Best Lakes in North Carolina

Lake Lure, North Carolina

Nestled between the Appalachian mountains and surrounded by rainforest, North Carolina has some of the most beautiful lakes in the United States.

In this article, we uncover the best lakes in North Carolina for boating and outdoor recreation. These mountain lakes are the perfect spot for your next road trip or getaway!

  1. Lake Norman
  2. Lake Lure
  3. Fontana Lake
  4. Jordan Lake
  5. High Rock Lake
  6. Lake James
  7. Nantahala Lake
  8. Lake Glenville
  9. Lake Santeetlah
  10. Badin Lake
  11. Lake Mattammuskeet

1. Lake Norman

Best lakes in North Carolina: Lake Norman
Lake Norman

Referred to as the “inland sea” of North Carolina, Lake Norman is the largest lake in the state. It covers more than 35,000 acres and has a whopping 520 miles of shoreline.

Lake Norman is located 20 miles from Charlotte and is a recreation playground for just about anything you could want to do on or near the water.

On the water, you can launch your own boat from one of many full-service marinas surrounding the lake. You can also rent boats, jet skis, go on a chartered tour, or even sign up for paddleboarding at Aloha Paddle Sports.

To take your adventure lakeside, you can go hiking, biking, or golfing. When you are ready to wind down, there are tons of restaurants, craft beer & wine, and wellness spas where you can sit back, relax, and just enjoy being near this gorgeous lake!

2. Lake Lure

Best lakes in North Carolina: Lake Lure
Lake Lure

Located in Western North Carolina, Lake Lure is a gorgeous lake that sits nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its picturesque landscape might seem familiar as it was a prime filming location for “Dirty Dancing” and “Last of the Mohicans.”

From the serene Lake Lure, visitors can take in expansive mountains views and rolling forested foothills. Hiking and rock climbing are also very popular in the neighboring Chimney Rock State Park. Some other activities in and around Lake Lure include the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, Lake Lure Beach & Water Park, and horseback riding.

If you plan on boating on Lake Lure, make sure to get a permit. All watercraft, including motorized and non-motorized, must obtain and display a permit issued by the town in order to be on the lake. For more information on Lake Lure boating permits, see their FAQs.

These permits are needed because Lake Lure does not disappoint! It is the perfect lake for boating, fishing, pontooning, water skiing, kayaking, and more.

3. Fontana Lake

Best lakes in North Carolina: Fontana Lake
Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake sits right between the southern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the northern border of Nantahala National Forest.

This lake's location is nature at her finest. It offers panoramic views of sweeping mountain ranges and rainforest vegetation. This lush landscape makes for the perfect getaway and boating destination.

Fontana is a full-service lake with many marinas, boat ramps, and boat rental options. You will often see the lake dotted with pontoon boats, cruising around and taking in the views.

With 240 miles of shoreline, there is also a lot to explore! Fishing for trout, bass, walleye, perch, sunfish and crappie is superb. There is even the occasional catch of a northern pike. It is recommended to fish closer to evening and night though as fish like to stay deep during the day.

Fontana is also an excellent lake for paddlesports like kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding. Paddling is actually one of the best ways to slow down and truly take in the beauty of this lake.

4. Jordan Lake

Best lakes in North Carolina: Jordan Lake
Jordan Lake

Joran Lake is a beloved North Carolina destination for camping and hiking. Jordan Lake has miles of undeveloped shoreline perfect for quiet getaways, day trips, and reconnecting with nature. The Jordan Lake State Recreation Area has a total of nine access points, more than 1,000 campsites for tents or RV hookups, and seven pristine swim beaches.

Lakeside campers can explore the beautiful lake by canoe, kayak, or any other water activity. Hikers can enjoy nearly 14 miles of hiking trails that wind their way around the lake. These trails have the perfect vantage point for bird watching and even spotting bald eagles.

Crosswinds Boating Center is home to the only marina on Jordan Lake and is located just north of Highway 64, convenient to Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Here you can access pontoon rentals, kayak and paddleboard rentals, a convenience store, bait, and more.

5. High Rock Lake

Best lakes in North Carolina: High Rock Lake
High Rock Lake

High Rock Lake is a large reservoir located in central North Carolina. Covering over 15,000 acres with 365 miles of shoreline, High Rock Lake is the second-largest lake in North Carolina behind Lake Norman. The lake was named after the neighboring High Rock Mountain, which is the tallest mountain in the Uwharrie Mountains.

High Rock Lake is well-known as a premier lake for boating and fishing and has even been the host of several Bassmaster Tournaments. Fishermen and anglers come from far and wide for the quality and quantity of largemouth bass, catfish, and crappie.

There are several marinas and boat ramps around High Rock Lake that make accessing the lake easy. High Rock Lake is also a great size for water sports like water skiing, jet skiing, and towable water fun.

6. Lake James

Best lakes in North Carolina: Lake James
Lake James

Lake James is a large reservoir nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. Originally constructed by Duke Power, the lake has now become a hotspot for outdoor recreation of all kinds.

Within Lake James State Park, Lake James has two boat ramp accesses including Canal Bridge Boat Ramp and Hidden Cove Boat Ramp. Boaters love Lake James because it has no horsepower limit! The lake can also be accessed by five public recreational access locations, including four boat ramps and one fishing and canoe access area.

Along with boating, visitors to Lake James can enjoy swimming in the beautiful clear waters or hiking the over 25 miles of trails around the lake.

Lake James is also an excellent fishing spot. The lake has deep, cold waters that support a variety of freshwater fish species including walleye, bass, crappie, big pike, muskie, and catfish. The clean clear water makes for great-tasting fish of all species.

7. Nantahala Lake

Best lakes in North Carolina: Nantahala Lake
Nantahala Lake

Nantahala Lake sits at an elevation of 3,000 feet in the Nantahala National Forest. This crystal-clean lake and has a total of 42 miles of shoreline.

Visitors to Nantahala Lake enjoy boating and various other watersports, including white water rafting on the Nantahala River. There are also plenty of vacation rentals and unique cabin rentals around the lake to extend your stay.

Nantahala Lake is a large part of the Little Tennessee River Basin, a fertile region for support of wild trout and a diversity of other fish including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, salmon, and catfish.

This makes it a popular lake with fishermen and anglers, who come from all over the country to fish Nantahala's waters.

Nantahala Lake is relatively remote, with no municipalities in the immediate area. This makes it ideal for a quiet getaway with wildlife viewing opportunities.

8. Lake Glenville

Best lakes in North Carolina: Lake Glenville
Lake Glenville

Lake Glenville is located just 8 miles from Cashiers in Jackson County. It has beautiful clear waters and 26 miles of shoreline to enjoy water recreation fun. At an elevation of nearly 3,500 feet, it is the highest lake east of the Mississippi.

Lake Glenville is an all-sports lake and is used for boating, tubing, water skiing, paddle boarding, kneeboarding, swimming, and fishing.

Boat rentals are also popular on this lake. Visitors love hopping on a pontoon with friends to explore the calm waters and surrounding waterfalls that are only accessible by boat. Waterfalls on Lake Glenville include Norton Falls, Hidden Falls Hurricane Falls, Mill Creek Falls, and below the dam is the 150ft. High Falls.

For fishing, the lake has large and smallmouth bass, walleye, yellow perch. crappie, rainbow and brown trout, large brim, and a few catfish.

9. Lake Santeetlah

Best lakes in North Carolina: Lake Santeetlah
Lake Santeetlah

Lake Santeetlah is another gorgeous lake in North Carolina that is hugged by mountains and rainforests. If you are looking for an untouched lake and remote getaway in NC, this is a great choice for you!

About 80% of Lake Santeetlah's 76-mile shoreline is in the Nantahala National Forest with views of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The lake is best explored by boat, with many access points and rental options including pontoon rentals, ski boat rentals, and kayak rentals.

For campers, the Cheoah Point Recreation Area makes the perfect basecamp for camping, picnicking, swimming, fishing, and boating.

10. Badin Lake

Best lakes in North Carolina: Badin Lake
Badin Lake

Badin Lake is situated in the Uwharrie National Forest of Montgomery County in North Carolina. It has a surface area of 5,350 acres and 155 miles of shoreline.

The lake offers both residents and visitors a wide range of recreational opportunities such as golf, fishing, boating, hiking, camping, and hunting.

Badin Lake has many game fish, including largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, spotted Bass, white Bass, and striped bass. There are, however, no trout in Badin Lake.

11. Lake Mattamuskeet

Best lakes in North Carolina: Lake Mattammuskeet
Lake Mattamuskeet

Covering about 40,000 acres, Lake Mattamuskeet is the largest natural lake in North Carolina. However, even at this large size, it is a very shallow lake, averaging at only 2 to 3 feet in depth.

These shallow waters are what make it perfect for sport fishing. Time to break our your Jon Boat! Fishing for largemouth bass, striped bass, catfish, bream, crappie, and other species is permitted on the lake and adjacent canals from March 1 through November 1 each year.

Lake Mattamuskeet is located in the Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. It is located on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula in Hyde County, North Carolina and almost all areas are open to the public. The refuge consists of open water, marsh, forest, and croplands.

Bottom Line

North Carolina offers one of the most fertile and lush landscapes in all of the United States. The pristine lakes and waterways that dot the mountain landscape have one-of-a-kind mountain views and incredible fishing for a wide range of freshwater species.

Boating opportunities on North Carolina lakes are plentiful with well-maintained marinas, boat ramps, and access points all over the state to encourage you to explore the waters.

We encourage you to get out and boat the best lakes in North Carolina!

Deb Sauvé Avatar
About Deb Sauvé

Deb is a Canadian outdoor enthusiast, journalist, and photographer. Raised in rural Northern Ontario, Deb is no stranger to extreme environments, remote fishing spots, and great lakes boating.

This article may contain affiliate links which I earn a commision through when you purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Please read why I do this and my commitment to accurate and compelling content.