From boating paradises to the cleanest waters, explore NC's natural treasures.

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Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina boasts a stunning array of lakes that cater to every type of outdoor enthusiast. From tranquil mountain lakes to expansive reservoirs, these natural gems form the backbone of the state's recreational activities and tourism.

Ready to embark on a mesmerizing journey through North Carolina's lakes? Dive in!

Lake Norman

Location: Near Charlotte, North Carolina
Best for: Recreational boating and vibrant lakeside attractions

An aerial view of Lake Norman, NC.
Created between 1959 and 1964, Lake Norman is the biggest man-made freshwater body in the state.  Wikimedia

Lake Norman, affectionately known as North Carolina's "Inland Sea", is the largest man-made lake in the state. Situated just a stone's throw from Charlotte, the lake spans four counties and offers a sprawling 520 miles of shoreline. And the expansive body of water is not just a visual treat but a haven for boating enthusiasts.

Its vastness allows for a plethora of water activities, from jet skiing and paddleboarding to tranquil fishing experiences. The lake teems with fish, and anglers often come in search of their next big catch. Beyond its recreational opportunities, Lake Norman's shoreline is dotted with waterfront restaurants, parks, and marinas. Planning a day out here? Don't miss the guide to a perfect day of boating on Lake Norman.

Lake Auman

Location: West End, North Carolina
Best for: Crystal-clear waters and serene beauty

The shimmering waters of Lake Auman are a testament to its status as one of the cleanest lakes in North Carolina. Tucked away in the private gated community of Seven Lakes West, this 1,000-acre lake is a hidden gem that offers tranquility away from the bustling city, and the serene atmosphere makes it perfect for a relaxed day out for a picnic.

Jordan Lake

Location: Near Apex and Pittsboro, North Carolina
Best for: Scenic beauty, diverse fishing opportunities, and camping

A boat ramp in Jordan Lake, NC.
Jordan Lake's serene waters are perfect for boating, with easy access to boat ramps.  Wikimedia

A reservoir and a crucial water supply for the surrounding regions, Jordan Lake is also celebrated for its scenic beauty and undeveloped shoreline. Covering over 14,000 acres, the lake's vastness ensures ample space for recreational activities and fishing. Its waters are home to a variety of fish species, attracting both casual and seasoned anglers.

The surrounding region boasts camping sites, making it perfect for an immersive nature experience. Hiking enthusiasts can explore numerous trails, and the nearby recreational areas ensure that families have a variety of amenities at hand. If you’re considering a fishing trip, a fishing boat rental in North Carolina might be your ideal starting point.

Salem Lake

Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Best for: Trail walks, picnics, and serene surroundings

Located in the heart of Winston-Salem, Salem Lake provides an urban oasis that offers both recreation and relaxation. The lake's trail, stretching for about 7 miles, is a favorite among locals for jogging, walking, and cycling. And the calm water complements the scenic surroundings, making it a delightful spot for picnics and leisurely boat rides. If you're planning a day out, it's advisable to check the local event calendar, since the area can get busy during special occasions.

Lake Lure

Location: Near Chimney Rock, North Carolina
Best for: Iconic lake views, water-based activities, and proximity to Chimney Rock State Park

Lake Lure's charm has not only captivated locals but also filmmakers — its iconic views have been featured in movies, adding a touch of cinematic magic to its allure. The lake's crystal-clear waters beckon swimmers, while the beach area provides a space for sunbathing and relaxation. Beyond swimming, visitors can take part in boating and other water-based activities, with the lake's clear depths ensuring a mesmerizing experience. Adjacent to the lake is the famed Chimney Rock State Park, offering hiking opportunities and panoramic views. If you're exploring the region, Explore Asheville — the lake is only 45 minutes away from downtown — has plenty of insight into local nearby attractions.

Bear Lake Reserve

Location: Tuckasegee, North Carolina
Best for: Resort relaxing in a luxurious setting

Sunrise over the Bear Lake Reserve pool in North Carolina.
A lakeside resort nestled in the mountains, Bear Lake is perfect for luxurious relaxation.  Bear Lake Reserve

Nestled in a private community setting, Bear Lake Reserve combines the beauty of untouched nature with the amenities of a luxury resort. The lake itself is the centerpiece, providing opportunities for kayaking, fishing, and simply basking in its serene beauty. Given its exclusivity, visitors might want to plan their trip during weekdays to enjoy a more tranquil experience.

Lake Mattamuskeet

Location: Hyde County, North Carolina
Best for: Natural beauty, birdwatching, and serene boat rides

As the largest natural lake in North Carolina, Lake Mattamuskeet stretches over 40,000 acres and holds an enchanting beauty. Its shallow waters offer a unique habitat for various bird species, making it a hotspot for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts — the U.S Fish & Wildlife service has a guide to what you might spot, for those curious. And for those looking to explore the lake, a boat ride offers a tranquil way to immerse in its beauty.

Fontana Lake

Location: Near Bryson City, nestled within the Great Smoky Mountains
Best for: Secluded escapes, pristine waters, and outdoor adventures in the Great Smokies

Fontana Lake, cradled amidst the majestic Great Smoky Mountains, is a testament to nature's splendor. This deep, clear lake spans over 11,000 acres, its waters reflecting the surrounding peaks and forests. Known for its pristine environment, Fontana is perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding, and fishing. Its secluded atmosphere also offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Adventure enthusiasts can embark on scenic drives or hike trails lining the lake, providing breathtaking views. Planning a visit? The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a can't-miss for any outdoors enthusiasts.

Lake Glenville

Location: Near Cashiers, North Carolina
Best for: Waterfalls, boating, and lakeside picnics

Best Lakes in NC - Lake Glenville
Lake Glenville is 1,462 acres of lush nature, with three waterfalls, a beach, and great boating.  McKee Properties

Lake Glenville, with its cascading waterfalls and lush greenery, epitomizes North Carolina's enchanting landscapes. This high-elevation lake offers cooler temperatures, making it an ideal summer retreat. Boaters will find the waters calm and inviting, while those on the shoreline can enjoy picturesque picnic spots.

Lake Tomahawk

Location: Black Mountain, North Carolina
Best for: Family outings, picnics, and leisurely walks

Lake Tomahawk, a quaint lake surrounded by scenic beauty, offers a peaceful atmosphere perfect for family outings. The lake is designed for recreation, so whether you're looking to swim, fish, or simply relax by the waters, it's a great choice for a relaxed day outdoors with the family. A well-maintained walking trail, adorned with games, circles the lake, providing a leisurely stroll with scenic views, and the lake's dam offers a unique vista worth capturing on camera.

White Lake

Location: Near Elizabethtown, North Carolina
Best for: Crystal-clear waters, water skiing, and family-friendly attractions

White Lake boasts waters so clear that boats seem to float on air. This lake's unique sandy bottom and lack of tannic acid give it unparalleled clarity. Apart from being a visual treat, the lake offers a plethora of water activities. Water skiing is particularly popular, given the lake's calm demeanor. Families visiting should also explore local attractions that pepper the lakeside, providing fun and entertainment.

Lake Waccamaw

Location: Columbus County, North Carolina
Best for: Unique geological origins, fishing, and nature photography

Lake Waccamaw stands out not just for its beauty but also for its intriguing geological origins. The lake's waters house a diverse range of aquatic life, too, contributing to its exceptional clarity. Anglers, birdwatchers, and photographers will find this lake a paradise, plus, the adjacent Lake Waccamaw State Park offers recreational facilities and exploration opportunities.

Falls Lake

Location: Near Wake Forest, North Carolina
Best for: Tranquil surroundings, boating adventures, and family-friendly amenities

Kayakers paddling on Falls Lake, NC in autumn.
The Falls Lake reservoir supplies drinking water to the surrounding cities, aids with flood control, serves as a wildlife habitat, and offers great water recreation.  City of Durham

Falls Lake, a reservoir supplying water to Raleigh, extends over 12,000 acres. Its serene environment and natural beauty make it a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Whether you're sailing, fishing, or just enjoying the picturesque views, Falls Lake provides the perfect backdrop. Numerous recreation areas line the lake, ensuring visitors have a plethora of activities to choose from.

High Rock Lake

Location: Near Salisbury and Lexington, North Carolina

Best for: Exceptional fishing, water sports, and lakeside communities

High Rock Lake, the second-largest lake in the state, is a fisherman's paradise. Its waters, teeming with bass and catfish, promise a thrilling fishing experience. Beyond fishing, the lake provides ample opportunities for water sports and birdwatching. The lake's shore houses several communities and vacation rentals, offering visitors a chance to experience lakeside living.

Lake James

Location: Near Nebo, North Carolina, at the base of the Linville Gorge
Best for: Boating against a backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, swimming, and hiking

Lake James offers a surreal experience, with its clear waters set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Whether you're boating, swimming, or water skiing, Lake James promises an unparalleled experience. The lake's surrounding region is not to be left behind. State parks and hiking trails beckon adventure enthusiasts, offering routes that provide panoramic vistas of the lake and mountains.

Kerr Lake (Buggs Island Lake)

Location: Straddling the border between North Carolina and Virginia
Best for: Vast explorations, diverse recreational areas, and historical attractions

Kerr Lake, stretching over 50,000 acres, spans the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia. Its vastness ensures that every visitor finds their little piece of paradise. The lake boasts several recreational areas, providing a myriad of activities ranging from boating to picnicking. Moreover, historical enthusiasts can delve into stories of bygone eras at nearby sites.

To truly experience North Carolina's full splendor, a journey through at least some of its lakes is a necessity. And the more you can visit, the better, because each lake, unique in its allure, promises adventures and memories that last a lifetime.

As you set forth on this exploration, ensure that you respect the natural beauty and abide by the Boating Regulations in NC to ensure a safe and enriching experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the boating regulations I should be aware of in North Carolina lakes?

Boating regulations in North Carolina are governed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Key points to note include the requirement for a boating education course for operators born on or after January 1, 1988. Life jackets are mandatory for each person on board, and children under 13 must wear a life jacket at all times when the vessel is moving. For more detailed regulations, visit the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Boating Regulations page.

Do I need a fishing license to fish in these lakes?

Yes, a fishing license is required for anyone aged 16 and above who wishes to fish in public waters, including most lakes in North Carolina. Licenses can be purchased online, from authorized agents, or at Wildlife Service Agents. For specific fishing regulations, you may want to check out the official North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission website.

What are the best lakes in North Carolina for water sports other than boating?

Lake Norman, High Rock Lake, and Jordan Lake are popular choices for water sports. These lakes offer a variety of options including jet skiing, water skiing, wakeboarding, and paddle boarding, among others.

Which lakes are the cleanest for swimming?

Lake Auman is often considered the cleanest lake in North Carolina and is an excellent choice for swimming. Other lakes with good water quality include Lake Glenville and White Lake. Always remember to check local advisories for the most current information.

Can you rent boats at these North Carolina lakes?

Absolutely, boat rentals are widely available at many lakes across North Carolina. Services like Getmyboat offer a wide range of boats to rent, from fishing boats to luxury yachts. Lake Norman, for example, has several marinas where you can rent various types of boats. For more information, check out this Guide to a Perfect Day of Boating on Lake Norman.

Is camping available at these lakes?

Many lakes in North Carolina offer camping facilities either directly on the lake or in nearby state parks. Kerr Lake, Jordan Lake, and Lake James, for instance, have state parks with camping facilities that include amenities like restrooms, grilling areas, and more.

Which lake is the biggest in North Carolina?

Kerr Lake, also known as Buggs Island Lake, is the largest lake in North Carolina, covering over 50,000 acres. The lake spans the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia and provides ample space for all kinds of recreational activities, including boating, fishing, and camping.