Top 15 Must-See Lakes of North Carolina

In the diverse landscape of the United States, North Carolina stands out as a jewel, rich in natural beauty and heritage. Part of this allure lies in the state’s vast array of freshwater lakes, each teeming with unique stories, attractions, and a treasure trove of experiences awaiting every visitor. The importance of these lakes cannot be overstated, as they not only play pivotal roles in North Carolina’s ecosystem but also bolster its tourism. This guide seeks to navigate you through 15 such enchanting lakes, unraveling their mysteries and highlighting why they are considered some of the most beloved spots in the state.

1. Lake Norman, North Carolina

purple sky over lake with wooden dusk at sunset, Lakes of North Carolina
Photo by Josh Duncan on Unsplash

Lake Norman, often hailed as the “Inland Sea” of North Carolina, is the state’s largest manmade body of water. Located just north of Charlotte, it’s a thriving hub for both recreational activities and lakeside living. Beyond its vast expanse of fresh water, Lake Norman is encircled by a plethora of dining establishments, parks, and attractions like the Lake Norman State Park. Visitors often indulge in boating, fishing, or simply basking in the serene beauty that this lake offers. Unique to this lake is its burgeoning community of luxury homes and lakeside condos, making it a desirable destination for both tourists and potential homeowners.

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2. Lake Mattamuskeet

tree on body of water near mountains, Lakes of North Carolina
Photo by Ken Cheung on Unsplash

Nestled in the heart of Hyde County, Lake Mattamuskeet is the state’s largest natural lake. Beyond its shimmering waters, it’s a paradise for bird watchers. The lake is home to diverse species of migratory birds, making it an invaluable asset for both the state’s ecology and ornithologists. The history of Lake Mattamuskeet is deeply intertwined with local legends and Native American tales, adding layers of intrigue to its already magnetic charm. Engage with locals, and you’ll often hear stories of how this lake has been both a giver and taker, shaping the region’s history in more ways than one.

3. Fontana Lake

grey canoe on calm body of water near tall trees at daytime
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Fontana Lake, located amidst the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest, is more than just a visual treat. It holds the title of being the deepest lake in North Carolina. The Fontana Dam, which aids in the lake’s creation, stands as a testament to human ingenuity, and the lake itself offers boundless opportunities for outdoor recreation, from kayaking to hiking nearby trails. The pristine surroundings further enrich the experience, making every visit feel like a communion with nature.

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4. Lake Waccamaw

Lakes of North Carolina
Lake Waccamaw, NC” by Chickens in the Trees (vns2009) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Heralded as one of the most unique freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Waccamaw boasts an impressive array of flora and fauna, many of which are found nowhere else on the planet. Situated in eastern North Carolina, the lake presents a delicate ecosystem that has fascinated scientists and nature lovers alike. Visitors are often captivated by its tranquil beauty, bolstered by the presence of cypress trees dotting its shores and the rich biodiversity thriving within its waters.

5. Jordan Lake

sunset, lake, shoreline, Lakes of North Carolina
Photo by bones64 on Pixabay

Spanning more than 14,000 acres, Jordan Lake is a primary source of drinking water for many North Carolina residents. But beyond its utilitarian aspect, it’s a popular destination for recreation. Its clear waters are often dotted with sailboats, kayaks, and enthusiastic swimmers trying to escape the southern heat. The lake also plays host to several recreational areas, making it an ideal spot for camping, hiking, and eagle watching, especially during the months when bald eagles make this lake their nesting ground.

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6. Lake James

a duck floating on top of a body of water
Photo by Simone Dinoia on Unsplash

Situated at the base of the Linville Gorge, Lake James is a pristine freshwater gem. Surrounded by the verdant canopy of the Lake James State Park, it promises visitors a harmonious blend of adventure and relaxation. The lake is known not only for its clear waters but also for its vibrant biodiversity, making it a hub for both anglers and nature enthusiasts. Trails meander through the park, providing trekkers with panoramic views of the lake, glistening under the North Carolinian sun. History buffs will also find joy here, as Lake James has a storied past, from ancient Native American civilizations to its role in powering the region.

7. Falls Lake

Lakes of North Carolina
Triangle lake, Oregon, in fall.” by Bonnie Moreland (free images) is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

An essential water reservoir for the city of Raleigh, Falls Lake stretches over 12,000 acres, creating a picturesque setting for myriad recreational activities. Born out of the need for flood control, this lake has grown to become a favorite spot for camping, fishing, and boating. The lake is fringed by the Falls Lake State Recreation Area, a series of parks that offer a plethora of amenities for visitors. It’s a testament to how utility and beauty can coexist, making Falls Lake an integral part of North Carolina’s natural landscape.

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8. Lake Gaston

Lakes of North Carolina
Lake-gaston-2007” by Domenic R. Merenda at en.wikipedia is licensed under CC BY 2.5

Straddling the border between North Carolina and Virginia, Lake Gaston is a hub of activity year-round. Spanning 20,000 acres, its vast waters play host to a series of events, from fishing tournaments to boat races. For those seeking tranquility, the lake’s meandering shoreline, dotted with cozy cabins and luxurious homes, promises solitude and serenity. Water sports enthusiasts often hail Lake Gaston as their playground, with jet-skiing, paddleboarding, and wakeboarding sessions punctuating the lake’s surface on any given day.

9. High Rock Lake

Lakes of North Carolina
Uwharrie Mountains and Lake Tillery, NC” by James Willamor is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the most prominent fishing destinations in the state, High Rock Lake is a paradise for anglers chasing after bass, catfish, and crappie. Located in the Uwharrie Mountains, the lake offers more than just fishing. It’s a retreat where families come to picnic, swim, and enjoy the lake’s beauty. Known for its waterfront properties and scenic vistas, High Rock Lake has cultivated a reputation for being both a residential haven and a tourist hotspot. The annual fishing tournaments draw competitors from across the country, further solidifying the lake’s status as a prime North Carolinian attraction.

10. Lake Brandt

Lakes of North Carolina
Lake Brandt Pier HDR 02” by Jim Dollar is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Named after Leon Brandt, a former mayor of Greensboro, Lake Brandt is a reservoir that perfectly captures the essence of North Carolina’s serene beauty. It’s not just a source of drinking water for the city but also a recreational hub, teeming with activities like kayaking, rowing, and hiking. The trails surrounding the lake provide a window into the region’s diverse flora and fauna. Bird-watchers often find solace here, with the lake attracting a wide variety of avian species. The lake’s history is also intertwined with the city’s growth, serving as a testament to Greensboro’s commitment to sustainable development and nature preservation.

11. Lake Phelps

d804adfc 48ed 4e88 aadc 0fce76b074db Top 15 Must-See Lakes of North Carolina
Dawn at Phelps Lake” by Sandeep Somasekharan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sprawled over 16,600 acres, Lake Phelps stands as North Carolina’s second-largest natural lake. Its charm lies in more than just its expansive waters. The lake holds a mirror to the region’s ancient history, with archaeological findings revealing the presence of Native American civilizations dating back thousands of years. Canoe enthusiasts often find solace in Lake Phelps’ calm waters, while history aficionados can delve into the mysteries of ancient canoe discoveries at the bottom of the lake, some of which are believed to be over 4,000 years old. This lake is not just a body of water; it’s a tangible testament to North Carolina’s rich historical tapestry.

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12. Kerr Lake (Buggs Island Lake)

Lakes of North Carolina
View of Lake Rotoiti from Kerr Bay in St Arnaud” by edwin.11 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Gracing the border of North Carolina and Virginia, Kerr Lake, also known as Buggs Island Lake, is a reservoir teeming with life and activity. With over 850 miles of wooded shoreline, this lake is an ideal sanctuary for camping enthusiasts, with numerous campgrounds dotting its periphery. Beaches stretch out invitingly for sunbathers, while the waters beckon anglers with the promise of large catfish and bass. Annual events, especially the vibrant fireworks display on the Fourth of July, add a festive hue to the lake, making it a sought-after destination for families and solo travelers alike.

13. Lake Hickory

Lakes of North Carolina
Old Hickory Lake – GX85” by Ted Gamble is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Nestled amidst the picturesque foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake Hickory is a reservoir that paints a picture of tranquility. The lake’s 4,200-acre expanse is dotted with marinas, making it a popular spot for boating and water skiing. Beyond its recreational appeal, Lake Hickory offers scenic vistas that captivate photographers and nature lovers. The reflections of autumnal hues on the lake’s surface during fall, and the serene ambiance during winter’s snowfall, make every season a unique experience here.

14. Lake Tillery

Untitled 800 x 600 Top 15 Must-See Lakes of North Carolina

Bordering the Uwharrie National Forest and Morrow Mountain State Park, Lake Tillery offers more than just panoramic views. This reservoir is a hotspot for biodiversity, with its surroundings teeming with indigenous flora and fauna. Eagles soar overhead, while the waters ripple with activity from various fish species, making it a nature lover’s paradise. For adventure seekers, the rugged trails of the adjacent parks provide ample hiking and biking opportunities. Moreover, the lake’s calm waters are ideal for kayaking and canoeing, allowing visitors to navigate the lake’s nooks and crannies at their own pace.

15. Lake Glenville

Lakes of North Carolina
Lake Glenville, Glenville, NC” by w_lemay is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The tapestry of North Carolina is rich, diverse, and awash with natural beauty. Its lakes are not just geographical landmarks; they’re storytellers, each recounting tales of history, adventure, and the timeless dance of nature. From the historical depths of Lake Phelps to the soaring heights surrounding Lake Glenville, these liquid realms invite exploration, reflection, and an appreciation of the state’s multifaceted charm. As our exploration of these enchanting waters comes to an end, the invitation remains open for you to set sail on your own voyage, discovering the magic that lies in the heart of North Carolina’s lakes.

Traveling isn’t just about places, it’s about experiences. I’m Sachin, curating unique tales of exploration at Voyage Roams. Journey with me!

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