What better way to spend a hot Southern summer day than at a Carolina lake?
These lakes are some of our top choices in North Carolina and South Carolina for a warm summer retreat.
North Carolina’s largest lake is mere minutes from the Queen City. The home of NASCAR champions and Christian McCaffrey, Lake Norman is a summer playground for multimillionaires and locals alike. Hop in a boat and cruise past lakeside mountains. Carve through Norman’s many coves atop a pair of water skis. Or refuel at one of the area’s many lakefront restaurants like Joe and Katy Kindred’s Hello, Sailor.
The undeveloped banks of this lake make for a restful retreat for the more rustic traveler. Stay on one of the many campgrounds for constant communing with nature and quick lakeside access. Pass an afternoon on the Bald Eagle Observation Deck, keeping an eye out for America’s regal representative. Finally, for a change, carve out time for a meal at the iconic and elegant Fearrington House Restaurant. It’s 20 minutes north of Jordan Lake near Pittsboro.
South Carolina’s Lake Marion is a fisherman’s dream, positioned halfway between Columbia and Charleston. Drop a line for largemouth bass, white perch, striped bass, white bass, crappie, channel catfish, bream, redear sunfish, and the Arkansas blue catfish. However, keep an eye out for alligators. Over a hundred call Lake Marion and the surrounding Santee National Wildlife Refuge home.
Lake Jocassee rests at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the shadows of South Carolina’s Jocassee Gorges. The lake is fed by cool, clear river water that streams down the mountains and into the lake, in some cases via a waterfall. Accessible only via Devils Fork State Park, the famed filming location of The Hunger Games, Lake Jocassee offers a one-of-a-kind experience. Spend a few days in this hidden world. Stay at Three Pines View, a luxury mountain retreat surrounded by the beauty of the Jocassee Gorges.
High Rock Lake
Just an hour from the center of Charlotte, High Rock Lake is the second largest lake in North Carolina and is just north of Uwharrie National Forest. It’s the perfect destination for a girls’ getaway by virtue of its many boating opportunities and location smack dab in the middle of North Carolina’s wine country.
Lake Glenville is the highest lake east of the Mississippi and its location within a mountain rain forest. It boasts a little something for everyone: boat rentals, waterfalls, a sandy beach, and plenty of fishing. Expect to catch large and smallmouth bass, walleye, yellow perch, crappie, rainbow and brown trout, large brim, and a few catfish. Lake Glenville is a quick half-hour from quaint Highlands, NC, so plan to spend the night at the charming Old Edwards Inn and Spa.
This is possibly North Carolina’s most famous lake. Its claim to fame is its frequent use as a filming location for movies like Dirty Dancing, The Last of the Mohicans, Thunder Road, and A Breed Apart. Ideal for a family vacation, Lake Lure amenities include a water slide into the lake and water park, a sandy beach, watersport rentals, and a nearby toy train museum. Adults can enjoy the pristine setting, nearby public golf club, and views of Chimney Rock, green mountaintops, and sheer cliffs above.
Western Northern Carolina’s Lake James, located not too far off I-40, boasts clear water and a beautiful shoreline. Warm up on 25 miles of surrounding trails. Then, take a dip in Lake James’ crisp blue water. Gently float across the lake’s surface in a canoe or kayak. No matter how you spend time on Lake James, end your day with a beer at Fonta Flora’s Whippoorwill Farm.
The Nantahala National Forest is one of the most beautiful corners of North Carolina. Better known for Great Smokies peaks and exceptional whitewater, this area keeps one of its treasures more secret. Drive to the top of the Nantahala Gorge and you’ll find a deep, blue pool of crisp lake water. Nantahala Lake is a scenic oasis perfect for both relaxation and play.
Sandwiched between the southern border of the Smokies and the northern border of Nantahala National Forest, Fontana Lake attracts fishermen from around the country in pursuit of smallmouth bass, muskie, and walleye. Plus, only 10% of the shoreline is developed. The rest is owned by the National Park Service or US Forest Service, so visitors can enjoy a serene retreat immersed in nature.
Just a hop and a skip west of Columbia, this Carolina lake is a popular day trip location for Carolinians. With 600 miles of shoreline, Lake Murray offers a bounty of activities, from quiet walks along Dreher State Island State Park to raucous boat rides from one lakeside restaurant to another.