The Top 10 Reasons North Carolina Has the Absolute Best Lakes in the Country

Written by Shreya Agrawal
Published: September 25, 2023
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When it comes to stunning natural landscapes and serene aquatic environments, North Carolina reveals itself to be a treasure trove of pristine lakes. From the majestic Appalachian Mountains to the tranquil coastal plains, the Tar Heel State has a remarkable collection of lakes.

1. Natural Beauty

Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, USA on Price Lake in autumn.

Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, USA on Price Lake in autumn. There is a lot of beauty in North Carolina lakes.

©Sean Pavone/

North Carolina’s lakes have a diverse range of natural beauty. The state’s topography includes mountains, rolling hills, and coastal plains. Thus, all of these contribute to the breathtaking landscapes that surround these bodies of water. For instance, Lake Santeetlah in the western part of the state is close to the Nantahala National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains. Thus, it results in an awe-inspiring backdrop. Lake James, for example, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has clear blue waters and panoramas of lush forests that reflect the changing seasons.

2. Size and Depth

Lake Norman

Lake Norman in North Carolina is one of the largest man-made lakes in the country.


The variety in the size and depth of North Carolina’s lakes ensures there’s something for every lake enthusiast. Lake Norman, the largest man-made lake in the state, covers over 32,000 acres. Thus, it offers ample space for recreational boating, fishing, and lakeside living. In contrast, Lake Junaluska, located in the serene Smoky Mountains, may be smaller but compensates for its size with its tranquility and scenic beauty. These differences cater to a wide range of preferences, from those seeking bustling marinas as well as those desiring secluded areas.

3. Water Quality

Lake Julian Park in Arden, North Carolina

North Carolina lakes are some of the cleanest lakes in the country.

©Dustin Lee Thibideau/

One of the key factors contributing to the appeal of North Carolina’s lakes is their high water quality and cleanliness. The state has implemented stringent regulations and proactive conservation efforts to preserve the pristine nature of its water bodies. These initiatives help maintain crystal-clear waters that are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and other water-based activities. Lake Tahoe, situated in the western part of the state, is renowned for its exceptional water clarity. Thus, it is one of the clearest lakes in the country.

4. Biodiversity

Mattamuskeet Lake

Lakes like Mattamuskeet Lake in North Carolina have a lot of biodiversity.

© Vamosi

The lakes of North Carolina are vibrant ecosystems that support a rich diversity of plant and animal species. For example, Lake Mattamuskeet, a coastal lake on the Atlantic Flyway, is a crucial stopover for migratory waterfowl. Thus, it attracts thousands of birds each year. Birdwatchers also flock to the area to witness the flight of snow geese, tundra swans, and countless other avian species. Moreover, the state’s lakes are home to numerous fish species, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and channel catfish. All of these provide ample opportunities for fishermen.

5. Recreational Activities

Couple kayaking.

Low angle of African American middle-aged man and woman paddling kayak.

©iofoto/iStock via Getty Images

North Carolina’s lakes offer a wide array of recreational activities. Lake enthusiasts enjoy thrilling adventures such as water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing on lakes like Lake Gaston and High Rock Lake. For those seeking a more tranquil experience, paddleboarding and kayaking on serene lakes like Lake Waccamaw are also options. Moreover, families can explore the state’s lakes by renting pontoon boats. They can also enjoy picnics by the shore, or simply swim and sunbathe on sandy beaches.

6. Fishing Opportunities

Great Blue Heron Perched on Floating Branches


Great Blue Heron

perched on fallen branches in Greenfield Lake in Wilmington, NC

©Art Sublimina Photography/iStock via Getty Images

The fishing opportunities in North Carolina’s lakes are exceptional. The diversity of fish species and well-maintained fishing infrastructure make it a paradise for those with a passion for fishing. Lake Fontana un the Great Smoky Mountains is renowned for its population of smallmouth bass. The state’s lakes also offer both novice and experienced anglers the chance to reel in impressive catches while enjoying the scenic beauty that surrounds them.

7. Scenic Trails and Parks

Bridge Over Lake in Pullen Park

Bridge Over Lake in Pullen Park in Raleigh, North Carolina

©pabradyphoto/iStock via Getty Images

Many of North Carolina’s lakes are surrounded by scenic trails and parks. Lake James State Park, for example, has a network of hiking and biking trails that wind through diverse ecosystems. These allow visitors to explore the lush forests and appreciate the pristine shoreline. Similarly, Lake Norman State Park has opportunities for picnicking, camping, and wildlife observation.

8. Accessibility and Amenities

Lake Norman, North Carolina

A shot of Lake Norman, North Carolina after the sun set at the shore along the marina near Charlotte.

©skiserge1/iStock via Getty Images

North Carolina’s lakes are accessible and have a lot of amenities which make them perfect destinations for day trips or extended stays. Most lakes have well-maintained marinas with boat rentals, fueling stations, and well-stocked bait shops. Campgrounds, picnic areas, and lakeside resorts have a wide range of accommodations, ensuring visitors have all they need for a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

9. Cultural and Historical Significance

Aerial shot of a picturesque harbor on Lake Norman in Cornelius, North Carolina

An aerial shot of a picturesque harbor on Lake Norman in Cornelius, North Carolina

©Wirestock/iStock via Getty Images

Some of North Carolina’s lakes have cultural and historical significance. Lake Phelps, located within Pettigrew State Park, is famous for its prehistoric Indian mounds and archaeological sites. These sites provide invaluable insights into the region’s Native American history. Additionally, the state’s lakes have played essential roles in local culture and history.

10. Community Engagement

North Carolina Lake Powhatan

There is a lot of community engagement around lakes like Lake Powhatan in North Carolina.


Festivals, events, and recreational activities often happen around North Carolina lakes, bringing residents together for fun and celebration. For example, Lake Waccamaw hosts the annual “White Lake Water Festival,” which is a beloved local tradition featuring live music, water sports competitions, and a fireworks display.

Best Lakes to Visit in North Carolina

North Carolina has a lot of stunning lakes, each with its unique charm and attractions. If you’re planning a visit to the Tar Heel State and looking for the best lakes to explore, you’re in for a treat.

Lake Norman

Known as the “Inland Sea,” Lake Norman is the largest man-made lake in North Carolina. It is located in the heart of the state and offers a wide range of recreational activities, from boating and water sports to lakeside dining and shopping. The lake’s proximity to Charlotte also makes it a popular destination for both locals and visitors.

Lake Lure

Lake Lure is renowned for its natural beauty and picturesque surroundings. The clear, emerald waters of the lake are surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Visitors can take boat tours, swim at the beach, or explore nearby Chimney Rock State Park.

Lake James

In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies Lake James. This 6,812-acre lake has opportunities for camping, hiking, and fishing. The surrounding Lake James State Park has ample hiking trails and picnic areas, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers.

Lake Waccamaw

Situated in southeastern North Carolina, Lake Waccamaw is a unique and mysterious lake known for its tea-colored waters and diverse wildlife. It is one of the most pristine lakes in the state, and is surrounded by Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. It also has ample opportunities for birdwatching and exploring one’s natural surroundings.

Fontana Lake

Tucked within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fontana Lake is a serene and secluded escape. With over 240 miles of shoreline and pristine waters, it has boating, fishing, and hiking activities. Fontana Lake is also home to the famous Fontana Dam, which is the highest dam in the Eastern United States.

Lake Junaluska

In the charming town of Waynesville lies Lake Junaluska. This 200-acre lake is surrounded by the majestic Great Smoky Mountains and is a great place for relaxation and reflection. Visitors can stroll around the picturesque lake, visit the Junaluska Singers, or attend events at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center.

Lake Mattamuskeet

Lake Mattamuskeet is the largest natural lake in the state. It’s a vital stopover for migratory birds, making it a famous birding destination.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Gingo Scott/

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About the Author

Shreya is a climate scientist. She also studies paleontology and evolutionary biology. She enjoys reading all kinds of literature and listening to rock music in her free time.

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