How Wide Is South Carolina’s Lake Marion at Its Widest Point?

Written by Heather Burdo
Updated: November 15, 2023
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Key Points

  • Lake Marion exists thanks to an engineering feat in the 1930s involving the flooding of Santee River wetlands.
  • It is 8 miles wide at its widest point.
  • At over 110,000 acres, Lake Marion is certainly massive but not quite one of the largest lakes in the United States.

One of South Carolina‘s most prized treasures lies amidst rolling fields and towering cypress trees – the sprawling Lake Marion. As the largest lake in the state, Marion captivates visitors with its immense scale, diverse wildlife inhabitants, and wealth of outdoor recreation. This inland sea offers endless beauty to uncover. Let’s dive deeper into what makes Lake Marion a cherished Lowcountry destination. Let’s explore “How wide Is South Carolina’s Lake Marion at its widest point?” and other interesting facts about this beauty.

Lake Marion South Carolina bordering Santee State Park

Lake Marion South Carolina bordering Santee State Park

©C Dash/Shutterstock.com

About Lake Marion


Unlike most lakes which form gradually over eons, Lake Marion is completely man-made. This aquatic giant exists thanks to an engineering feat in the 1930s involving the flooding of Santee River wetlands. The construction of Santee Dam enabled the intentional 3-year flooding period that transformed Lowcountry swamplands into the expansive 110,000-acre Lake Marion.

Upon completion in 1941, after years of intentional flooding, Lake Marion stood among the largest man-made lakes in the eastern United States. The mammoth project, unfortunately, displaced many homeowners occupying the flooded lands. However, it also brought new economic opportunities like hydroelectric power generation and recreation.

The lake was aptly named for Revolutionary War hero General Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion, whose cunning wetland warfare tactics earned him the nickname. Marion’s tenacious legacy lives on through the sprawling lake bearing his name that immerses visitors in the beauty of the Lowcountry.

Lake Marion at Santee State Park, South Carolina.

Lake Marion is 8 miles wide at its widest point!

©C Dash/Shutterstock.com

How Wide Is South Carolina’s Lake Marion at Its Widest Point?


It’s nearly impossible to see across the distant banks on the opposite side when standing on Lake Marion’s shoreline. So, how wide is South Carolina’s Lake Marion at its widest point? It is 8 miles wide at its widest point.

Gazing out at the open water extending unbroken to the horizon, you may forget you’re not at the ocean. Crossing the lake by motorboat from bank to bank takes 15 minutes.

The sheer magnitude of Lake Marion’s width essentially creates an inland sea, complete with its climate and ecosystems. Photos can hardly do justice to witnessing firsthand the seemingly endless open water in every direction. The views simply awe and inspire.

Historical Shoreline Sites


While paddling across or boating through Lake Marion, keep your eyes peeled for points of historical interest along the shoreline. Places like the Big Light Landing Lighthouse and Wilson’s Landing offer glimpses into the lake’s past.

The Big Light Landing Lighthouse, aptly near Lighthouse Landing, was built in the early 1900s alongside a railway crossing over the Santee River – well before Lake Marion. The small white lighthouse survived the flooding and remains an iconic Lake Marion landmark today.

Wilson’s Landing also provides a window into history. Named for President Woodrow Wilson, under whom the Santee Dam project began, visitors can still see concrete gateposts marking the entrance to land once owned by Colonel Thomas Wilson before Lake Marion’s waters claimed the areas.

Seeing these landmarks peeking above the glistening water surface provides perspective into how drastically the landscape changed following Lake Marion’s creation. Their continued endurance pays homage to the region’s history.

Alligator

Alligators are commonly found in Lake Marion.

©iStock.com/Cindy Larson

A Sanctuary for Lowcountry Wildlife


In addition to its sheer size and scale, Lake Marion provides critical habitat for abundant wildlife. From birds to gators, numerous creatures find sanctuary in the aquatic and shoreline habitats thanks to Lake Marion’s existence. Let’s highlight some prominent animal residents:

Alligators


These armored reptiles frequent Lake Marion and it’s not uncommon to spot their ridged backs peeking above the water’s surface in coves and along shorelines. They use their camouflage to their advantage, stealthily gliding through the lake with just their eyes and nostrils noticeable as they scout for food. Keep your distance from these ancient creatures!

Over 200 Species of Birds


The shoreline, cypress swamps, and open waters of Lake Marion attract a spectacular diversity of feathered residents and migrators. Watch for graceful egrets wading the shallows, ospreys diving for fish, painted buntings flitting through trees, and bald eagles soaring overhead. Late afternoon is prime time for catching many birds returning to roost.

Fish


Lake Marion’s waters nurture various fish, including sought-after game fish such as catfish, bream, crappie, and largemouth bass, bringing joy to anglers. Trophy-sized catches are achievable for those seeking a giant bass or hefty catfish. Submerged timber, lily pad fields, and shallow grassy waters create optimal conditions for the lake’s plentiful fish to flourish.

Mammals


Keen observers may also spot mammals like deer, river otters, mink, bobcats, beavers, and more around Lake Marion’s banks. Reptiles like turtles also thrive in this rich ecosystem. For wildlife lovers, a camera and pair of binoculars are essential to document unique creature sightings.

Watersports and Outdoor Recreation


Beyond wildlife watching, Lake Marion offers seemingly endless water sports and outdoor recreation opportunities. As you think, “How wide Is South Carolina’s Lake Marion at its widest point?” you may also be curious about what activities you can participate in Here’s a taste of the fun awaiting visitors:

Boating


With its miles of open water, coves, and channels, Lake Marion is a boating paradise. Cruising by pontoon boat or skiff lets you take in the scale while accessing remote sections and sandy islands, perfect for swimming and picnicking. Numerous marinas around the lake offer boat slips, fuel, and supplies.

Fishing


Anglers flock to Lake Marion year-round to wet their lines in search of various species and more. You’ll find ample public access points and bait-and-tackle shops ready to equip you for the day’s catch. Submerged timber and vegetation provide prime fish habitat.

Watersports


When boats towing wakeboarders and water skiers start bouncing over the waves, you know summer has arrived! Lake Marion’s open water spans deliver ample room for powered watersports thrills. Serene, sheltered lake coves provide prime locations to paddle a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard.

Swimming


While swimmers should be cautious of boats, designated swim areas can be found at some Lake Marion parks and campgrounds. The lake’s waters offer refreshments during hot South Carolina summers. Just keep an eye out for alligators before diving in!

Camping & Trails


Several state parks and recreation areas dot the Lake Marion shores, most with camping facilities. Hike wooded nature trails for sightseeing or bike multi-use pathways for lake views. Spend the night lakeside to experience Marion’s tranquility from dusk to dawn.

You name the outdoor pursuit, and Lake Marion likely offers it. This place has numerous public access areas and private marinas spanning three counties. It’s easy to launch your boat, paddle craft, or fishing vessel and make a day on the water.

How Wide Is South Carolina's Lake Marion at Its Widest Point?

Image: David Garrison, Shutterstock

©David Garrison/Shutterstock.com

Dazzling Lake Marion Sunsets


A highlight for many Lake Marion visitors is watching the sunset over the open water. At dusk, the sun’s fading light paints the lake’s rippling surface with dazzling orange, pink, and purple colors. Pull up a lawn chair at Cypress Point Park or Lone Star Lakeside RV Resort for the best views as the golden hour hits.

The immense width of Lake Marion allows sunset watchers to see the sun melt into the water’s edge in a fiery ball before darkness takes over. Dusk brings peaceful stillness and reflection under the emerging stars. You may see fish jumping or wild creatures calling in the fading light.

Sunset cruises are another excellent way to experience Lake Marion’s end-of-day beauty. Watch the dying light illuminate the cloud-streaked sky and silhouetted cypress trees in the distance as your boat returns to the marina. The vivid colors and stillness stir the soul.

Marion’s Cypress-Lined Coves


While Lake Marion’s open water spans create a sense of endlessness, meandering into the lake’s cypress-lined coves provides an intimate, creek-like feel. Take a kayak or canoe ride into one of these swampy retreats to admire the knobby knees of majestic cypress trees emerging from the tannic waters.

Watch for wildlife like turtles sunbathing on downed logs and listen for the call of warblers and wading birds among the cypress branches. Let the tea-colored waters reflect the zig-zagging patterns of the peeling bark on the trunks of 1000-year-old giantsCross Lake. Allow your mind to wander and reset amidst these peaceful, secluded settings.

As part of the lake yet enclosed by vegetation, the coves create a different sensory experience to complement Lake Marion’s expansive main channel. They reveal the lake’s personality and diversity.

How the Size of Lake Marion Compares to Other Lakes


At over 110,000 acres, Lake Marion is certainly massive but not quite one of the largest lakes in the United States. Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario, the five Great Lakes, all considerably exceed Lake Marion’s size. Lake Okeechobee in Florida and Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana are also significantly larger than Lake Marion. Regarding surface area, Lake Marion is comparable to lakes such as Lake St. Clair between Michigan and Ontario at 431 square miles and Lake Champlain at 430 square miles. While it does not measure up in size compared to some of the true giants like the Great Lakes, Lake Marion’s remote location, abundant recreation opportunities, and over 600 miles of shoreline still make it a special destination for those willing to venture to South Carolina’s Santee Cooper County area.

Abundant Attractions Surrounding Lake Marion


In addition to the lake, numerous attractions in the surrounding region provide ample activities for visitors.

Outdoors enthusiasts will appreciate the expansive 13,000-acre Santee National Wildlife Refuge situated along the lake’s shoreline. Abundant birds like herons, wood storks, owls, and over 200 other species thrive in the protected wetlands and rookeries, observable from walking trails or leisurely boat tours. Replete with informative exhibits and expert guides, the refuge provides an immersive escape into nature.

For history buffs, Elloree’s Heritage Museum and Cultural Center transports guests back to 1900s rural life and the town’s founding. Walk through intricately recreated shops, stay overnight in an authentic 19th-century cabin, and interact with the museum’s friendly mule, Ruby Doo. Elloree also boasts the quirky Tearificteapot Museum housed fittingly in a giant teapot-shaped building, showcasing a fascinating array of antique and modern teapots.

Lovely Swan Lake Iris Gardens in the town of Sumter presents serene ponds dotted with graceful swans and vibrant flowering iris plants in full bloom. The 1.75-mile wooden boardwalk through the old-growth forest at Francis Beidler Forest offers up-close access to towering ancient bald cypress and tupelo trees draped in ethereal moss.

For golfers, two premier golf courses border Lake Marion. The aptly named Lake Marion Golf Course features 18 holes with views of the lake, pine tree-lined fairways, and challenging sand traps. Santee Cooper Country Club is another scenic 18-hole course with dogleg holes and strategic bunkers spread along the shores of Lake Marion.

With plentiful lodging and dining options nearby, Lake Marion provides an ideal home base for regional excursions. Visitors will find no shortage of attractions and activities to explore in the vicinity.

Conclusion


Whether you explore by boat, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or relaxing lakeside, Lake Marion offers memorable adventures and sightseeing. Make time to experience both the endless open water spans and the cypress-lined coves to appreciate the lake’s diverse personality fully. Watch a fiery sunset melt into the distant horizon, camera in hand. Spot ospreys diving for fish and stealthy alligators slipped just out of sight.
Try your hand at reeling in trophy catches. You could also paddle through swamps where only the sounds of nature fill your ears. Lake Marion immerses you in South Carolina’s Lowcountry heritage, from Revolutionary War Generals to flooded cypress giants. Leaving with sun-kissed cheeks and a sense of wonder, you’ll undoubtedly be tempted to return soon to this inland sea.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © David Garrison/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Heather Burdo is a digital marketing enthusiast who has written content for countless industries over the last decade. However, content related to animals, nature, and health has her heart. When she's not working her magic with content, she enjoys being with family, going for walks, camping, and gardening. Self-development is non-negotiable for her.

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