The best lakes near Charlotte NC are all within a short two hour drive, and some are less than 30 minutes away. What better way to enjoy the sunshine and beat the heat than a day on the lake? Whether you’re looking for family-friendly swimming, boating, or fishing, or even looking for a great lakeside hike, we have you covered.
Here are a few of our picks of some of the best, most beautiful lakes in North Carolina. Start planning your day or weekend trip now.
Lake Lure, a man-made lake located about 90 miles from Charlotte, offers a great variety of outdoor activities. You can rock climb, hike, mountain bike, and even zipline in nearby Chimney Rock State Park, in addition to regular lake activities like boating, swimming, tubing, and sunbathing on the beach. You can also explore nearby Asheville and enjoy the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are tons of unique places to stay and eat here, so we recommend making this one into a weekender.
Where: 1 hour and 45 minutes from Charlotte, in Rutherford, NC.
Best reason to visit: Movie buffs can go see where Dirty Dancing was filmed near the lake.
Lake Tillery is a man-made lake about an hour and a half away from Charlotte. Its 100 miles of shoreline intersect with two different parks: Morrow Mountain State Park and Uwharrie National Forest, which provide opportunities for hiking, biking, and camping. You can also rent a boat and go swimming, tubing, or fishing. Nearby, you can go mini golfing and check out one of Lake Tillery’s three museums.
Where: 1 and a half hours from Charlotte, in Stanley/Montgomery, North Carolina.
Best reason to visit: Pack a tent and stay on one of the campgrounds for multiple days of lake fun.
High Rock Lake
High Rock Lake started as a hydroelectric power project in the late 1920’s, but over the years has been transformed into a major recreational site near Charlotte, only about 63 miles away. The namesake of the lake is neighboring High Rock Mountain. The location offers excellent boating opportunities for anyone willing to explore the vast waters with any sort of aquatic vehicle and if you don’t own one or any equipment, don’t worry there’s plenty of rentals.
Where: About a 1 hour drive from Charlotte, in Lexington, North Carolina.
Best reason to visit: Boating rentals and largemouth bass fishing in the fall – the site of the BASS Master’s Classic fishing tournament in 1995 and 1998.
Neighboring the beautiful Uwharrie National Forest is Badin Lake, an ideal recreational spot that offers the perfect blend of fun, nature, and water activities. This is one of the most gorgeous lakes in North Carolina. Here you can swim, fish, and cruise around in different vessels that are available for on-site rental. However, the best way to experience this lake is by camping at the nearby Uwharrie State Park. This way, you have plenty of time to explore the hiking trails around the lake and enjoy the total tranquility of nature.
Where: About a 1 hour drive from Charlotte, in Montgomery, North Carolina.
Best reason to visit: Free developed camping sites at Badin Lake Campground, Arrowhead Campground. Include flush toilets, showers, and some power hookups.
Situated in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge, Belews Lake is a great recreational spot that offers a number of fun activities. Here you can swim, boat, fish, and explore the gorgeous forests, parks, and hiking trails surrounding the lake. Equally, if you have a passion for underwater exploration, the lake offers clear water, which is ideal for scuba diving. A fascinating site to look out for when visiting is an early-morning event where steam is generated from the nearby power plant to form a picturesque cover atop the watery surface of the lake.
Where: About 1 – hour and 40 minute drive from Charlotte, in Stokes, Rockingham, Guilford and Forsyth counties.
Best reason to visit: Early morning fishing to see the eerie effect the heat from the nearby coal-plant has on the water.
Mountain Island Lake
Named after the mountain that appears as an island in the lake, Mountain Island Lake was constructed in 1924 and is just northwest of Charlotte. Though Mountain Island lake is used to provide drinking water to Mecklenburg and Gaston country residents, it’s also available to be used for boating, stand-up paddleboarding, and fishing.
Where: Just a 20 – minute drive northwest of Charlotte, Mecklenburg, North Carolina.
Best reason to visit: Pack a tent and go camping or picnicking on Mountain Island, the small island on the lake.
Created in 2004 in conjunction with the Randleman Lake Dam this lake is relatively new, having opened only 10 years ago. Randleman Lake is a little over an hour from Uptown and has over 100 miles of shoreline. It also boasts several activities, including boating, fishing, sailing, paddle boarding, and kayaking so there is no limit of things to do.
Where: About a 1 – hour drive from Charlotte, in Randolf / Guilford, North Carolina.
Best reason to visit: Rent a kayak from the marina for $5 for a half-day or $15 for a whole day.
Lake Norman is located just under 20 miles from Uptown Charlotte. It is one of the largest lakes in the Southeast with over 500 miles of shoreline. You can swim, boat, waterski, and enjoy all kinds of watersports. When not on the water, the bustling towns in the area of Cornelius, Mooresville, Huntersville, and Davidson offer a wide variety of fun activities, attractions, and restaurants to enjoy.
Where: About a 30 minute drive from Uptown Charlotte, in Mecklenburg County.
Best reason to visit: Stay the weekend and test out some of the local breweries in the surrounding towns. Grab a bite at Hello, Sailor, shoreside in Cornelius.
Lake Wylie is one of the best swimming lakes near Charlotte, and was conceived after Dr. Walker Gill Wylie and his brother built a hydro station in Rock Hill, South Carolina. It is now home to the Buster Boyd Bridge which connects NC 49 and SC 49 at the border. There are many public access areas accessible to the lake for fishing, swimming and kayaking.
Where: About a 35 minute drive from Charlotte, in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
Best reason to visit: Visit Papa Doc’s Shore Club and enjoy waterfront dining on the docks with the family.
Lake James is located at the base of the Linville Gorge, about an hour and a half from Charlotte, and an hour from Asheville. It was established as a State Park in 1987, and offers stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are 25 miles of trails around the park, three campgrounds, two boat ramps, as well as canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals.
Where: About an hour and a half drive from Charlotte, in Burke, North Carolina.
Best reason to visit: Visit the large, sandy beach at Paddy’s Creek with a designated swimming area.
If you’re into a more secluded lake scene, head up to Salem, South Carolina for a beautiful mountain lake retreat. Just a 3 hour drive from Charlotte, this quiet lake is sure to be the perfect spot for an undisturbed family retreat on the water or the mile long developed shoreline. Hikers also enjoy its clean and cold Appalachian rivers which feed into the lake. Avid fishers are encouraged, as Lake Jocassee is thought to be the best trout-fishing lakes in South Carolina! This is a great boating lake near Charlotte, and also has hiking and swimming.
Where: Oconee / Pickens county, 694 Jocassee lake Road, SC.
Best reason to visit: This is a trout-fisherman’s paradise
Visit Georgia at Lake Rabun in Lakemont county. Beautiful mountain scenery encompasses this rustic lake which makes it the perfect spot to spend the summer with family. Lake Rabun offers most typical lake activities including water skiing, boating, swimming, pontooning and fishing. Grab a bite to eat at the Lake Rabun Hotel and Restaurant, or even go for a horseback ride at the SunBurst Stables nearby.
Where: About 3 hour drive from Charlotte, in Lakemont, Georgia.
Best reason to visit: Add a zipline adventure to your list by visiting the SunBurst Stables at Lake Rabun.
Visit the largest lake in Western North Carolina at Fontana Dam in the Great Smoky Mountains. The Fontana dam is the tallest dam east of the Rockies, standing at 480-ft. Experience the outdoors by hiking or biking the mountain shoreline in the National State Park forests. The beautiful canopy of rhododendron thickets on Tsali’s Thompson Loop is the perfect place to catch some shade after swimming at the Panther Creek swimming hole.
Where: About a 3 hour and 30 minute drive from Charlotte, Near Bryson City, North Carolina.
Best reason to visit: Plan a white water rafting trip with one of the various adventure white water rafting clinics like NOC, Wildwater and Endless River Adventures.
If your family is already outdoorsy and adventurous and you’re looking for a nature trip, Jordan Lake is the perfect lake for you. The lake boasts 14,000 acres of beautiful undeveloped shoreline. Surrounded by a picturesque mountain range are nature reserves relatively untouched and undisturbed. At the five access areas are over 1,000 camping spots which host RV hookups or tent camping sites.
Where: About a 2 hour and 15 minute drive from Charlotte, in Chatham County, North carolina.
Best reason to visit: Explore the nearly 14 miles of hiking trails surrounding the lake, and experience the thousands of plant and animal species around the lake.
Need a relaxing vacation? Hyco Lake is the perfect place to take a break from the world and enjoy nature. Rent a cabin for the family and stay a weekend, and enjoy a peaceful fishing trip on the tranquil waters of Hyco Lake. Go bird-watching and see the large numbers of birds which inhabit the area, or bring a set of disc golf discs and play at the 18-hole course for free.
Where: About 2 hours and 30 minutes from Charlotte, in Roxboro, North Carolina.
Best reason to visit: Stay a weekend in one of the beautiful rental cabins lakeside.
Set aside some time no matter the season, and enjoy one of these stunning lakes near Charlotte NC.