Stay Cool in a Mountain Lake in Jackson County, NC

Ah, summertime on a lake! It’s a great way to beat the heat and make memories with family and friends. In Jackson County, NC, the lake life comes with a big bonus: gorgeous mountain vistas that cradle the pristine water.  

Whether your favorite activity is boating, paddling, tubing, fishing or swimming, there’s a lake waiting just for you in Jackson County! Need to rent a boat or gear? Local marinas, outfitters and guides can help with that, too. And, before you go, don’t forget to plan for lodging and dining to take full advantage of all the area has to offer.  

Here is your list of Jackson County lakes 

Lake Glenville: A Mountain Playground   

Perched at 3,494 feet above sea level in southern Jackson County, Lake Glenville is known for being the highest lake east of the Mississippi River. But did you know it also boasts seven islands and four waterfalls?   

Nestled among its 26 miles of shoreline (making it the largest in the county), the waterfalls – Hidden, Hurricane Creek, Mill Creek and Norton – gently spill into the glistening lake and are only accessible by boat. Discover them – and the islands – on your own or hop aboard with Lake Glenville Scenic Waterfall Cruises. Catch them at sunset for an extra-relaxing vibe!  

Need a vessel? No problem! Signal Ridge Marina has pontoons, tritoons (which offer extra stability), canoes, kayaks and paddleboards for rent. The marina can even set you up with fishing gear, bait and your NC fishing license. Species include large and smallmouth bass, rainbow and brown trout, yellow perch, walleye, crappie, bluegill, bream and catfish.  

If you prefer to lounge and swim, then check out Pines Recreation Area. Offering a sandy shore, a fishing pier, picnic areas and restrooms, this family-friendly spot gives you the best of both worlds: the beach and the mountains. The amenities are ADA accessible, and the site features a life jacket loaner station. Travel N.C. 107 to Pine Creek Road to get there, and you’ll cross Glenville Dam, offering a wide view of the sparkling waters.  

A quick tidbit for history buffs: Originally called Thorpe Reservoir, the lake was formed in the early 1940s by damming the west fork of the Tuckasegee River to meet the electricity needs of the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA).   

We’d be remiss if we didn’t thank Friends of Lake Glenville, a group of volunteers who work to ensure this jewel stays beautiful and safe for everyone.  

Bear Creek Lake: Beauty and Boating on a Smaller Scale   

Located in Tuckasegee, Bear Creek Lake is the largest of the stair-step reservoirs known as the East Fork Lakes along N.C. 281, in a quieter part of Jackson County. The lake’s only public boat ramp and ADA-accessible fishing dock is located about 17 miles from Sylva and 20 miles from Cashiers.  

Known simply as Bear Lake to locals, the 476-acre reservoir is especially popular for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and canoeing, though it’s also large enough for motorboats. Bear Lake Reserve, a private resort community that offers vacation rentals, borders the lake’s south side.   

Regular stocks by the NC Wildlife Commission make it a popular spot for anglers. Crappie, largemouth bass and catfish can be reeled in.   

Don’t miss beautiful Sols Creek Falls, which can be viewed from the water or via a foot trail. At 120 feet, it offers spectacular sights and sounds as it cascades into the lake.  

The East Fork Lakes: Cedar Cliff, Wolf Creek and Tanasee Creek  

These “blue jewels” along the East Fork of the Tuckasegee River are true hidden gems.   

Along with Bear Creek, Cedar Cliff, Wolf Creek and Tanasee Creek lakes comprise the East Fork Lakes. Embraced by the lush, unspoiled Nantahala National Forest, they offer some of the most serene water experiences in the area. Formed by the Nantahala Power Company’s (now Duke Energy) 1950s construction of earthen dams, each lake sits at a slightly different elevation.  

Located closest to NC 107 in the Tuckasegee community, Cedar Cliff Lake offers public access via Shook Cove Road, with restrooms and a paved boat ramp on site. Known for its picturesque vistas, Cedar Cliff’s elongated shape makes it perfect for kayakers and canoers seeking a direct navigational route. Its 100+ acres are home to an impressive (and not stocked) largemouth bass population as well as sunfish. Note: Cedar Cliff Lake is closed for dam maintenance until fall 2024. 

With 183 acres, Wolf Creek Lake, or Wolf Lake, is second largest to Bear Lake and a great choice for boating, paddling, swimming and fishing, especially for largemouth bass. Fun fact: Wolf Lake is fed directly by its smaller, sister lake, Tanasee Creek Lake, through an underground tunnel that was bored through solid rock. Its public access area includes restrooms. 

Looking for seclusion? The smallest of the East Fork Lakes, Tanasee Creek Lake is 40 acres, making it perfect for paddlers. In fact, no motorboats are permitted. Let nature surround you as you fish or paddle in solitude. Public access is located off N.C. 281, where the creek enters the lake.  

Balsam Lake: A Remote Retreat  

This one is a retreat in every sense of the word. Balsam Lake was originally owned by the Mead Corporation and used as a corporate retreat for its paper company executives. In 1982, the U.S. Forest Service acquired it and still maintains it today. Surrounded by the Roy Taylor National Forest, it features a lodge that can be rented by reservation only. Other amenities include a day-use picnic area, the accessible Robinson Trail which loops around the lake, and an accessible fishing pier. As on Tanasee, motorboats are not permitted, so the sounds of the forest are all you’re likely to hear.  

Leave No Trace – But Stick Around and Enjoy Jackson County, NC! 

No matter which lake you choose, help preserve its beauty and cleanliness by following the Leave No Trace™ guidelines. Don’t forget to book your lodging so you can “soak up” every moment on the lake. A full day on the water is sure to stir the appetite, so be sure to visit our delicious restaurants. Enjoy the mountain air and views on the water and plan your trip to Jackson County, NC’s lakes today!  

feature photo courtesy Bear Lake Reserve

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