North Carolina is a state blessed with abundant natural beauty, and one of its greatest treasures is its stunning lakes. From the majestic peaks of the Appalachian Mountains to the tranquil shores of the Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina offers a diverse range of landscapes to explore. In this article, we will dive into the enchanting world of the best lakes in North Carolina, each with its unique charm and allure. So, grab your hiking boots, pack a picnic, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure!

Best Lakes in North Carolina

The Tar Heel State boasts several remarkable lakes that offer breathtaking vistas and an array of recreational activities. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful retreat or thrilling water sports, these lakes have something for everyone. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best lakes in NC:

1. Lake Lure

View of Lake Lure and distant mountain ranges in North Carolina.

Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake Lure captivates visitors with its crystal-clear waters and stunning mountainous backdrop. It’s also famous for its role in the hit movie Dirty Dancing! This picturesque lake spans over 700 acres and is renowned for its scenic beauty, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers and photographers alike. Lake Lure is easily accessible from Asheville, only 19 miles away from the Asheville Regional Airport.

Lake Lure Highlights:

  • Lake Lure is a picturesque man-made lake that covers approximately 720 acres.
  • The lake is known for its clear, sparkling waters and offers various recreational activities such as swimming, boating, fishing, and watersports.
  • Adjacent to Lake Lure is Chimney Rock State Park, a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The park features the iconic Chimney Rock, a 315-foot granite monolith that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
  • Lake Lure is known as a resort town and offers a range of accommodations, including vacation rentals, hotels, and bed and breakfasts. Choose from one of the many Lake Lure rentals on the water and indulge in the tranquility of your surroundings.

2. Lake Norman

Boats and houses along the shoreline of Lake Norman.

As the largest manmade lake in North Carolina, Lake Norman offers endless opportunities for outdoor adventures. With over 520 miles of shoreline, this expansive lake is perfect for boating, fishing, and water skiing. A spectacular countryside and verdant forests surround the vast expanse of water. Located just 20 miles north of Charlotte, it’s only a 45-minute drive from Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Lake Norman Highlights:

  • Lake Norman State Park offers hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, and a sandy beach for swimming. You can also rent kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes to explore the lake, which is hailed as one of the top swimming lakes in North Carolina.
  • Take your pick of the lake house rentals and enjoy stunning views of the water.
  • Lake Norman boasts several golf courses that offer challenging holes and beautiful landscapes. Golf enthusiasts can tee off at courses like The Peninsula Club, Verdict Ridge Golf and Country Club, or Trump National Golf Club.
  • The lake is surrounded by picturesque vineyards and wineries. Visit one of the local wineries for a tasting session, where you can sample a variety of wines while enjoying the scenic views of the vineyards.
  • Davidson is a charming town near Lake Norman known for its quaint shops, art galleries, and delicious dining options. Take a stroll through the streets and soak in the small-town atmosphere.

3. Fontana Lake

A woman resting in a hammock on Lake Fontana in North Carolina near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Tucked away in the western part of the state, Fontana is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered on your next North Carolina family vacation. Surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this pristine lake provides a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The nearest airport is McGhee Tyson Airport, about an hour and a half’s drive away. Nearby cities include Bryson City and Robbinsville. The region is also home to an assortment of vineyards and wineries. At the Blue Goose Vineyard, guests are invited to take a stroll around the beautiful countryside and enjoy a captivating panorama of the nearby mountains.

Fontana Lake Highlights:

  • Rent a cozy cabin or choose from one of the many Fontana Lake rentals with a boat for an enjoyable retreat.
  • Visit the impressive Fontana Dam, one of the tallest concrete dams in the Eastern United States. You can take a tour of the dam and learn about its history and significance.
  • Fontana serves as a gateway to a section of the famous Appalachian Trail. Embark on a day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip along this iconic trail.
  • Explore the nearby Nantahala National Forest, known for its lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and outdoor recreational opportunities. Go hiking, mountain biking, or have a picnic in this scenic wilderness.

4. Lake Gaston

Sunset over Lake Gaston in North Carolina.

Located on the border between North Carolina and Virginia, Lake Gaston offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and thrilling activities. Spanning over 20,000 acres, this lake is a haven for water sports enthusiasts and outdoor lovers, with places that offer boat, canoe, and kayak rentals. Nearby cities include Conway, Garysburg, and Gaston. The nearest airport is Raleigh-Durham International Airport, about an hour and a half drive away.

Lake Gaston Highlights:

  • Enjoy one of the enjoyable Lake Gaston rentals with a pool to take your vacation to another level.
  • Explore the surrounding natural beauty by taking a hike on the many trails near Lake Gaston. Medoc Mountain State Park, located nearby, offers several scenic trails with varying levels of difficulty.
  • For a unique adventure that you’ll never forget, visit the Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum.
  • Visit the nearby wineries and vineyards in the Lake Gaston area. Sample locally produced wines and indulge in wine tasting sessions as you soak in the beautiful countryside.

5. Badin Lake

Trees along the shoreline of Badin Lake.

Nestled in the Uwharrie National Forest, Badin Lake offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. This picturesque lake spans over 5,300 acres and provides a tranquil setting for outdoor enthusiasts. Its close proximity to Charlotte makes Badin a great contender for best lake vacations for families, whether you live in the nearby city or simply visiting the area.

Badin Lake Highlights:

  • Want to enjoy some watersports or fishing at your own leisure? Badin Lake rentals with a boat are a great way to see the surrounding area.
  • The lake is nestled within the Uwharrie Mountains, and the national forest provides fantastic opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing. Discover scenic trails, ancient hardwoods, and picturesque waterfalls.
  • Situated near Badin Lake, Morrow Mountain State Park offers panoramic views of the surrounding area. Hike to the top of Morrow Mountain, explore the nature trails or go horseback riding.
  • Just a short drive from Badin Lake, the Yadkin Valley is known for its wineries and vineyards. Take a wine tour, sample local wines, and learn about the winemaking process while enjoying the scenic countryside.

6. Lake Tillery

Orange skies over Lake Tillery.

Situated along the Pee Dee River, Lake Tillery offers a picturesque setting for your next outdoor adventure. With its clear blue waters and surrounding forests, this lake is a favorite destination for anglers, boaters, and nature enthusiasts. Lake Tillery is approximately an hour’s drive from Charlotte, making it an easily accessible location for weekend trips or longer stays.

Lake Tillery Highlights:

  • Rent one of the area’s cozy lakefront rentals and wake up to stunning views every morning.
  • Bring your clubs, as Piney Point Golf Club, Red Bridge Golf Club, and the Tillery Tradition Golf Club are all located close to the water.
  • Explore the nearby Morrow Mountain State Park and discover its hiking trails and scenic overlooks.
  • Visit historical sites like the Kron House, a restored 19th-century homestead, and learn about local history.

7. Lake James

Mountain view of Lake James in North Carolina.

Found in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake James offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and recreational activities. This 6,812-acre lake is known for its pristine waters and picturesque surroundings, making it a popular destination for boating, fishing, and hiking. It’s accessible from either Asheville or Charlotte, off of I-40.

Lake James Highlights:

  • Explore Lake James rental cabins and enjoy breathtaking views of the lake from your own wooded area.
  • Located on the lake, Bear Creek Marina offers boat rentals, guided fishing trips, and a waterfront restaurant. Spend a day on the water and indulge in some delicious food.
  • Embark on a scenic hike to Catawba Falls, a beautiful waterfall located near Lake James. The trail features picturesque views and the reward of witnessing the majestic falls.
  • Lake James has several sandy beaches where you can unwind and enjoy a sunny day. Bring your beach chair, soak up the sun, and take refreshing dips in the crystal-clear waters.

8. Jordan Lake

Pristine waters found at Jordan Lake, North Carolina.

Located near Raleigh, Jordan Lake offers a peaceful retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle. Spanning over 13,900 acres, this reservoir is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

Jordan Lake Highlights:

  • Jordan Lake vacation rentals with lake access provide a serene lakeside experience.
  • Explore the various hiking trails that wind through the forests and offer breathtaking views of the lake. The New Hope Overlook Trail and the Parker’s Creek Trail are highly recommended.
  • If you’re an equestrian enthusiast, navigate the scenic trails surrounding the lake on horseback. There are designated areas for horseback riding within the recreation area.
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area offers hiking trails, fishing piers, and campgrounds.

9. Lake Waccamaw

Peaceful back waters of Lake Waccamaw.

Tucked away in southeastern North Carolina, Lake Waccamaw offers a unique natural setting with its pristine waters and ancient cypress trees. This 9,000-acre lake is one of the state’s best-kept secrets, providing a peaceful retreat for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Lake Waccamaw Highlights:

  • Lake Waccamaw vacation rentals offer an unmatched level of tranquility for a weekend retreat or longer stay.
  • Visit nearby historic sites, such as the Waccamaw Siouan Tribal Grounds or the Columbus County Courthouse, to learn about the region’s rich cultural heritage.
  • Spend a day exploring Lake Waccamaw State Park. Hike along the nature trails, go fishing, or enjoy a picnic by the water’s edge.
  • Head to the lake’s sandy beach area and relax under the sun. Take a refreshing swim in the lake’s clear waters or build sandcastles with your family and friends.

10. High Rock Lake

Sunset reflects on High Rock Lake, NC.

Situated in the heart of North Carolina’s Piedmont region, High Rock Lake is a mecca for boating enthusiasts and fishing enthusiasts. Spanning over 15,000 acres, this reservoir offers endless opportunities for water-based adventures.

High Rock Lake Highlights:

  • Explore the many High Rock Lake vacation homes or rentals with a pool and enjoy easy access to the water.
  • Visit the nearby Boone’s Cave Park, which offers hiking trails, picnic areas, and the opportunity to investigate the historic cave. The park is also home to diverse plant and animal species, providing a unique wildlife experience.
  • Take a short drive to Lexington, a charming town known as the “Barbecue Capital of North Carolina.” Sample mouthwatering dishes, visit antique shops, and take in the local history and culture.
  • High Rock Lake Marina and Campground provides boat rentals, fishing supplies, and camping facilities.
  • Enjoy a meal with a stunning view at one of the waterfront restaurants near High Rock Lake. Indulge in local cuisine and picturesque sunsets over the water.

FAQs about the Best Lakes in NC

To help you plan your perfect lake getaway, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions. Read on to find answers to common queries about tours, activities, and more. Let’s dive in!

Are there any restaurants or dining options near these lakes?
Yes, you can find a variety of dining options near these lakes. From casual waterfront eateries to upscale restaurants, there’s something to satisfy every palate. Enjoy a delicious meal while taking in the beautiful lake views and savoring the flavors of North Carolina.

Can I bring my own boat to these lakes?
Yes, you can bring your own boat to these lakes, provided you comply with the lake regulations and obtain the necessary permits and licenses. Each lake may have specific guidelines regarding boat sizes, speed limits, and launch areas, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules beforehand.

Are there any guided tours available at these lakes?
Yes, many lakes offer guided tours and excursions to enhance your experience. These tours provide valuable insights into the lake’s history, wildlife, and natural features. Whether you prefer a leisurely boat tour

Plan Your North Carolina Lakes Vacation

Planning a vacation to one of North Carolina’s beautiful lakes? Consider renting a vacation home for a comfortable and memorable stay. Lakefront vacation rentals offer stunning views, convenient access to the water, and a home-away-from-home experience.