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11 of the Best and Most Beautiful Lakes in South Carolina

By | Last Updated: 31st May 2023

The state of South Carolina is famed for an array of beautiful, blue lakes distributed evenly throughout. A majority of them are artificial ones and account for many recreational activities like boating, fishing, and swimming. Since most of them lie within state parks, one could also take pleasure of hiking, biking, camping and bird watching during their visit to these magnificent lakes.

Lakes in South Carolina

The state of South Carolina has about 23 manmade lakes, with most of them created as reservoirs during the construction of a dam. There are no natural lakes as such.  

1. Lake Marion

Lake Marion, the largest of all South Carolina lakes, is situated within the bounds of five of its counties, namely Sumter, Orangeburg, Calhoun, Berkeley, and Clarendon. It is also among the United States’ top 50 lakes, having a 315-mile (507 km) shoreline, encompassing about 110,000 acres (45 sq. Km). Its creation dates back to November 1941, during the construction of the Santee Dam. The lake got its name after General Francis Marion of the American Revolutionary War. The tributaries feeding the lake include the Santee River, Wyboo Creek, and the Eutaw Spring. This location is a camping hub for students, religious groups, and rowing teams, who mostly throng the place in summer and spring since the weather gets delightful. The Santee State Park, situated on the lake’s western edge, is a popular activity spot.

Fishing: It is one of the most sought-after activities here and the lake holds the state record of catching a largemouth bass with 16.2 lbs (7.35 kg) weight. The several other species found here include white perch, striped bass, crappie, channel catfish, white bass, bream, redear sunfish, and the Arkansas blue catfish. There are also more than a hundred alligators dwelling in the shallow, swampy parts of the lake, alongside the surrounding creeks and coves. Those without a fishing license can buy one at the visitor center of the park. 

Boating: This is available at the Santee State Park, and one can access the Lake Marion from it via the public boat ramps found here.

Other Activities: Swimming is permissible, though at one’s own risk as lifeguard facilities are unavailable.  Camping, hiking, and bird watching are the other activities one can indulge in the Santee State Park premises. The Santee National Wildlife Refuge, located at the lake’s vicinity, would give one the pleasure of admiring a whole lot of wildlife like deer, squirrel, turtle, and fox, alongside birds like osprey, egret, and eagle.

Dogs are allowed when leashed.

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2. Lake Murray

Lake Murray in South Carolina

Lake Murray, with an area of about 50,000 acres (200 sq. km) and nearly 650-mile (1050 km) shoreline, is known as the “Jewel of South Carolina” because of its glistening waters, and picturesque beauty. The Saluda River, flowing from South Carolina’s upstate adjacent to North Carolina’s state line, feeds Lake Murray. It gets its name after William S. Murray, the chief engineer involved in the Saluda Dam project, and had also been the largest manmade reservoir of the world upon its completion. The lake is famous for boating and fishing. At the same time, the Dreher Island State Recreation Area in its western fringes hosts a lot of recreational activities.

Fishing: One can fish here from dawn to dusk throughout the year when the water levels are favorable. However, fishing remains closed on the second Tuesday of each month and holidays like New Year, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Lake Murray’s prominent species are channel catfish, bass, black crappie, trout, and bluegill. Fish limits exist on bass, catfish, and trout (five each) as well as bluegill and crappie (a combined catch of twenty-five). One could fish from the shore or boat and even use a float tube (not more than 150 feet from the shore). 

Boating: Private boats are allowed throughout the week from sunrise to sunset if the water levels are suitable. Renting facilities for kayak and small boats remain available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Boating services also remain suspended on the second Tuesday and holidays like fishing.

Other Activities: The lake is a no-swimming zone, though one can take a splash in the adjacent beaches like Marina Beach, Martins Landing Beach, and Sunset Beach. Bicycling, picnicking, rollerblading, walking, and jogging are the other available activities. The surrounding area has about 64 picnic tables and 10 barbecues.

The authorities permit dogs, though they should stay 50 ft away from the lake. Their entry on boats is, however, not permissible.

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3. Lake Jocassee

Jocassee Lake in South Carolina

Lake Jocassee, encompassing about 7500 acres (30 sq. km), has a depth of about 300 ft (91 m). It lies in the northwestern part of South Carolina. Jocassee translates to “The Place of a Lost One,” and the lake’s name is linked to a Cherokee maiden’s legend. The lake’s creation happened in 1973 as a joint venture between the state and Duke Power. It is a part of the Devils Fork State Park. This sparkling water body has the reputation of being South Carolina’s cleanest lake. The remnants of a lodge which at present lie 300ft down the waters was discovered quite recently by divers. The beauteous surrounding of the place was captured in The Hunger Games, a 2012-movie. 

Fishing: The lake holds the state record for five fish species, namely the spotted bass, redeye bass, and smallmouth bass (of the sunfish family) as well as the rainbow trout and brown trout. The other available species include the catfish species and brook trout. Of the four fishing streams the lake has, Toxaway and Horsepasture are accessed in the summer months. At the same time, Whitewater (accessed through hiking only) and Thompson are favorable in fall and winter. 

Boating: It is the choicest activity, and one can bring their boats or even rent one.

Other Activities: Though swimming is permissible, the lake offers no demarcated places or any safety measures like lifeguards. The Devils Fork State Park provides a majority of the other activities like picnicking, scuba diving, hiking, walking, and bird-watching.

Leashed dogs are granted permission into the state park.

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4. Lake Strom Thurmond

South Carolina Strom Thurmond Lake

This lake is also referred to as J. Strom Thurmond Reservoir (officially designated name), and the Clarks Hill Lake (by U.S.’ Georgia state).  Situated at the Little River – Savannah River confluence, it was created in 1951 during the J. Strom Thurmond Dam construction.  At present, it is South Carolina’s second-largest artificial lake. It has a host of marinas, campgrounds, and parks in its vicinity, accessed by many people every year. There has been a lot of confusion and contradiction over its name. Though people still refer to it as the Clarks Hill Lake in Georgia, it permanently changed to its present name in 1987, in honor of Strom Thurmond, South Carolina’s senator.

Fishing: The lake provides excellent scope for fishing, with species like largemouth bass, striped bass, channel catfish, redbreast sunfish, bluegill, bream, and crappie being predominant here.

Boating: It houses 6 marinas and around 20 boat ramps to cater to one’s boating needs.

Other Activities: Swimming is allowed, with designated areas allotted in the campgrounds and recreational areas surrounding the lake premises. Hiking and biking trails and other exciting activities would surely make the visitors have a whale of a time on their visit to this lake. 

Many campsites around the lake are dog-friendly, allowing leashed canines.

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5. Lake Moultrie

Lake Moultrie in South Carolina

The third-largest among all South Carolina lakes, it developed during the 1940s, with an area of more than 60,000 acres (240 sq. km). Situated in the state’s Berkley County, the Cooper River feeds this lake through the Lake Marion as well as a diversion canal. The adjacent towns to this lake are Cross, Moncks Corner, St. Stephen, and Bonneau. William Moultrie, who served as South Carolina’s governor in the latter part of the 18th century, was the inspiration behind the lake’s name.

Fishing: The lake has diverse fishing environments ranging from black water ponds to shallow swamps, live cypress trees to tree stumps, thus being home to a wide range of fish species. A Chanel Catfish, with 58 lb (26 kg) weight, had been caught here.

Boating: One could rent canoes or kayaks for a fun-filled boating spree.

Other Activities: Swimming is allowed, though unsupervised. Hiking and biking are the different activities one could avail of in the surrounding area.

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6. Lake Hartwell

Hartwell Lake in South Carolina

Lake Hartwell, having an area of about 56,000 sq. km, borders the states of South Carolina and Georgia along the Tugaloo, Seneca, and Savannah rivers. The water body, developed during the construction of the Hartwell Dam is not just the largest lake of the southeast, but also the most popular one when it comes to recreational activities. It earns its name after Nancy Hart, a prominent figure of the American Revolutionary War. The Lake Hartwell State Park near the lake’s vicinity also makes way for a lot of activities.

Fishing: The common species found here are the striped bass, largemouth bass, crappie, trout, walleye, and white bass. To catch fish like the trout and walleye, one needs to take a boat, as they commonly occur near the part of the Hartwell Dam located on the lake’s Georgia border. This lake has an ill reputation of the blue-green algae, which one should be cautious about when along the shore banks.

Boating: This is one of the most preferred recreational activities here. The lake has five marinas, namely, the Big Water Marina, Hartwell Marina, Harbor Light Marina, Portman Marina, and Clemson Marina, alongside several boat ramps. The Western Carolina Sailing Club known for promoting sailboat racing and sailing is also present here.

Other Activities: Swimming is permissible, but the lake has no designated place for this purpose, neither is there any lifeguard. The lake also has provisions for many water sports like wakeboarding, water skiing, and tubing. One could go biking following the trial present here and also take pleasure in watching more than 250 bird species and about 40 varieties of mammals, thriving here. Familiar places for sightseeing located nearby are the Eighteen Mile Creek, Rock Quarry, Issaqueena Dam, Ghost Island, and the Andersonville Island. 

Leashed dogs are allowed entry in the lake’s premises.

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7. Lake Keowee

Keowee Lake in South Carolina

It developed in 1971 for serving the purpose of Duke Energy, a power utility. The lake has a length, width, and depth of 26 miles (42 km), 3 miles (4.8 km), and 54 ft (16 m), respectively, and predominately lies in South Carolina’s Oconee County. A particular portion of it also extends up to Pickens County. The Little River and the Keowee River is primarily responsible for feeding the lake. Keowee in Cherokee translates to “place of mulberries”. It is famed for the large number of recreational activities it provides. Nevertheless, it also has the ill-reputation of being one of South Carolina’s deadliest lakes (particularly the Oconee County area) because of the high fatalities occurring here. There is also the Keowee Toxaway State Park located at the park’s northern end. 

Fishing: The main species found here are the spotted bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, catfish, yellow pouch, crappie, rainbow trout, and brown trout.Though people fish year-round, the month of June is the best time.  

Boating: Marinas are available for those living in the surrounding areas. One can rent kayaks or other boats for a thrilling experience in the blue, chilly waters. The timing for boat rentals spans between 9 am and 6 pm. The county administrators built a floating bathroom for the convenience of boaters and hygiene purposes. Boat-related accidents have been common, with the one concerning a football player of Clemson proving fatal.

Other Activities: You can swim, though no lifeguards or any designated area remains present. The lake also makes way for waterskiing and other aqua sports. One could even camp in the several campgrounds located in the adjacent Keowee Toxaway State Park.

Dogs with leash are permissible.

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8. Lake Greenwood

Lake Greenwood in South Carolina

This lake developed when a hydroelectric dam was built on Saluda River close to the Chappells community of South Carolina. It covers approximately 11,400 acres (46 sq. km) with a 212-mile (341 km) shoreline. The waters of this lake pass through the Laurens, Newberry, and Greenwood Counties. However, Greenwood County has its sole ownership since they have purchased the entire property. Lake Greenwood State Park lies at close quarters. It provides for a galore of activities like boating, picnicking, camping, hiking, and fishing. 

Fishing: Opportunities to fish are available for anglers with varied skill levels. One could find species like perch, bass, stripers, catfish, and beam.If you particularly intend to catch bass, then the fall season is perfect for you.

Boating: The calm waters and favorable climate around the lake make it ideal for boating.

Other Activities: Swimming is allowed at one’s own risk, and one should avoid going to the areas around the fishing piers, docks, and boat ramps. One could cherish a whole lot of water sports like skiing and scuba diving here.

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9. Lake Wateree

Lake Wateree in South Carolina

One of the oldest of the humanmade lakes of South Carolina, Lake Wateree is a small 21 sq.mile (50 sq. km) reservoir with a 181-mile (291 km) shoreline in the Fairfield, Lancaster, and Kershaw counties. It gets its name from the Wateree Native American tribes who dwelled in the surrounding area before being dispossessed by the European settlers. The ownership and management of this lake, whose creation dates back to 1919 is bestowed in the hands of Duke Energy. Besides providing ample scope for fishing, it is also home to whole lot wildlife like fox, squirrel, turtle, dove, deer, and birds such as eagle, hawk, egret, duck, osprey, and heron.

Fishing: Fish species available in the waters of this lake are largemouth bass,white perch, striped bass, channel catfish, bream, Arkansas blue catfish, and crappie.

Boating: There are four marinas and five boat ramps to facilitate boating.

Other Activities: Provisions for swimming is present without lifeguard though. There are also grills and picnic tables in the area surrounding the lake. Camping facilities are available in the Lake Wateree State Park situated in the vicinity of the lake.

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10. Richard B. Russell Lake

Russell Lake in South Carolina

Richard B. Russell Lake or Lake Russell, as alternately called, was created during the construction of the Richard B. Russell Dam upon the Savannah River. It borders the counties of Anderson, and Abbeville, in South Carolina, as well as Elbert in Georgia. The lake comprises an area of approximately 26,650 acres (108 sq. km) and a shoreline of 540 miles (870 km). It derives its name from Richard Brevard Russell Jr., the U.S Senator.

Fishing: Common species found here are striped bass, spotted bass, largemouth bass, and black crappie. The best time for fishing is summer, when species like the crappie and bass would be available readily.

Boating: The Richard B. Russell State Park, situated along the lake’s shores, facilitates boating.

Other Activities: Swimming is allowed, without demarcation of a particular area or lifeguard, though. One could also take pleasure in hiking, wildlife viewing, and camping in the state park. Water sports include jet and water skiing.

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11. Lake Wylie

Lake Wylie in South Carolina

This lake, touching the states of South Carolina and North Carolina, covers a 13, 400 acre (54 sq km) surface area, with a 325 miles (523 km) shoreline. It was formed in 1904 as a part of the Catawba Dam project by the Catawba Power Company. Its original name, Lake Catawba, changed in 1960 to Lake Wylie after W. Gil. Wylie, one of Catawba Company’s founders.  As it shares its borders with both the states of Carolina, it emerges as a famous recreational center for residents in the nearby cities of Rock Hill, Fort Mill., and Charlotte.

Fishing: Some prominent species the lake offers are the channel catfish and largemouth bass. Anglers and beginners throng here all the time to get their best catches.

Boating: Boat rentals are available to give one an experience of a lifetime as they sail through the blue waters.

Other Activities: The lake has two designated swimming areas for the public, one being at the Ebenezer Park and the other in the Windjammer Park. Hiking, water sports, picnicking, and many more facilities are provided in these two parks for visitors’ entertainment.

Though the place has two pet friendly restaurants nearby, the lake region is not too well suited for them.

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Top Picks

Best Lakes for Fishing: Lake Marion, Lake Murray, Lake Jocassee

Best Lakes for Swimming: Lake Marion, Lake Jocassee, Lake Wylie

Best lakes for Boating: Lake Marion, Lake Moultrie, Lake Jocassee

Clearest Lakes: Lake Jocassee, Lake Marion, Lake Murray

Do keep a few of these amazing lakes in your bucket list on your next trip to South Carolina. If planning to go there on a fishing spree, make sure you have a license that is available only if you are 16 and above.

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