By Charlie Leonard
July 30, 2020 (updated)
When it comes to relaxation and recreation, a trip to the lake is as good as it gets. Luckily in North Carolina, you don’t have to look far. The state is home to a variety of picturesque lakes that each feature a unique experience. From scenic hikes and famous film destinations in the mountains to sprawling havens for boating, hiking, and fishing in the Piedmont, the lakes of North Carolina are in a class of their own.
A 27-mile drive from Asheville, Lake Lure is a picturesque lake in the North Carolina mountains. Bordered by popular Chimney Rock, the setting has attracted many visitors to the area over the years. One of the most prominent guests has been the Hollywood film industry. Lake Lure and the surrounding area play a starring role in the blockbuster Dirty Dancing, famously in the lake lift sequence between Johnny and Baby, but also in many interior scenes. Besides film tourism, popular activities include ziplining, horseback riding, hiking trails, and relaxing at Lake Lure Beach and Water Park.
Jordan Lake, named after NC Senator B. Everett Jordan, is a 14,000-acre reservoir located west of the greater Raleigh-Durham area. A defining feature of the Jordan Lake area is that it hosts the largest concentration of the bald eagle in the entire eastern United States. The lake is perfect for camping and RVing, with around 1,000 different campsites and several spots for swimming and boating close by. Hiking and fishing are also very popular, with over 14 miles of hiking trails and ample opportunities to fish for bass and crappie.
Located in Linville, Lake James is the first of the mountain lakes in this list and another lake built by Duke Power (named after co-founder, James B Duke). Surrounded by views of the mountains, the picturesque lake appears in two noteworthy films: The Last of the Mohicans and The Hunt for Red October. The 7,000-acre area features many options for camping, hiking, boating, fishing and mountain biking. Lake James is around a 45-minute drive from Asheville and accessible from the nearby I-40 interstate.
High Rock Lake
Named after nearby High Rock Mountain, High Rock Lake is the second largest lake in North Carolina at 15,000-acres. Located in between Rowan and Davidson counties, the lake is a prominent fishing destination. There are a variety of different fish in High Rock Lake but especially bass, making the lake a regular host of the popular Bassmaster Classic fishing series. There is public and private boating access scattered around the lake, as well as camping opportunities. If fishing isn’t your thing, the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer offers activities that highlight the history of travel in North Carolina.
With an elevation around 3,500 ft, Lake Glenville is the highest lake east of the Mississippi River. Built to power warplanes in World War II, the lake is now a recreation destination for pontoon boats and many boating activities. Tubing, waterskiing, and paddle boarding are among the popular activities offered around the mountainside lake. Lake Glenville also offers several waterfalls that are accessible via hike, the 150-foot High Falls in the Pine Recreation Area being the most notable. An option for accommodation is the Old Edwards Inn, located in nearby Highlands that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Created in 1917, Badin Lake provides excellent opportunities for outdoor activities. Badin Lake Recreational Area, located inside Uwharrie National Forest, provides 40 miles of hiking trails and 17 miles of dirt trails. The dirt trails are ideal for off-highway vehicles, ATVs, and dirt bikes. The area also features camping access, which provides opportunities to boat and fish nearby. In nearby Albemarle, a notable attraction is the historic Badin Road Drive-In featuring movie screenings, concerts, and various events.
Located inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Tennessee, Fontana Lake is another man-made mountain lake. A star attraction at the lake is the 50-story tall Fontana Dam, the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains. Originally built during World War II, the towering dam makes an appearance in the 2015 film, A Walk in the Woods. The dam is also a popular hiking destination, with the world-renowned Appalachian Trail running directly across the top. Fontana Lake’s remote location makes it attractive for hikers and campers needing access to secluded trails. Other popular activities include boating, fishing, and swimming.
Twenty minutes from Charlotte, the state’s largest city, is the state’s largest man made lake: Lake Norman. Completed in 1964 by the Duke Power Company, the lake spans a 50-mile radius and features a magnificent 520 miles of coastline. Around the lake are over 14 boat access points, great for boating and especially fishing, with large catfish and bass caught routinely.
Another remote lake is Lake Mattamuskeet, the largest naturally occurring lake in North Carolina. Situated near the coast in Swan Quarter, the lake received an official National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) designation in 1934. With open water, marshland, forest, and crop areas, Mattamuskeet NWR is an important migratory haven. Diverse species of birds include ducks, ospreys, raptors, Canadian geese, and tundra swans. Notable water-based animals include herring and blue crab. The concentration of birds and fish make the lake a popular hunting and fishing destination year-round. Other activities include walking, biking, and swimming, with the average depth of the water only reaching two to three feet deep.
Meaning “noonday sun,” the Nantahala area gets its name from the original occupants: the Cherokee. The actual Nantahala Lake came in 1942 and serves as yet another North Carolina mountain attraction. A key feature of the lake is the high quality of whitewater rafting. Olympians typically train in the area known as Nantahala Gorge, which boasts Classes One, Two, and Three rapids. The conditions are exceptional for rafting and kayaking adventures, worthy of hosting the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships back in 2013. Fishing for Kokanee salmon is another popular activity in Nantahala Lake—it’s the only lake with these fish in the entire South. Hiking trails include the Bartram Trail and an Appalachian Trail access point.
Situated on the North Carolina/Virginia line, Kerr Lake is a massive reservoir totaling 50,000 acres. The Kerr Lake State Recreation area offers seven camping areas with many of them right on the waterfront. The lake is a popular destination for boating, bass fishing, hiking, picnicking, and swimming. Another option is sailing, with the lakefront wind patterns and a large surface area offering ideal conditions. Steele Creek Marina and Satterwhite Point Marina are open year-round, offering fuel, mooring, slips, service, and general supplies.
In this article
- Appalachian trail
- Badin Lake
- best lakes
- Chimney Rock
- Fontana Lake
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- High Rock Lake
- High Rock Mountain
- Jordan Lake
- Kerr Lake
- Lake Glenville
- Lake James
- Lake Lure
- Lake Mattamuskeet
- Lake Norman
- Nantahala Lake
- National Wildlife Refuge
- north carolina
- north carolina lakes
- The Hunt for Red October
- The Last of the Mohicans
- Uwharrie National Forest