If you’re looking to escape the city and relax lakeside in the cool mountains, then this one is for you. Jackson County is home to some of the best-hidden lakes in western North Carolina, some of which you didn’t know existed until reading this. These aren’t your busy mountain lakes such as Lake James, Lake Lure, Lake Santeetlah, or Fontana. Instead, these lakes are truly off-the-beaten-path and worth discovering, as many are perfect for paddlers, fishing, and lake lovers of all types.
Many of our lakes are in the Tuckasegee community located between Cullowhee and Cashiers and offer a relaxing escape. Whether you’re looking to stay in a lakeside lodge or a boutique hotel, our mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva offer the perfect stay for every group and budget. Our mountain towns are located about an hour west of Asheville and in the ‘Middle of the Most.’ Your Appalachian getaway is calling you to visit the best lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Let’s start with the obvious choice – Lake Glenville. Its elevation at 3,494 feet above sea level makes it one of the highest elevation lakes east of the Mississippi, keeping the temperatures in the summer perfectly poised for relaxing the day. With over 26-miles of shoreline, Lake Glenville is Jackson County’s largest lake and is a favorite for boating, fishing, watersports, paddleboarding, and water skiing.
The Best Beach in the Mountains can be found at the Pines Recreation Area. This sandy swim beach settles the classic vacation debate: beach or mountains – Why settle when you can have both? The best part is that families can relax without worrying about riptides, sharks, or jellyfish – just let the kids play in the roped-off swimming hole and set your worries aside. Additionally, there is ADA beach access, an accessible fishing pier, restrooms, and picnic benches on-site, ensuring everyone can have a good time.
Don’t Miss the Hidden Gems of Lake Glenville, because they are certainly worth discovering. Nestled in concealed coves along the shoreline, four natural waterfalls cascade into the lake: Mill Creek, Hidden, Norton, and Hurricane Falls. These waterfalls are only accessible by watercraft, so we recommend renting one from Lakeshore or Signal Ridge Marina. If you want an unforgettable experience, take a sunset waterfall cruise on a luxury pontoon yacht with Captain Mark’s Scenic Boat Tours.
One More Waterfall can be found across the road from the Pines Recreation Area (and we’d be remised if we didn’t mention it). High Falls (also known as Cullowhee Falls) is located a short (but steep) hike from the parking lot of the Pines Recreation Area, and we recommend sturdy hiking shoes instead of the flip-flops you wore at the Pines Rec Area. High Falls towers over 150 feet and has a dual-level cascade flowing into the Tuckasegee River’s West Fork. For hardcore whitewater enthusiasts, the Lake Glenville Dam releases six times a year creating class IV rapids – a truly incredible site to see!
This one is Truly off the beaten path, like way out there in the Roy Taylor National Forest. This small, yet charming natural lake has a fascinating history, as it was initially owned by the Mead Corporation and used as a corporate retreat for paper company executives. In 1982, it was acquired by the US Forest Service who now keeps it in its natural beauty. Interestingly, this is the only lake on this list not owned or operated by Duke Energy.
On to the Good Stuff – for those who want to enjoy time in the woods, with nothing but the sound of nature, this is the lake for you. Amenities include a day-use picnic area, an accessible lakeside trail (the Robinson Trail), and the Balsam Lake Lodge (reservation only), including an accessible fishing pier and trail. For those who want to rough it, there are campsites available in this remote area. Paddlers will be pleased to know that no motorboats are permitted as the lake is too small and shallow, but you won’t want to forget to bring or rent a kayak or canoe!
East Fork Lakes
The following freshwater lakes are part of what’s known as the East Fork Lakes – a stairstep earthen-faced dam structure owned and operated by Duke Energy. Long revered for their remote location, clear waters, and natural beauty, they have been deemed the “blue jewels” along the Tuckasegee River. They are located far from town along Highway 281 and cell service is nil, so we recommend going old school and bringing along a physical map or preloading the directions into your phone or GPS. All these lakes are great for fishing and recreation, but we’ll get into that in a bit!
Bear Creek Lake
More commonly known as “Bear Lake,” you may recognize the name as this is the largest and most popular of the East Fork Lakes. Bear Creek Lake is the perfect size for both boaters and paddlers and is home to some fantastic crappie, largemouth bass, and catfish to reel in as well. The public access area includes an ADA-accessible fishing dock, boat launch, and a small swimming area on the shore. Experienced sailors can locate a large hidden waterfall that cascades into the lake.
Bear Lake Reserve is a private mountain resort community. If you’re looking for lakeside luxury, this is the place to be. There are over 40 vacation rental homes and condos on property with various rotating community events. Amenities include the Lake Club with restaurant and bar, two tiered pool and hot tub, private sandy swim beach, 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, sauna, endless private hiking trails, oh yeah – and a Castle!
Wolf Creek Lake
“Wolf Lake,” as it’s known by locals, is the mid-sized option for exploring the East Fork Lakes. This beautiful lake is 183 acres making it a good choice for boats and paddlers and a favorite among swimmers and anglers. Interestingly, Wolf Creek Lake is fed directly by its smaller sister lake Tanasee Creek Lake through an underground tunnel bored through solid rock. Anglers will love this lake due to the large population of largemouth bass that are there for the catching!
Tanasee Creek Lake
The Smallest of the East Fork Lakes Tanasee Creek is only 40 acres but don’t let the size fool you. This lake truly is a paddler’s paradise as there is no motorboat access permitted. Anglers will also enjoy this remote lake, as there likely won’t be anyone else on the water while you reel in the catch of the day. There are campsites along the lake that are only accessible to paddlers, and those who stay here will enjoy the blissful sounds of nature and nothing else. If you’re looking to go off the grid – this certainly is the place to do it!
Outfitters & Guides
Come here and leave your gear because our Outfitters & Guides have everything you need for a day on the water. If you are looking to try your hand at lake fishing, Dream Catcher’s Fishing will hook you up (literally) as lake and bass fishing is their specialty. Boat, kayak, jet ski, and paddleboard rentals are available on Lake Glenville, and for those looking to paddle downstream, check out our whitewater rafting guides.
At the end of the day, it’s all about relaxation, and there’s no better place to do that than lakeside. Jackson County is home to many cabins, cottages, vacation rentals, and resorts that encompass the best of mountain lake living. We’ve got stays for every lifestyle and budget, from cozy inns to hotels to Airbnb’s – you’ll enjoy the most mountains for your money in Jackson County. Our central location puts you within minutes of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so spend a day on the lake and another on the trails – whether horseback riding, hiking, or biking. After a day on the lake, hit the town and experience eclectic shopping, non-chain dining, our Ale Trail, and more. Enjoy the laid-back vibes you deserve and plan your trip today.
Header Image Courtesy of @ccalebt