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20 Best Lakes in North Carolina to Enjoy Your Vacation

By | Last Updated : 13th January 2021

On America’s East Coast lies the state of North Carolina that delivers spectacular natural splendors. The Blue Ridge Mountains have inspired songs about their magnificence to the West, and further East, you move into the coastal territory. The state is rife with lakes and bodies of water in all shapes and forms. Most of the state’s natural lakes are considered shallow and allow for various recreational activities over a large area. The natural landscapes that accompany the lakes are equally breathtaking and make for perfect holiday destinations. So, whether you want to wet your fishing line or soak in the sun on the shore, North Carolina will offer a lake for every taste.

Lakes in North Carolina

Man-Made Lakes in North Carolina

1. Lake Norman

Lake Norman in North Carolina

Lake Norman is NC’s largest human-made lake and offers an astonishing 520-miles of shoreline. The lake is a convenient 45-minute drive from the city of Charlotte. This area has a wonderfully temperate climate and an ideal getaway for families to enjoy various activities. The towns of Cornelius, Davidson, and Huntersville on the lake’s shores offer a myriad of entertainment opportunities above and beyond the normal “lake-side” activities. There are many annual events on the lake, such as the Asian Festival and the NC Brewers and music festival. There is only one designated swimming area in Lake Norman State Park.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, spotted bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, blue catfish, black crappie, bluegill, white bass, yellow perch, striped bass

Other Activities: Watersports, hiking, golfing

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2. Jordan Lake

Jordan Lake in North Carolina

Jordan Lake is a mere 30-minute drive south from Durham in the central region of NC. This lake’s shoreline is undeveloped leaving it in pristine condition. This offers plenty of options for camping in tents or trailers to experience nature at its fullest. There are five access areas with over 1000 campsites scattered around. There are more than 13 miles of hiking trails that can be explored with an abundance of wildlife along the way. Most notably, the iconic bald eagle favors these shores for nesting. For water lovers, there are no less than seven beaches to enjoy a swim at.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, white bass, yellow perch, striped bass.

Other Activities: Swimming, hiking, bird watching, boating

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3. High Rock Lake

High Rock Lake in North Carolina

High Rock Lake is the second largest lake in NC and has hosted multiple bass fishing competitions over the years. The waters are teeming with fish, and there are plenty of great camping spots along the expansive coastline.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, blue catfish, black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, white bass, striped bass.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, hiking

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4. Lake James

Lake James in North Carolina

Lake James is well known for its crystal-clear waters that make for a picture-perfect getaway. The lake has three campgrounds, including a boat-in camping facility for the more adventurous. There are also over 20 miles of hiking trails, alongside 15 miles of mountain bike trails.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, blue catfish, walleye, black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, white bass, northern pike, striped bass, tiger muskie

Other Activities: Hiking, mountain biking, boating, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding

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5. Lake Glenville

Lake Glenville in North Carolina

Lake Glenville might be small but is unique as it is the highest laying lake east of the Mississippi River. It is less than 20 miles from Western Carolina University and only 8 miles away from Cashiers town. The lake also has a quaint beach and three unique waterfalls that you can reach by boat.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, walleye, rainbow trout.

Other Activities: Tubing, skiing, paddleboarding, kneeboarding, swimming, hiking

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6. Badin Lake

Badin Lake in North Carolina

Badin Lake offers sunsets that are second to none. The lake’s recreation area is found in the Uwharrie National Forest of Montgomery County, only 40 minutes away from Asheboro. There is plenty of free dispersed camping as well as exciting off-roading trails for 4×4 enthusiasts.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, blue catfish, redbreast sunfish, channel catfish, black crappie, white Bass, striped Bass, redear Sunfish.

Other Activities: Horse riding, golfing, OHV Riding, hiking, bicycling.

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7. Lake Wylie

Lake Wylie in North Carolina

Lake Wylie is only 30 minutes away from Charlotte and crosses borders into South Carolina too. There are plenty of small communities around the lake that offer lots to do in the area. The lake has a healthy fish population, and there are two areas where you can launch and rent boats from.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, channel catfish, black crappie, white crappie, white bass, blue catfish, white perch.

Other Activities: Boating, paddleboarding, kayaking

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8. Nantahala Lake

Lake Nantahala in North Carolina

Nantahala Lake is hugely diverse and hosts plenty of activities. These waters are excellent for trout fishing due to their high elevation. On the river section, many flock annually for epic white river rafting. The lake is a mere 18 miles from the quaint town of Franklin. There are plenty of peaceful log cabins to rent in these dense forests or settle for some authentic camping experiences.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, blue catfish, black crappie, walleye, rainbow trout, brook trout, brown trout, bluegill, yellow perch, kokanee salmon, striped bass.

Other Activities: Canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, wakeboarding, waterskiing  

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9. Lake Fontana

Lake Fontana in North Carolina

Lake Fontana, North Carolina’s deepest lake is located amongst the majestic Smokey Mountains and offers incredible multi-day hikes into its most remote locations. Bass tournaments are often hosted here as the fish are known to be on the hefty side. Shore fishing is not as popular as boat fishing here. The lake is much deeper than most others in the region due to the mountainous terrain allowing splendid formations to be explored. There are many houseboats situated on the lake that are popular vacation rentals.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, black crappie, bluegill, walleye, rainbow trout, muskie, steelhead, yellow perch, brown trout

Other Activities: Hiking, boating, camping

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10. Belews Lake

Belews Lake in North Carolina

Belews Lake is less than 30 miles north of Greensboro, NC. There are two lovely marinas on the lake that offer great restaurants and several activities. Shoreside camping is available, and one can get various cottages for rent. The lake has a large surface area, which makes it popular for all kinds of water sports.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, channel catfish, black crappie, white catfish, bluegill, white bass.

Other Activities: Horse riding, hiking, water-skiing, tubing

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11. Lake Lure

Lure Lake in North Carolina

Lake Lure is most famous as the romantic setting for the popular film Dirty Dancing and is roughly 25 miles from Ashville. There are multiple resorts and cabins around the lush forests that provide impressive views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Several festivals are held year-round, and a wide array of shopping can be enjoyed in the surrounding towns. Make sure not to miss the spectacular views from the top of Chimney Rock.

Fishing: Carp, bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, perch, smallmouth bass, walleye, white bass.

Other Activities: Tubing, river rafting, wakeboarding, horse riding

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12. Hyco Lake

North Carolina Hyco Lake

Hyco Lake is located 20 minutes north-west of the city of Roxboro. They have the unique feature of a ski course situated in the northern area of the lake. There are 65 well-kept campsites around the lake as well as various picnic spots surrounded by nature. An innovative Nature Learning Center present there allows visitors to learn more about the surrounding fauna and flora.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, flathead catfish, channel catfish, black crappie, white catfish, bluegill, white bass, redear sunfish.

Other Activities: Disk golf, boating, camping

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13. Randleman Lake

Randleman Lake in North Carolina

Randleman Lake is the newest lake in NC and only dates back to 2010. It is just 20 minutes south of Greensboro, and the smaller town of Randleman is located to the south of the lake. There are various strict regulations about watersports in the area, regarding speed limits and mast height restrictions. There are 100 miles of shoreline surrounding the lake, including a dog park, playground, picnic areas, and athletic fields.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, channel catfish, white crappie, bluegill.

Other Activities: Boating, sailing, paddleboarding

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14. Lake Tahoma

Tahoma Lake in North Carolina

Lake Tahoma is only 5 miles northwest of the town of Marion, in the Western mountainous areas of NC. This lake is private but there is an impressively scenic drive in the surrounding areas. There are homes to rent on these picturesque shores that will give you special access to these fruitful waters. No watercraft are allowed here which makes the area extra tranquil.

Fishing: Striped bass, largemouth bass, walleye, smallmouth bass, spotted bass.

Other Activities: Hiking, bird watching

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15. Bass Lake

Bass Lake in North Carolina

Bass Lake is owned by the town of Holly Springs and was restored to peak condition in 2004 and opened to the public. The lake gets stocked with 1500lb of catfish each month but there are also a few other species to be caught. Although personal watercraft are not allowed, there are crafts for rent with trolling motors. There are plenty of native creatures to be seen in the natural areas around the lake. There are limits on the amount of fish each person can catch so make sure to check out the regulations beforehand.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, redear, crappie, bluegill, catfish, carp.

Other Activities: Hiking, boating

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16. Price lake

Price Lake in North Carolina

Price Lake is located at the foot of the Grandfather Mountain in NC in the Julian Prince Memorial Park. For three seasons of the year, nature lovers can enjoy exquisite natural surroundings and experience the changing foliage. In winter, the lake freezes over and makes way for cross country skiing. The Price Lake campgrounds offer quality camping on the shores, which grants easy access to shore fishing.

Fishing: Catfish, bluegill, pumpkinseed, sunfish, crappie, yellow perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth Bass, northern pike, walleye.

Other Activities: Hiking, canoeing, cross-country skiing

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17. Lake Santeetlah

Lake Santeetlah in North Carolina

Lake Santeetlah is at the foot of the Smokey Mountains, less than 10 miles from Robbinsville. This lake embodies the best of natural wonders from these parts of the country, excelling as one of North Carolina’s most beautiful lakes. 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.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, black crappie, white crappie, walleye, rainbow trout, brown trout, bluegill, yellow perch.

Other Activities: Biking, hiking, canoeing

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18. Lake Toxaway

Lake Toxaway in North Carolina

Lake Toxaway is the only lake in the state that has been built exclusively for recreational purposes. It lies an hour east of Franklin, NC, and consists mainly of private estates. However, there is an inn on Highway 64 that now accommodates more members of the public on these pristine shores. The streams leading into the river are some of the country’s cleanest and ensure crystal clear waters in this lake.

Fishing: Rainbow trout, brown trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, catfish, bluegill

Other Activities: Biking, hiking, canoeing

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Natural Lakes in North Carolina

19. Lake Mattamuskeet

Mattamuskeet Lake in North Carolina

Lake Mattamuskeetis situated in eastern North Carolina, is about two hours from Greenville. It is the largest natural lake in the state and is relatively shallow, only about 2-3 feet on average. Wildlife is abundant in this area, with swans and geese migrating here over the colder months, alongside bald eagles. Blue crab fishing is a bonus on these shores.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, channel catfish, black crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, redear, sunfish, warmouth, white perch, yellow perch, bowfin.

Other Activities: Biking, hiking, canoeing

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20. Lake Waccamaw

Lake Waccamaw in North Carolina

Lake Waccamaw is about 40 minutes west of Wilmington, NC. It is known for its alligators and abundance of wildlife. Primitive camping is available all around, and the shore side boardwalk is very popular amongst visitors.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, black crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, redear sunfish, white bass, white perch, striped bass.

Other Activities: Biking, hiking, canoeing

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TOP PICKS

 Best Lakes for Fishing: Lake Norman, Fontana Lake, High Rock Lake

 Best Lakes for Swimming: Lake James, Lake Norman, Lake Glenville

 Best Lakes for Boating: Lake James, Jordan Lake, High Rock Lake

Best Lakes to Live On: Lake Toxaway, Hyco Lake, Lake Glenville

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