built in 1901.
Contact: Bass Lake Loop Drive, Blowing Rock, NC 28605
Photo: Jill Lang/Fotolia
»Bay Tree Lakes
Also referred to as a part the Carolina Bays, Bay Tree Lakes are rumored to have been created from either a meteor shower or iceberg in the distant past. Both Bay Tree Lakes and the connected Horsepen Lake are natural wonders shaped like almost perfect ovals. Bay Tree Lakes, which sit inside a private gated community of the same name, offers welcoming white sandy shores for property owners. Many narrow, man-made canals allow all residents direct water access. Located in Elizabeth, the Carolina Bays span over 1,400 acres and are perfect for various water sports such as tubing and skiing, canoeing and kayaking, or even fishing.
Contact: 33 Bay Ridge Road, Harrells, NC 28444, Phone: 877-863-8635
Photo: Wollwerth Imagery/Fotolia
Beaver Lake is a smaller, 65-acre man-made reservoir located in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. Although the lake is private and maintained by the community around it, public access is available for a fee. Canoes, kayaks, and paddle boats are available for rent, and fishing is catch and release only. The lake also boasts a 10-acre wetland on the east side that houses a bird sanctuary popular with local and visiting bird watchers. Songbirds of all types, butterflies, hawks, and waterfowl can all be spotted here. The Asheville Yacht Club can often be seen sailing their remote-controlled sail boats in a specially designated area.
Contact: Asheville, NC 28804
»Cedar Cliff Lake
Cedar Cliff Lake is full of largemouth bass that migrate their way from the Tuckasegee River. The Cedar Creek Lake is great for both fishing and swimming. The narrow surface of the lake makes navigation easy for those who enjoy canoeing, kayaking, and boating. Near the west fork of the river, whitewater rafting is also possible for thrillseekers and offers class II-III rapids that are ideal for beginners. Cedar Cliff Lake also offers off-water activities close by, including golf and even cross country skiing during the winter season. Surrounded by the 7,500-acre Gorges State Park, the lake’s shoreline extends a full 4.5 miles and is noted as being quite picturesque.
Contact: Jackson County, NC
Cliffside Lake has a recreation area that includes picnic shelters available by reservation for get togethers and parties. The lake’s swimming area includes a beach with a swimming dock and connects to the Van Hook Glade campgrounds via a kid-friendly walking trail. There is a daily parking fee for either of the two lots that also include restrooms, showers, and changing rooms. Boats are not allowed on the lake, which restricts fishing to the shore, but it is stocked with rainbow, brook, and brown trout varieties. Hikers are rewarded with two different waterfalls in the dense forest surrounding the lake. Those looking to stay longer than the day can also find cabins for rent close by.
Contact: US 64, Nantahala National Forest, Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-862-5962
Falls Lake, built by the army corp of engineers, is around 10 miles from both Raleigh and Durham. The lake is big for boaters and offers many locations to launch from. Falls Lake also has ample coves for exploration. The lake also has five different designated swimming areas for those looking to enjoy a dip. The Falls Lake State Recreation Area includes seven different park locations offering activities for any family. You can visit Highway 50, B.W. Wells, Beaverdam, Sandling Beach, Rolling View, Shinleaf, or Holly Point. If you would like to learn something new, park rangers organize regular programs to give visitors a better view into the local world of nature.
»Finger Lakes Of The South
Finger Lakes of the South is actually three separate lakes named Cheoah Lake, Calderwood Lake, and Chilhowie Lake. Though the shorelines are undeveloped, they do offer a few campsites that are only accessible from the water. These lakes share a border along the edge of North Carolina and Tennessee. Bed and Breakfasts abound in the hills surrounding Cheoah Lake. Chilhowie is the easiest of the three lakes to access, making it the most popular with tourists, even though Calderwood offers gorgeous waterfalls to hikers. Cheoah Dam was made famous by the popular film “The Fugitive,” when Harrison Ford’s character supposedly jumped from the top while on the run.
Fontana Lake was formed in the 1940s during World World II for the purpose of supplying electricity to locals who were hard at work supplying the war. Fontana Lake boasts the tallest dam in the eastern United States. Visitors can take a walk or drive across the 480 foot Fontana Dam that also made an appearance in the movie “A Walk in the Woods.” The area has over 39 miles of trails including some that are part of the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. Rent one of the many available vacation houseboats to reach otherwise remote areas of the Smoky Mountains.
Photo: Jill Lang/Fotolia
Greenfield Lake only covers about 100 acres, but it is an important part of what makes the city of Wilmington so special. The almost 200-year-old Greenfield Lake lends itself to various attractions, including the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Because the waters are full of alligators swimming is regretfully off limits, but boating and fishing are still popular activities. The lake is not very deep, reaching depths of only seven feet at its deepest points and about one foot in the shallowest points. The plant and wildlife are prime for viewing, especially from canoes, kayaks, and paddle boats, which are all available for rent.
Contact: 421 South Burnett Boulevard, Wilmington, NC 28402, Phone: 910-341-7852
Harris Lake was built by Carolina Power and Light for the primary purpose of cooling the Progress Energy’s Shearon Harris nuclear power plant. 680 acres of the lake are leased by Progress Energy to Harris Lake Park, which is open 8 a.m. to sunset seven days a week. The park offers campsites, a pier for fishing, a playground, and a small launch site for kayaks and canoes. The lake is a popular fishing destination thanks in part to its warmer waters and the fact that it contains more than the average amount of speckled trout and largemouth bass. Hiking and biking trails in the area are also said to be very well maintained.
Contact: 2112 County Park Drive, New Hill, NC 27562, Phone: 919-387-4342
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Jordan lake was named for Senator B. Everett Jordan who proposed the project to Congress. It was originally named the New Hope Lake. The land around the Jordan Lake is home to a large population of bald eagles during the summer months. Boating, whether you own or rent for the day, is a great way to see the lake’s true beauty. Full of a large variety of fish, the lake is great for fisherman both seasoned and novice alike. The lake’s 200 miles of shore are protected by public ownership and offers eight individual recreation areas. Visitors have their choice of eight areas that are managed by the Jordan State Recreation Area: New Hope Overlook, Ebenezer Church, Crosswinds Boat Ramp and Campground, Seaforth, Robeson Creek, Vista Point, Poplar Point, and Parkers Creek.
Contact: 280 State Park Road, Apex, NC 27523, Phone: 919-362-0586
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Stretching out from Hayesville, North Carolina to Hiawassee, Georgia, Lake Chatuge is nicknamed the Jewel of the Mountains. There are at least two stables close by where visitors can enjoy a guided horseback ride. Other activities in the area include a vineyard, the Fred Hamilton Gardens, and the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. The lake boasts 32 different species of fish, making it popular for tournament fishing. Completed in 1942, it was at that time the highest earthen dam and rose 144 feet. Hidden coves along a winding shore also make Lake Chatuge a great place to explore by boat. Alternatively, visitors can rent jet skis at one of the commercial marinas.
Contact: 1056 Chatuge Dam Road, Hayesville, NC 28904, Phone: 800-882-5263
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Lake Glenville, also known as Thorpe Reservoir, sits at an elevation of 3,492 feet, making it the highest lake east of the Mississippi. Homes, schools, and businesses all had to be relocated from the valley before it could be flooded. Lake Glenville is ideal for all watersports, including the most popular forms of boating, swimming, skiing, and sailing. The lake is known for its clean waters and sandy beaches. The lake also offers many real estate opportunities for those looking to relocate. In the town of Glenville campers can find Ralph J. Andrews Park Campgrounds with 47 sites and hot showers.
Contact: 425 White Squirrel Trail, Glenville, NC 28736, Phone: 404-409-9688
Photo: Jill Lang/Fotolia
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Labeled as a hidden gem, Lake Hiwassee’s shoreline is managed by the National Forest Service. Lake Hiwassee, with over 160 miles of forested shoreline, is open to water sports, with a few marinas and ramps. Anglers can expect a variety of bass on Lake Hiwassee, as well as walleye, bluegill, and yellow perch. Visitors on the lake can enjoy any of the typical water sports. There is also a Visitor’s Overlook located at the Hiwassee Dam Reservation. For a history lesson you can visit the nearby Cherokee County Historical Museum to see Native American artifacts. Stay at your choice of bed and breakfast. They are typically full of antiques and many are on the National Register of Historic Places. Rustic lakeside cabins are also available.
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Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake James was created by the construction of three dams. The lake has a very nice beach that opened in 2010 with showers and changing rooms in the restrooms. Open from May through early September, a concession stand in the Bathhouse offers snacks for sale. The protected swim area runs 700 feet along the shore of the lake with lifeguards on duty most days through the swim season. Stay at one of the drive up campsites, rent a paddleboard, or just relax on the sandy mountain beach for a fantastic day at the lake. Boating is a top activity for lake-goers since there is no limit on speed or power.
Contact: 2785 NC Hwy 126, Nebo, NC 28761, Phone: 828-584-7728
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The 7,500-acre lake runs along the border of the Devils Fork State Park where modern new facilities await. Devils Fork State Park is 622 acres and one of the country’s newest. Along the Appalachian hiking trails surrounding Lake Jocassee you can find rare flora, including the Oconee Bell. While walking one of the many trails also make sure to keep your eyes open for the nation’s beloved bald eagles. Noted as a great place to take a break from the city, the lake is also popular with fisherman and boaters. With four large waterfalls and many other smaller ones, the quiet Lake Jocassee is certainly worth exploring.
Contact: 694 Jocassee Lake Road, Salem, SC 29676, Phone: 864-719-9494
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Visible from Chimney Rock Park, Lake Lure’s 720 acres are full of natural beauty. Anglers are happy with the varieties of fish available on the lake. Lake Lure also offers visitors many attractions, including a swimming beach and waterpark, flowering bridge, and even a toy train museum close by. Many local restaurants offer a wide selections of cuisine. The lake was featured in scenes of the popular 80s film “Dirty Dancing” because of its clear waters and rural beauty. Located in the Thermal Belt, the lake enjoys full sunlight from the skies above. If you can pull yourself away from all the activity on the water, venture to Chimney Rock for breathtaking views.
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Right in the middle of North Carolina’s Coastal tourism is Lake Mattamuskeet, the state’s largest natural lake. Depths of the lake average only two to three feet and and encouraged its name, which comes from a Native American word that means “near mosh or bog.” Lake Mattamuskeet is a beautiful location for bird watching or walking along the gravel roads and boardwalk. The educational visitor center is a good resource for information on the wildlife and lake itself. As these are wetlands, it can be tricky to navigate via boat, however it is possible. Along with bass and trout, anglers can find blue crabs as well from March through October.
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Lake Tillery hosts several fishing tournaments annually, and shoreline fishing is made convenient by a pier at the Morrow Mountain State Park. The surrounding areas are historical treasures and include a public archeological site, Town Creek Indian Mound. There is a lot to see and learn about the people native to the area. At the Reed Gold Mine, adults and children can pan for gold. Good hiking can be found in the Uwharrie National Forest along the northern border of the lake. The forest features 4,742 acres that include four low rounded mountains. Hikers can brave trails that lead to mudding trails for off-road vehicles as well.
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Lake Waccamaw is part of the Carolina Bays and covers over 9,000 acres with 14 miles of shore. Unique wildlife is something to look for, and you can get a list from inside the park office. Another list to request would be for the flora in the area as many are featured on the state’s rare plant list. Traditional lake activities of hiking, boating, and picnicking are also enjoyed by visitors. Potential visitors can look for events scheduled by the park rangers to learn more about the lake and state park. Alternatively, check out the visitor center for educational displays and interactive exhibits.
Contact: 1866 State Park Drive, Lake Waccamaw, NC 28450, Phone: 910-646-1843
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»Lookout Shoals Lake
With many coves and inlets, Lookout Shoals Lake is a popular choice for residents of the Piedmont region and those who work in surrounding cities. Large lots allow homes to be built away from the water’s shoreline, and some developments have their own docks. The Lookout Shoals Lake has 1,300 acres that provide plenty of room for a variety of water sports, including wakeboarding and sailing. Several museums in nearby towns offer a look into the area’s rich history. Hiddenite is a unique town with an arts and heritage center well worth a tour. Those looking to cast a line can look forward to finding catfish, crappie, black bass, largemouth bass, and striped bass.
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»Oak Hollow Lake
Oak Hollow Lake features a 1,500-acre public park that is perfect for anyone who enjoys tennis or golfing. With indoor and outdoor courts, tennis can be enjoyed year round without regard to the weather. The park also offers a scenic overlook and marina plus over 100 campsites for the family getaway. Clean and clear waters also make this a great place to swim and water ski. Join the public Oak Hollow Yacht Club on the third weekend of each month for sailing of all kinds. At the Oak Hollow Marina beginners can take sailing classes and rent boats.
Contact: Oak Hollow Lake, High Point, NC 27265
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The Tuckertown Reservoir, or Tuckertown Lake, is 2,500 acres with a 75-mile shoreline that spans across four counties. Conservation is held in high importance here, with only 2% of the shore being developed and another 65% in conservation or wetlands preservation. A railroad runs along most of the eastern edge and helps in preventing future development. Tuckertown Reservoir is a perfect place to scout out flathead catfish. Largemouth bass are also plentiful here, making it loved by many fisherman. Only on the busiest of weekends would you see jet skis or speed boats out and about on the Tuckertown Lake so it’s usually a fairly quiet place to get away.
Photo: Sannikov Dmitriy/Fotolia
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White Lake is another of the Carolina Bays and has lovely white sandy beaches for its swimmers to enjoy. Watersports are abundant here on the 1,065-acre lake. Access to the water can be gained through campgrounds, by the pay to launch marina, or a lakefront resort. White Lake is unique for being a stand alone body of water whose source is an underground aquifer. Often overlooked by fisherman, it’s actually a great place to start out children who are interested in learning. The ability to see fish nibble at their bait makes it both easy and entertaining for young ones.
Photo: Guy Sagi/Fotolia
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Wildcat Lake is in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the southeast. In recent years a swimming beach with lifeguards during the summer and a fishing pier were added for convenience. Wildcat Lake has been likened by many to an old fashioned swimming hole. With boating being limited to non-motorized vessels the lake remains quite peaceful. Hiking, horseback riding, and seasonal downhill skiing make Wildcat Lake a well-rounded location for sports enthusiasts. Nearby Tufts Park hosts a seasonal concert series and weekly Farmers Markets. Picnic facilities also make it a nice place to spend the day whether you are passing through or live close by.
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25 Best North Carolina Lakes
- Bass Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Jill Lang - Fotolia.com
- Bay Tree Lakes, Photo: Courtesy of Wollwerth Imagery - Fotolia.com
- Beaver Lake, Photo: Courtesy of makedonskii - Fotolia.com
- Cedar Cliff Lake, Photo: Courtesy of ungvar - Fotolia.com
- Cliffside Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Voyagerix - Fotolia.com
- Falls Lake, Photo: Courtesy of rcw1104 - Fotolia.com
- Finger Lakes Of The South, Photo: Courtesy of Roadfun - Fotolia.com
- Fontana Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Jill Lang - Fotolia.com
- Greenfield Lake, Photo: Courtesy of alexbuess - Fotolia.com
- Harris Lake, Photo: Courtesy of schankz - Fotolia.com
- Jordan Lake, Photo: Courtesy of meihe - Fotolia.com
- Lake Chatuge, Photo: Courtesy of Joan - Fotolia.com
- Lake Glenville, Photo: Courtesy of Jill Lang - Fotolia.com
- Lake Hiwassee, Photo: Courtesy of claire - Fotolia.com
- Lake James, Photo: Courtesy of skiserge1 - Fotolia.com
- Lake Jocassee, Photo: Courtesy of Melissa - Fotolia.com
- Lake Lure, Photo: Courtesy of digidreamgrafix - Fotolia.com
- Lake Mattamuskeet, Photo: Courtesy of digidreamgrafix - Fotolia.com
- Lake Tillery, Photo: Courtesy of bpmcwill - Fotolia.com
- Lake Waccamaw, Photo: Courtesy of brian - Fotolia.com
- Lookout Shoals Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Venera - Fotolia.com
- Oak Hollow Lake, Photo: Courtesy of andrea - Fotolia.com
- Tuckertown Reservoir, Photo: Courtesy of Sannikov Dmitriy - Fotolia.com
- White Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Guy Sagi - Fotolia.com
- Wildcat Lake, Photo: Courtesy of vandame - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
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