24 Best Lakes in North Carolina

Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a relaxing vacation on one of the best lakes in North Carolina? A serene getaway, morning coffee beside the calm blue water, or the excitement of water skiing are all good reasons to visit one of North Carolina’s lakes.

Even better, there’s a lake for everyone. Large lakes, small lakes, busy lakes, quiet lakes, mountain lakes, and even coastal lakes.

And there’s a lake for every sport. Regardless of whether you’re into paddling, water skiing, bird watching, fishing, or hiking, there’s a lake just perfect for your vacation.

If you’re out exploring North Carolina then you have to check our top lakes.

Piedmont North Carolina Lakes

Bench on green grass overlooking shallow area of Falls Lake.

Falls Lake

Close to: Durham, NC

Falls Lake is a North Carolina State Recreation Area with hiking and biking trails and camping facilities. There’s also fishing, swimming, and boating allowed. The lake is long with several prongs and there are a variety of different entrances.

The best campgrounds are at the Rollingview and Shinleaf entrances. Personally, I like Shinleaf for primitive camping, but Rollingview is great for RVs and families who want campground amenities.

Be careful as you hike because the trails often come close to personal property and people get testy about it. There also tend to be a lot of loose dogs around.

thin section of Jordan Lake with trees on either side.

Jordan Lake

Close to: Apex, North Carolina

Jordan Lake is a North Carolina State Recreational Area owned and operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Created by damming the Haw and New Hope rivers it serves as the water supply for central North Carolina.

Part of creating the lake required the flooding of a small town. Divers report you can see remnants of old buildings under the water, and when the water level is low, you can see some of the old roads.

Be careful bringing the doggo to the lake. In the summer there are often water quality warnings due to high amounts of dangerous algae. Many animals have become sick from drinking the water during these times.

Jordan Lake has several hiking trails and a variety of water activities. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, there is a small parking free, otherwise, it’s free to enter.

With over 1000 campsites, Jordan Lake is one of the premier places to camp in the area.

North Carolina Lakes North of the Triangle

Hyco Lake

Close to: Roxboro, NC

Hyco Lake is north of Roxboro, NC, almost to the Virginia border. With over 65 reservable campsites along the lake, this is the spot to get away and enjoy waking up next to beautiful, blue, water.

Fun fact, the lake is named after the local native American word for turkey buzzards, “hicotaminy”.

Kerr Lake

Close to: Henderson, NC

Kerr Lake is so large that it crosses the Virginia border. In many places, the lake is so wide that large boats won’t seem out of place. Even on crowded days, there’s plenty of room. To give you an idea, the lake spans 50,000 acres. That’s a lot of lake.

Kerr Lake is a North Carolina State Recreation Area, at least on the North Carolina side. One of the best things to do in the area is camp. There are tons of reservable campsites. You can get a drive-in site for your tent or RV, hike into a primitive site, rent a cabin, take a group, paddle in, or even camp with your horse.

Boating, fishing, and water skiing are all popular activities on the lake.

Triad North Carolina Lakes

Randleman Lake

Close to: Asheboro and Greensboro, NC

Randleman Lake sits almost directly between Greensboro and Asheboro, North Carolina. It was created along the Deep River in 2004 as a reservoir and has been used to provide drinking water to Greensboro since 2010.

While fishing and sailing are permitted along most of the lake, personal watercraft are only allowed in specific areas. The lake is a government-run facility meaning there are more restrictions than you usually find on local lakes.

Shoreline of Badin Lake in the fall with red and yellow trees along the shore.

Badin Lake

Close to: Albemarle, North Carolina

Badin Lake is part of Uwharrie National Forest and is managed by the United States Forest Service. Morrow Mountain State Park is just minutes away.

The lake was built in 1917 to support an aluminum smelting plant which is no longer in service.

You’ll find Badin Lake a popular place for locals to cool off in the summer. There are day-use areas like King’s Mountain, car camping sites, and primitive camping in nearby Uwharrie National Forest. Car camping sites require a reservation with a fee, but primitive camping in Uwharrie is free.

On the water, boating, water skiing, and fishing are popular sports. On land, there is plenty of hiking and other activities like golf.

Fun fact, at the bottom of the lake is a US Navy version of a B-25 which crashed in 1944. Divers were unable to retrieve the crewmen and left it undisturbed.

Small motor boat on High Rock Lake.

High Rock Lake

Close To: Salisbury and Lexington, North Carolina

High Rock Lake is a reservoir located on the Yadkin River in Central North Carolina. The Tallassee Power Company built it in 1926.

The lake is named after the “high rocks”, a large outcropping of rocks on a ridge about a half mile away from the dam.

One of the best fishing lakes in North Carolina, High Rock Lake has hosted several Bassmaster Tournaments.

You’ll find anglers, boaters, kayakers, and paddleboarders out on most days.

Aerial view of Belews lake with a bridge in the middle.

Belews Lake

Close to: Greensboro and Winston-Salem, NC

Belews Lake forms the tip of a triangle with Winston-Salem and Greensboro anchoring the bottom corners. If you’re familiar with the area, it’s just outside of Stokesdale, NC.

Like most of the lakes on this list, it was built as a reservoir.

Parts of the lake routinely measure over 100 feet in depth, making it perfect for boating and water skiing.

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Coastal North Carolina Lakes

White Lake

Close to: Elizabethtown, NC

White Lake is a 1200-acre, natural Lake and is often noted for having the clearest water of any North Carolina lake. Even though it’s a lake, since it’s near the coast, it has a beach and the bottom of the lake is sand. Try to wrap your head around that.

White Lake is the perfect option if you’re heading to the beach and want a break from the crowds and the waves. I’d say this is a great way to have your cake and eat it too.

For an extra adventure, try to time your trip with the annual Water Festival!

A yellow boat on Lake Waccamaw with green trees in the background.

Lake Waccamaw

Close to: Mount Olive, NC

Lake Waccamaw is a North Carolina State Park, just off Highway 74. It has an interesting history. The lake was created by a mysterious crater that filled with water instead of vegetation. Add to that, a limestone bluff that reduces the water’s acidity and Lake Waccamaw is the ideal home for many aquatic species not found anywhere else in the world.

Hiking, paddling, and fishing are all allowed on the lake. Campers will find tent sites that require reservations.

A single swam resting on Lake Mattamuskeet.

Lake Mattamuskeet

Close to: Washington and Plymouth, North Carolina

Lake Mattamuskeet is part of a National Wildlife Refuge managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s the largest natural freshwater lake in North Carolina.

You can hunt and fish in the area and it’s great for photographs. Walking, biking, and fishing are also favorite activities at the lake.

Lakes near Charlotte, North Carolina

Lake Wylie at sunset with orange glow over trees in the distance.

Lake Wylie

Close to: Charlotte, NC

Lake Wylie has the distinction of crossing the North Carolina/South Carolina border with most of the lake in South Carolina. 

Created as a reservoir, it’s the oldest lake in the Catawba River Basin. The lake is shallow with an average depth of just over 20 feet.

Lake Wylie is known for hosting bass tournaments and water shows put on by the Carolina Show Ski Team. Its claim to fame is the Fourth of July fireworks display which I’ve heard a lot about.

If you plan to water ski here, they have a regulation requiring three people: driver, spotter, and skier. While I haven’t heard of this requirement on any other lake, it’s a smart move.

A house and small dock on the left of Lake Norman with kayakers in the far distance.

Lake Norman

Close to: Davidson, North Carolina

Lake Norman is the largest man-made lake in North Carolina. Its average depth is about 33.5 feet but has a maximum depth of 110 feet. The lake provides electricity to the Piedmont area of North Carolina, including Cowans Fort Dam and McGuire Nuclear Station.

It’s named after Norman Atwater Cocke, a Virginia native who became a working attorney and later president of the Southern Power Company which became Duke Energy.

Because North Carolina has to be unique, the lake has its own version of the Loch Ness Monster. When you visit, keep an eye out for Normie, the Lake Norman Monster.

When not out Normie spotting, enjoy swimming, paddle boarding, hiking, water skiing, or boating.

Nearby is Lake Norman State Park with hiking and one of the best mountain biking trails in the state.

North Carolina Lakes between Statesville and Asheville

Lake Hickory

Close to: Hickory, NC

Lake Hickory, just north of Hickory, NC is a reservoir with 105 miles of shoreline. While boating is allowed, the lake is rated as “low to moderate” for boating traffic, making it perfect for your next family vacation.

This is a small, quiet lake, a fun place to get away on your way to the mountains. Enjoy the town of Hickory and nearby Morganton with great restaurants. If you have time, you can head down to South Mountains State Park for a picnic or to see the 80-foot High Shoals waterfall.

Lake James

Close to: Linville and Nebo, North Carolina

Lake James is a reservoir created by Duke Power between 1916 and 1923. Situated in Western North Carolina, it’s named for tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke. And yes, he was the benefactor of Duke University.

Lake James State Park sits on the southern shore of the lake and has a swimming area, kayak launch, hiking trails, camping, bike trails, and more. There’s a small overlook in the park where you can see nearby Linville Gorge.

This is a popular vacation destination with rental homes on and near the lake.

Movie buffs will enjoy looking for the locations where scenes from The Last of the Mohicans, and The Hunt for Red October were filmed.

North Carolina Lakes in the Asheville Area

Empty red lifeguard stand on sandy part of Lake Lure with mountains in the distance.

Lake Lure

Close to: Hendersonville and Rutherfordton, NC

You may not know Lake Lure by its name, but you’ve probably seen it. The lake was used to film part of the movie Dirty Dancing, including the famous dance lift in the lake. As a matter of fact, the town of Lake Lure hosts an annual Dirty Dancing festival with a “lake lift” contest.

Beyond that, it’s a beautiful lake and a great place to escape. If you’re looking for things to do, the town of Lake Lure has great restaurants and shopping, and Chimney Rock State Park is close by. In the summer, locals and tourists alike enjoy the sandy beach with restrooms, picnic tables, and a snack bar.

White cross with lights around the edges sitting on a rock pedestal with a lake and mountains in the background.

Lake Junaluska

Close to: Waynesville, NC

Originally opened as a mountain retreat for the Methodist Church in the early 1900s, Lake Junaluska is now a place the public can enjoy.

Paddling and bird watching are two common activities enjoyed on the lake. There’s also a walking trail and a rose walk.

Only boats with electric trolling motors are allowed, making this a great place for a quiet getaway. If you enjoy paddling, this is one of the best places for serene mornings on the water.

North Carolina Lakes Along Blue Ridge Parkway near Boone and Blowing Rock

Blue lake with red and gold trees surrounding the edges and blue mountains in the background.

Julian Price Lake

Close to: Blowing Rock, NC

Before we get going, I’ll clear up a little confusion with the lake’s name. The official name is Julian Price Lake but you’ll see it called Price Lake or Lake Julian. They’re all one and the same.

The lake has the distinction of being right on the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside of Blowing Rock. There is a large campground with one of the prettiest hiking trails I’ve seen. The bathhouse has individual rooms for showers which is nice.

Price Lake itself is stunning, especially in the fall with the colorful trees along the shoreline. It’s a popular stop for photos when driving the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall.

Lakes in Nantahala National Forest

Sunset at Bear Creek Lake with dark trees and a little bit of orange glow on the far left.

Bear Creek Lake (AKA Bear Lake Reserve)

Close to: Tuckasegee, NC

Bear Creek Lake is in the middle of nowhere, quite literally. Along the lake is Bear Lake Reserve, an all-inclusive luxury resort. The resort owns most of the southern side of the lake property. You’ll also find several VRBOs and Airbnbs thanks to the privately owned homes around the rest of the lake.

If you’re looking for a romantic getaway or some solitude, this is a great location. There’s really nothing nearby. When you come to Bear Creek Lake (also known as Bear Lake), you’re coming to enjoy the lake. Period.

Bright blue water and rocky edges of Lake Glenville.

Lake Glenville

Close to: Cashiers, NC

Lake Glenville is about 45 minutes southwest of Bear Creek Lake. But these are mountain roads, so plan accordingly. It’s closer to the town of Cashiers and town amenities.

The lake is sometimes referred to by its original name, Thorpe Reservoir, so don’t be confused if you see that on maps. Some sites claim it’s the highest elevation lake east of the Mississippi River at 3500 feet, however, other sites claim Virginia’s Mountain Lake takes the honor at 3,875 feet.

Regardless, it’s still pretty cool to swim in a lake above 3000 feet.

Aerial view of Nantahala Lake with mountains on either side in the fall. The trees are bright red, green, and yellow.

Nantahala Lake

Close to: Franklin and Burningtown, North Carolina (middle of Nantahala Forest)

Created in 1942 by Nantahala Power to provide electricity for the wartime effort, it’s a fairly small lake with 42 miles of shoreline. A true mountain lake, it’s great for swimming, boating, water skiing, and fishing.

Nantahala Lake is known for its clear water. Devoid of silt and red clay, there’s almost no soot. The lake connects to the Nantahala River which is known as one of the best places for whitewater rafting.

A bridge going over Fontana Lake with trees on either side and bright blue water and sky.

Lake Fontana

Close to: Bryson City

Lake Fontana is tucked away between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Nantahala National Forest, just west of Bryson City. It’s a reservoir created by the Fontana Dam, the largest dam east of the Mississippi.

When I say it’s tucket between, I mean the lake is part of the southern border of Great Smokey Mountains National Park and part of the northern border of Nantahala National Forest.

The lake is around 17 miles long with an average depth of 135 feet and a maximum depth a whopping 440 feet, making it the deepest lake in North Carolina.

Fontana Lake is often the only way to access remote trailheads like Hazel Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Green lake with green trees and green mountain in the background with a lot of puffy clouds.

Lake Hiwassee

Close to: Murphy, NC

Lake Hiwassee may be the most remote lake in North Carolina, sitting right on the edge of the Tennessee border. Because of its location, the majority of its shoreline is National Forest. It was made by the Hiwassee Dam which is the largest overspill dam in the world.

One claim to fame for anglers is the 66-pound striped bass that was pulled from the lake. We know it’s true because it was recorded in the National Fishing Hall of Fame. It beat the previous record of 54 pounds. What makes these records interesting is that the lake was never stocked with striped bass.

Dark blue lake with small island of trees in the middle and mountains in the background.

Lake Santeetlah

Close to: Robbinsville, NC

Lake Santeetlah is about 45 minutes southwest of Fontana Lake. It was created in 1928 by damming the Cheoah River. With 76 miles of shoreline, it’s an angler’s dream with smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, bream, and lake trout.

Campers will love the more than 50 primitive campsites in the area that include picnic tables and fire rings.

Some of the popular activities on the lake include swimming, camping, fishing, and boating.

Best Lakes in North Carolina Wrap-Up

Regardless of what type of vacation you’re looking for, or how long you want to get away, there’s a great lake waiting for you in North Carolina.

Even if you’re just looking for a quick day visit, there’s sure to be a lake close to you.

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