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Times of the Islands Magazine

Mountain Lakes of the Southeast

Feb 26, 2018 08:00AM

Lake Lure. Photo courtesy of visitnc.com.

Floridians are used to water views. Without realizing it, however, we come to expect a flat horizon with our watery vistas. What a wonderful treat, then, to experience the majesty of a mountain lake, set amid a horizon of blue and green peaks. We’ve compiled a few of the Southeast’s most beautiful mountain lakes, all within a short flight (or a long day’s drive) from Southwest Florida.

North Carolina  

Directly south of Knoxville, Tennessee, is a gorgeous North Carolina mountain lake with a setting directly in the Smoky Mountain National Forest. North Carolina’s Fontana Lake is the largest in western North Carolina, and what a beauty it is. One visit and you’ll likely be longing for a regular mountain lake getaway.

Blowing Rock’s tiny but relaxing Price Lake doesn’t win any contests for size, but it offers lovely mountain views, paddling, fishing, picnicking and hiking. Anglers will find bait for sale and tackle that can be rented. A whopping 100 picnic sites anchor the many creeks off the lake.  Equidistant from Charlotte and Asheville, the quaint village of Blowing Rock regularly beckons mountain lovers each summer and fall.

Southeast of Asheville, and stretching out below dizzying Chimney Rock, relaxing Lake Lure anchors a village by the same name. At its east end, you’ll find the popular Larkin’s on the Lake restaurant, where late afternoon sun warms patrons while they enjoy a dazzling view. Lake Lure has lovely rental homes, many with docks, as well as boat rentals, nearby golf and other recreational opportunities. Summer brings several festivals to the village, which also offers lodging.

Georgia

Straddling the North Carolina-Georgia state line, Lake Chatuge (pronounced shuh-TOOG) makes up part of the “Chain of Lakes,” along with North Carolina’s Apalachia Lake and Hiwassee Lake (not to be confused with the town of Hiawassee, Georgia, on Lake Chatuge). Gorgeous and affordable, this area’s lodging options include hotels, inns, rental homes and a sprawling resort with golf, horses and day spa. Boat rentals allow a day of exploring Hiwassee’s 6,090 acres, countless coves and the homes that dot its 180-mile lakeshore. You’ll find a boat ramp, full-service marina, boat rentals and hiking trails that take advantage of these lakes’ Nantahala National Forest setting.

Scenic Lake Blue Ridge, in the north Georgia mountains, was created when the mighty Toccoa River was dammed. Launch your own boat from a full-service marina, or rent a pontoon boat, canoe, standup paddleboard (SUP) or even a paddle boat. The lake’s Morgantown Point Recreation Area has its own beach, showers, picnic areas, hiking trails and an outfitter that rents kayaks, SUPs, fishing equipment and bait. Camping is also available here, as are many, many cabins at all price points, including near the village of Blue Ridge (see sidebar). Luxury home rentals will include indoor and outdoor fireplaces, hot tubs and big views. Anglers must visit Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods, the shop and studio of world-renowned craftsman Bill Oyster.

Don Carter State Park—Georgia’s newest—opens up a world of possibilities at massive Lake Lanier. A swimming beach, boat ramps, hiking and cycling trails and two-bedroom cabins await visitors to the park. This 38,000-acre lake (pronounced luh-NEER) lies just northeast of Atlanta. Any number of vacation rentals are available, as are boat rentals.

Lake Rabun, at only 835 acres, is a short drive from historic Clayton and its bustling downtown, nearer the Georgia-North Carolina state line. Boat, fish, camp, hike, picnic or settle in for a longer stay, with a rental home or a room at the charming Lake Rabun Hotel. The lake’s 25 miles of shoreline include Nacoochee Park.

South Carolina  

The shoreline of South Carolina’s nautical treasure—300-foot-deep Lake Jocassee—is almost completely protected from development. Jaw-dropping Blue Ridge Mountain views and even waterfalls await boaters and paddlers on this 7,500-acre component of the Jocassee Gorges area, which National Geographic magazine named “one of the 50 last great places on Earth.” Cabins at Devils Fork State Park offer a rare opportunity to vacation on this memorable lakeshore. Greenville is one hour away by car.

Beautiful Lake Keowee, in the South Carolina upstate, provides boaters and vacationers with stunning panoramic peaks. Because its shoreline consists of, in large part, luxury neighborhoods, you’ll find gorgeous lakefront homes for rent here, as well as a few ships stores, marinas and markets. 

SWFL Connections

Longtime islanders will fondly remember chef Danny Mellman of Greenhouse Grill fame. Since leaving Southwest Florida, Mellman has been a major catalyst in the transformation of Blue Ridge, Georgia, where he and Michelle Moran have turned sustainable food into a tourism catalyst. When not at their working farm, this inspired pair helm several restaurants, including Harvest on Main, in Blue Ridge.

Splitting their time between Sanibel Island and Greenville, South Carolina, restaurateurs Mark and Larkin Lawson Hammond own a culinary sphere that extends to Lake Lure, North Carolina. Tables on the outdoor decks at Larkin’s on the Lake often go on a wait during summer and fall. Happy patrons also enjoy this duo’s many fine restaurants in nearby Greenville, South Carolina, which include Larkin’s, Grill Marks and Limoncello. 

Written by Libby McMillan Henson, who regularly spends summers exploring the lakes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She’s particularly fond of boating on crystal-clear mountain lakes, and never gets tired of the views.