15 Must-See Lakes in North Carolina

Many lakes in North Carolina are one-of-a-kind and should be experienced in person at least once in your life.

Locals are blessed with several massive lakes for fishing, different camping opportunities (both wild camping and well-kept campsites), and lakes that also serve as a venue for numerous nature-trip activities from ice skating to hiking.

If you’re not from the Southeast and are just visiting North Carolina for a lake getaway, you’d likely be bombarded by numerous suggestions.  There are just too many awesome lake spots in the state to recommend just one.

With this post, I’m giving you a list of 15 North Carolina lakes. Perfect if you’re looking for the best fishing spots if you’re interested in camping with your kids, or want a mix of all water and land activities.

Best Lakes in North Carolina for Fishing

1. Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake

I’ve written about Fontana Lake recently, so if you’re looking for things to do other than fishing, then head over to that post.

But I included it here as one of the best fishing spots in North Carolina because 1) it is the state’s deepest lake; 2) bass tournaments are usually hosted here, and 3) the lake is best for boat fishing (instead of shore fishing).

Fishing in Fontana Lake requires a boat since the lake is exceptionally deep at 440 feet maximum depth. There are many available for rent, plus houseboats too if you plan to spend overnight or a couple of days here.

  • Location: Drive to the NC Highway 28 (more commonly known as Indian Lakes Scenic Byway) in Western North Carolina
  • Fishing: Muskie, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, lake trout, spotted bass, panfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish, black crappie, bluegill, rainbow trout, steelhead, yellow perch, brown trout, and so on.
  • Other Activities: hiking, boating, camping, caving at Linville Caverns, and exploring Fontana Lake

2. Nantahala Lake

Nantahala Lake
Photo Credit: NCDOTCommunications

Lake Nantahala was formed in 1942 when the Nantahala River was dammed to create a pure, crystal clear reservoir.

Nantahala Lake is the only recognized area in North Carolina for salmon fishing, mostly because the wildlife commission stocked the kokanee salmon in the mid-1960s in hopes of establishing the species as a forage fish. Today, there is a population of kokanee salmon that reaches over three pounds.

Aside from salmon, the waters of Nantahala Lake are also known for trout fishing because of the higher elevation. There are three areas dedicated to trout fishing Upper Nantahala (near White Oak Creek), Upper Nantahala (near the Duke Energy Power), and lower Nantahala, along the floor of the Nantahala Gorge downstream of the power plant.

  • Location:  Hyatt Road, Franklin town, North Carolina
  • Fishing: Rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, yellow perch, striped bass, channel catfish, blue catfish, black crappie, walleye, and more.
  • Other Activities: White-river rafting, canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing, hiking, camping

3. High Rock Lake 

High Rock Lake
Photo Credit: Weston Brophy

High Rock Lake was formed in 1929 and named after the nearby High Rock Mountain. As the second largest lake in North Carolina, High Rock Lake encompasses 15,180 acres and boasts 365 miles of shoreline.

The gorgeous lake has been the host of numerous bass-fishing competitions through the years, including 3 Bassmaster Classic tournaments, due to the large amount and high-quality largemouth bass found in the lake. Bass is found near the shore of High Rock Lake during cooler months, but gradually move deeper as summer heats the waters.

  • Location: High Rock Lake in Lexington, North Carolina
  • Fishing: Largemouth bass, Bowfin, channel catfish, flathead catfish, blue catfish, brown bullhead, black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, white bass, striped bass.
  • Other Activities: camping, kayaking, canoeing, motorsports, bird-watching, swimming, boating, hiking, hunting, and more

4. Harris Lake

Harris Lake
Photo Credit: Patrick Mueller

Also known as the Sheron Harris Reservoir, Harris Lake is another favorite fishing spot, especially during cold weather because the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power keeps the lake water warm.

Created by impounding the Buckhom Creek, Harris Lake covers 4,100 acres (17 km2) in southwestern Wake County and southeastern Chatham County.

Because of the warm temperature of the waters, fish grow in population and in weight that they’re large enough for year-round bass fishing.  Harris Lake is also known for Largemouth bass that could reach up to 8 pounds weight.

  • Location: Harris Lake County Park, 2112 County Park Drive, New Hill, North Carolina (you can reach the lake either near the southern end of North Carolina Highway 42 or near the northern end by Avent Ferry Road.)
  • Fishing: White bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass, grass carp, and more
  • Other activities: Mountain biking, camping, disc golf, hiking, and other activities on the 680-acre Harris Lake County Park

Best Lakes in North Carolina for Camping

5. Hyco Lake

Hyco Lake
Photo Credit: Nan-Cheng Tsai

Hyco Lake is a reservoir in Person and Caswell counties, North Carolina. Because the area was once inhabited by Native Americans, “Hyco” is short for the Native American word “hicotaminy”, which means Great Turkey Buzzard.

There are a wide range of things to do here, but if you’re after a good camping experience, Hyco Lake has 65 well-kept RV campsites around the lake,  and 25 primitive campsites if you wish to rough it out in nature. While you’re here, don’t miss stopping by the Nature Learning Center to discover all about the surrounding fauna and flora.

  • Location: 20 minutes northwest of Roxboro city
  • Fishing: Largemouth bass, white bass, black crappie, white catfish, flathead catfish, channel catfish, bluegill, redear sunfish.
  • Other Activities: Disk golf, boating, camping, hiking, fishing, skiing (by the northern area of the lake)

6. Jordan Lake

Jordan Lake
Photo Credit: Selena N. B. H.

B. Everett Jordan Lake is a reservoir in New Hope Valley, Chatham County, North Carolina. It is located within the Jordan Lake State Recreational Area. Jordan Lake covers 13,940 acres with a shoreline of 180 miles, created as a flood control project in the 60s as the “New Hope Lake Project”. It was renamed in 1974 after the late NC-born US senator B. Everett Jordan.

If you wanted to just pitch a tent anywhere and call it a day, Jordan Lake’s undeveloped (yet pristine) shoreline is a good option for you. If you’re traveling from an RV, there are also 1000 other campsites scattered around the area. You’ll be able to pick a spot where you feel closest to nature.

And during the daytime, you can explore 13 miles of hiking trails or the seven beaches that will welcome you with open arms.

  • Location: 30-minute south of Durham (central North Carolina)
  • Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, white bass, black crappie, white crappie,  striped bass, yellow perch, and more
  • Other Activities: Swimming, bald eagle watching, boating, fishing, hiking, nature photography

7. Lake James

Lake James
Photo Credit: Todd Money

Lake James is a large reservoir in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Named after tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke, Lake James was created by its company Duke Power between 1916 and 1923 as a hydroelectric project.

The 6,812-acre Lake James is known for its gorgeous, super-clear waters that make canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and paddleboarding feel extra special.

Lake James can be found within the Lake James State Park, which is a family-friendly park that boasts 25 miles of trails, 15 miles of which can be used safely for mountain biking.

Lake James has three campgrounds: 1) 20 walk-in campsites in the Catawba River Area; 2) 33-drive-to campsites in Paddy’s Creek Area; 3) the remote boat-in campground on the Long Arm Peninsula

  • Location: Lake James is located in Burke and McDowell Counties, about 45 miles east of Asheville (between Marion and Morganton)
  • Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, white bass, striped bass, tiger muskie, black crappie, white crappie, blue catfish, walleye, northern pike, and more
  • Other Activities: Hiking, mountain biking, boating, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing,

8. Lake Santeetlah

Lake Santeetlah
Photo Credit: anoldent

Voted as one of the most beautiful lakes in the country, Lake Santeetlah is located at the foot of the Smokey Mountains.

The area is relatively underdeveloped and allows for ultimate relaxation. There are small boats to hire from the Santeetlah Marina and various camping options all around.

Lake Santeetlah is home to over 50 primitive campsites scattered around the area. These sites only include a picnic table and fire ring but have no running water or toilets in place. It’s a good thing for those looking to experience real camping. The upside is that there are no camping permits nor fees required.

  • Location: 1373 Thunderbird Mountain Rd, Robbinsville, NC
  • Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bream, lake trout, rainbow trout, brown trout,  black crappie, white crappie, walleye, bluegill, yellow perch.
  • Other Activities: Biking, hiking, canoeing, fishing, swimming, nature photography, boating, kayaking, camping, white water rafting,

9. Falls Lake

Photo Credit: Sergiy Galyonkin

Falls Lake is located near Raleigh. It’s a man-made reservoir surrounded by a state park and is the go-to nature spot for locals craving for some hiking, camping, and water sports.

You won’t run out of campsite option at Falls Lake. There are over 300 campsites available – each offering a variety of overnight experiences. Some require hiking the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail, while others require mountain-biking the Beaverdam/Triangle area.

If you’re planning to  go with kids, time your visit either in the spring and fall, when monarch butterflies migrate and call the lake home.

  • Location: 13304 Creedmoor Road, Wake Forest, NC 27587
  • Fishing:Largemouth bass, crappie, and catfish
  • Other Activities: Biking, hiking, kayaking/canoeing, boating, fishing, swimming, nature photography

Best Lakes in North Carolina for Everything Else

9. Price Lake

Price Lake
Photo Credit: trancemist

Price Lake is part of the Julian Price Memorial Park (located at the foot of the Grandfather Mountain in NC). The location alone is spectacular. Add the serene 47-acre Price Lake into the picture, and you’ll get a memorable backdrop you’d want to keep coming back to.

The cool thing about Price Lake is that you can visit it three seasons a year. I personally love the changing foliage reflecting onto the waters in autumn. But if you’re a lover of winter activities, be sure to visit here during winter and enjoy cross-country skiing as Price Lake freezes over to give way to tourists.

If you came here to hike, the park has seven trails, from the beginner-friendly 2.7-mile Price Lake Loop Trail to the challenging five-mile Boone Fork Loop Trail or 13.5-mile Tanawha Trail that takes you under the Linn Cove Viaduct and then winds around the southeastern ridge of Grandfather Mountain.

  • Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, Boone, North Carolina
  • Fishing: Catfish, bluegill, pumpkinseed, sunfish, crappie, yellow perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth Bass, northern pike, walleye.
  • Other Activities: Hiking, canoeing, cross-country skiing, camping, fishing, swimming,

10. Lake Norman

Lake Norman
Photo Credit: Fran Jeanes

Lake Norman is North Carolina’s largest human-made lake, boasting 520 miles of shoreline. Aside from the many lake-side and water activities, the entire area also has a plethora of activities families can enjoy all year round from golfing to camping, star-gazing to just enjoying the surroundings. It’s a pretty popular spot, which is why many annual events are held on the lake.

  • Location: 45-minute drive from Charlotte, NC
  • Fishing: Largemouth bass, spotted bass, striped bass, white bass, yellow perch, black crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, flathead catfish, blue catfish,
  • Other Activities: Watersports, swimming, paddle boarding, jet skiing, hiking, golfing, camping, fishing

11. Lake Glenville

Lake Glenville
Photo Credit: jalexartis Photography

Lake Glenville is a reservoir located 8 miles from Cashiers, North Carolina. It was formed in 1941 by the damming of the west fork of the Tuckasegee River.

Known as the crown jewel of the Glenville, NC community, Lake Glenville boasts a surface area of 1400 acres and 26 miles shoreline.

Because Lake Glenville is the highest lake east of Mississippi, visitors enjoy a pleasant climate year-round. Plus, the views are to die for. Ideal for nature lovers, you can explore the forest, waters, mountains, and three waterfalls during your stay here.

  • Location: 20 miles from Western Carolina University, and 8 miles away from Cashiers town
  • Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, Rainbow trout, rock bass, channel catfish, black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, walleye, etc.
  • Other Activities: Tubing, skiing, paddleboarding, kneeboarding, swimming, hiking

12. Lake Lure

Lake Lure
Photo Credit: Payton Chung

Famous for stunning lake scenery, forested mountain landscapes, and brilliant waterfalls, Lake Lure had been the backdrop of Hollywood films like Dirty Dancing and Last of the Mohicans.

Lake Lure features the best of both worlds. On one hand, the unrivaled beauty of the lake’s serene waters, the glorious peak of Chimney Rock, and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains can make you feel that you’re one with nature and give you the most peaceful getaway you can ask for. On the other hand, there are multiple modern resorts, cabins, and even shopping places around the lake.

  • Location: 25 miles from Ashville
  • Fishing: Carp, bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, perch, smallmouth bass, walleye, white bass.
  • Other Activities: Tubing, river rafting, wakeboarding, horse riding

14. Badin Lake

Photo Credit: James Willamor

Badin Lake is one of a series of lakes created by the damming of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River. You can find it within the Uwharrie National Forest of Montgomery County.

The four campgrounds scattered around the Badin Lake Recreation Area come with restrooms, showers, grilling stations, and power hookups (for some) or lantern hooks (for others). Visitors can also stick to free, primitive camping sites. You do need to register though.

  • Location: 429 Badin Lake Rec Area Road, New London, NC 28127
  • Fishing: a ton of game fish, such as Spotted Bass, White Bass, Largemouth Bass, Crappie, Striped Bass and Catfish
  • Other Activities: golf, fishing, boating, hiking, camping, horseback-riding, hunting, kayaking/canoeing, picnicking

Other Lakes in North Carolina shared with Virginia

15. Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston

Kerr Lake, also known as Buggs Island Lake, is located in Vance and Warren counties, specifically at North Carolina’s north-central border with Virginia.

Guests can hike, kayak, swim, fish, and camp in one of several campgrounds and hundreds of campsites around Kerr Lake’s 50,000-acre reservoir.

Lake Gaston is another lake that straddles the North Carolina-Virginia border. People visit the lake as a fishing destination and to enjoy various water sports.

You can find public access to the Lake Gaston Day Use Area on 2369 Jack Brown Road. This spot has a fishing pier and boat ramp, making it ideal for catching sunfish, crappier, large mouth bass, rock fish, striped bass, and several species of catfish.

Beyond the Lakes in North Carolina: What’s Else is there to See/Do?

For those who are spending more time in North Carolina and want to explore more, you can check out the following:

  • Hot Springs Resort – It’s a 100-acre resort located along the famous Appalachian Trail and is the only hot springs in North Carolina.
  • Mile High Swinging Bridge – Located at Grandfather Mountain State Park, North Carolina, this is the highest suspension footbridge in America that “swings” at just the slightest gust of wind.
  • North Carolina beaches – Want more time in the sand and sea? This list of top beaches in North Carolina is a good guide for you.
  • The Great Smoky Mountains National Park – This is a go-to hiking spot thanks to the varying elevations and over 800 miles of trails of the Appalachian Trail.

I also have a one-day itinerary from our trip to Asheville, North Carolina, if you’re interested.

And lastly, if you’re unable to spend some time in North Carolina, but are currently on a scenic drive along Virginia’s Skyline Drive, don’t miss one of over 70 breathtaking overlooks that run through parts of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway.

Go Out and Explore