15 Stunning Lakes near Asheville, NC for Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking

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North Carolina is home to thousands of lakes, big and small. And Asheville has some of the best options within its reach.

However, the common issue is that few of them have public access. To make your search easier, we compiled a list of the lakes that anyone can enjoy.

Some options sit within urban parks with just fishing and kayaking to offer. But others are untouched wild lakes with stunning surroundings and hardly any limits.

Wakeboarding, kayaking, fishing, and even scuba diving are all available. Read on to find the lake for your needs.

Lakes near Asheville:

  1. Lake Julian
  2. Lake Lure
  3. Lake Adger
  4. Lake James
  5. Beaver Lake
  6. Lake Junaluska
  7. Lake Glenville
  8. Cedar Cliff Lake
  9. Bear Creek Lake
  10. Fontana Lake
  11. Lake Santeetlah
  12. Nantahala Lake
  13. Lake Jocassee
  14. Lake Oolenoy
  15. Charles D Owen Park
Lakes near Asheville North Carolina Comparison Table

1. Lake Julian

  • Official Page: Lake Julian
  • Distance from Asheville: 9 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Sailing, Picnics, Playgrounds

Lake Julian is a 300-acre reservoir near Arden. It’s a family-friendly destination with an urban park, just 9 miles from downtown Asheville.

Although this lake isn’t as wild or versatile as other options on the list, it’s one of the nearest. You can access the reservoir by visiting Lake Julian Park on the northern shore. 

Swimming isn’t allowed at Lake Julian, but it offers fishing, kayaking, and boating, as well as non-water activities like volleyball and a playground for kids.

The park has a launching ramp for private boats. Note that gas motors are prohibited. And if you don’t have your own craft, you can rent jon boats, water trikes, kayaks, and canoes.

Lake Julian Park is a highly-rated destination, and the only drawback here is that it gets busy when the weather is nice. Still, it’s close to home and ideal for half-day trips, especially for families.

Related: 9 Gorgeous Lakes near Boone, NC

2. Lake Lure

  • Official Page: Lake Lure
  • Distance from Asheville: 26 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Sailing, Hiking, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Lake Lure is a 720-acre reservoir southeast of Asheville. It’s a popular recreation spot featured in National Geographic and a set to the 1987 hit – Dirty Dancing.

Washburn Marina is the best way to access the lake. It offers boat tours, a large beach with a water park, and boat rentals from SUPs to 13-people pontoon boats. Everything you may need for a fun day on the water.

Also, the lake is a water sports playground. It allows water skiing, wakeboarding, and jet skis. And thanks to its depth, it’s a popular sailing spot, too.

Morse Park, next to the marina, has paved trails for walking and running. It’s a place to get the best views of the lake and a popular location for family and wedding photos. 

Also, if you want to get a birds-eye view of the lake and get some serious exercise, you can climb the famous Chimney Rock, just a few miles from the marina.

Lake Lure feels like an urban spot rather than a wilderness escape. There are lodges, hotels, and restaurants to satisfy the visitors’ needs, yet the nearest campground is 5 miles away. 

Although not as wild, it’s a versatile location, perfect for families or romantic getaways.

Related: 11 Stunning Lakes near Greensboro, NC

3. Lake Adger

Lake Adger
  • Official Page: Lake Adger
  • Distance from Asheville: 39 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming

Lake Adger is a 438-acre reservoir 40 miles from Asheville. It’s a peaceful location free from fast boats or crowds.

Although the land around the lake is private, Wildlife Resources Commission maintains a public access area on the western shore. It has a launching ramp and a small pier.

Lake Adger is a paddlers’ dream. It’s too shallow for fast boats, and skiing and jets are prohibited anyway. The result is a peaceful lake rich in wildlife. 

Swimming is allowed at Lake Adger, however, it doesn’t have a designated swimming area. 

Fishing can be excellent, too. Surprisingly, the lake holds the state record for muskellunge. The 41-pound lunker was caught in 2001. Because it’s not a well-known spot, it’s not overfished like some better-known lakes.

Overall, Lake Adger is a hidden gem. It’s free to use, it’s quiet, and it’s excellent for paddling adventures. But the lack of campgrounds nearby means it’s day-use only.

Related: 11 Fantastic Lakes near Murphy, NC

4. Lake James

  • Official Page: Lake James
  • Distance from Asheville: 49 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, MTBs

Lake James is a massive 6,812-acre reservoir just 50 minutes from Asheville. It’s one of the top recreation lakes in the state.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy it is to visit Lake James State Park. It’s an all-in-one destination with campgrounds, beaches, launching ramps, and trails for hiking and biking. It’s the best option when coming here for the first time.

Other alternatives are to use one of the private marina resorts or simply launch from one of the public boat ramps like Black Bear Ramp, for example.

When it comes to activities, there are practically no limits at Lake James. Swimming, wakeboarding, and water and jet skiing are popular ways to enjoy the lake.

Also, the reservoir is one of the top fishing destinations in the state. It holds a whopping three state records: white catfish, tiger muskie, and northern pike, more than any other lake.

Resorts, marinas, and RV parks around the reservoir offer a wide selection of accommodation for long and short-term stays. This makes the lake an excellent choice for multi-day trips, especially considering how many things you can do here.

Related: 9 Gorgeous Lakes near Boone, NC

5. Beaver Lake

Beaver Lake
  • Official Page: Beaver Lake
  • Distance from Asheville: 4 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking

Beaver Lake is a small 65-acre reservoir north of Asheville. It’s a gorgeous private lake with public access that welcomes non-residents.

Lake View Park on the northern shore is where you can purchase permits to use the lake; daily or annual options are available.

The activities here are few. Catch and release fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and hiking are possible. But swimming and motorized boating are prohibited.

Still, this charming lake isn’t about water sports and blasting jet skis. It’s a tranquil place where you can escape from the city’s noise and enjoy nature.

Talking about nature. Another way to enjoy the lake is to visit the highly-rated Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary on the eastern side. It’s Asheville’s hidden gem and a green island of wildlife. You can take a short stroll within the sanctuary or take a 2-mile trail that loops the lake.

Overall, Beaver Lake is a fantastic day-use destination. It offers a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. And the best thing is, it’s just a stone’s throw away.

Related: 11 Stunning Lakes near Greensboro, NC

6. Lake Junaluska

Lake Junaluska in North Carolina
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Lake Junaluska
  • Distance from Asheville: 28 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Camping, Boat Tours

Lake Junaluska is a 200-acre reservoir 30 minutes drive from Asheville. It’s a well-developed mountain retreat centered around the Methodist Church community.

Lake Junaluska is open to the public year-round. It offers miles of hiking trails, a wide range of accommodation, and various lake activities. It’s a mix of urban and natural.

Fishing, kayaking, and canoeing are popular ways to enjoy the water. Also, you can take a boat tour to get the best views. However, public motorized boating is prohibited, meaning that jet skiing and wakeboarding are out of the question.

Swimming is also prohibited at Lake Junaluska. However, there is an open-air swimming pool at the lakeside open to the public during the warm season.

Another excellent way to enjoy the views is to take the highly-rated hiking trail that loops the lake. It’s 3.7 miles long and takes under two hours to complete.

Naturally, Lake Junaluska is great for multi-day trips. Apart from a range of hotels and lodges, it offers a campground with cabins and RV hookups, open between April and October.

Overall, the lake is an intriguing mix of wild and developed. It’s best suited for events, weddings, and romantic retreats. But as a lake destination, it’s not that versatile.

Related: 11 Fantastic Lakes near Murphy, NC

7. Lake Glenville

Lake Glenville
  • Official Page: Lake Glenville
  • Distance from Asheville: 69 miles (1h 20min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Lake Glenville is a 1,462-acre reservoir southwest of Asheville. It’s a versatile destination with tons of activities and gorgeous views.

The best way to enjoy the lake is to visit Pines Recreational Area. It offers a sandy beach with a designated swimming area, picnic tables, and a fishing pier. During the warm weather, it’s a buzzing place with a hectic atmosphere.

Another option is RJ Andrews Campground which offers an RV park, primitive camping, and access to the lake. It’s perfect for multiday trips.

Boating is hugely popular here; you can hire all types of boats from a few marinas or make use of the boat ramps and launch your own. Wakeboarding, water and jet skiing, and tubing are all allowed and popular here.

With seven islands and three waterfalls, there is plenty to see on the lake. Kayaking and canoeing are fantastic ways of exploration.

Lake Glenville is a lot of fun. It’s a traditional recreational lake where everything is possible. And luckily, it has plenty of public access so everyone can enjoy the days on the water. It rarely disappoints!

Related: 9 Gorgeous Lakes near Boone, NC

8. Cedar Cliff Lake

Cedar Cliff Lake
  • Official Page: Cedar Cliff Lake
  • Distance from Asheville: 62 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming

At 121 acres, Cedar Cliff Lake is small but charming. It’s not as developed as bigger lakes, yet it offers plenty of activities in a peaceful setting.

The only access point is off Shook Cove Road. It has a launching ramp, a pier, and a parking lot. Also, there is easy access for swimming, which the reservoir is known for.

Fishing is one of the most popular activities at Cedar Cliff Lake. And although it’s not stocked, there is plenty of fish with a good mix of cold and warm water species. 

There are no campgrounds, lodges, or restaurants around. It’s a truly wild place, best suited for day trips. Although it may not be for everyone, the serenity and remoteness of the lake are well worth the trip.

Related: 11 Stunning Lakes near Greensboro, NC

9. Bear Creek Lake

  • Official Page: Bear Creek Lake
  • Distance from Asheville: 63 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Sailing, Hiking, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Bear Creek Lake is a 476-acre reservoir next to Cedar Cliff Lake. Unlike its neighbor, it’s a well-developed lake with half of its shoreline privately owned.

There are two ways to enjoy it. The first is to become a guest of Bear Lake Reserve – a lakeside community with vacation rentals. 

These guys have it all: beach, marina, boat rentals, and hiking trails, you name it. It’s an all-in-one destination for long-term stays, vacations, and romantic retreats.

Another way is to use the public access area on the lake’s northern tip. It has a fishing pier, a launching ramp, and a small parking lot. Unfortunately, there is no access for swimming here, although it’s allowed at Bear Creek Lake.

Still, the reservoir has hardly any restrictions on recreational use. It’s great for kayaking and canoeing, as well as water sports like wakeboarding and skiing. And when it comes to fishing, largemouth bass is a typical catch, with 4lbs+ lunkers being common.

Bear Creek Lake is a solid option, especially if you’re into fishing or water sports. 

Related: 11 Fantastic Lakes near Murphy, NC

10. Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake in North Carolina
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Fontana Lake
  • Distance from Asheville: 77 miles (1h 20min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Fontana Lake is a massive 10,230-acre reservoir west of Asheville. It’s the most versatile and diverse lake on the list with something for everyone.

The reservoir has a wide selection of recreational areas, marinas, resorts, and public parks. For example, Fontana Village offers lodging, dining, houseboats, marina, and boat rentals. It’s an all-in-one option.

At the same time, areas like Tsali are managed by National Forest Service and offer a remote experience with campgrounds, boat ramps, and dozens of miles of hiking.

And when it comes to activities, Fontana Lake has it all. Fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, as well as water sports like wakeboarding and skiing, are all possible here. It’s an outdoor playground like no other.

The only problem here is which area to choose and what activity to do; the options are limitless!

Related: 9 Gorgeous Lakes near Boone, NC

11. Lake Santeetlah

Lake Santeetlah in North Carolina
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Lake Santeetlah
  • Distance from Asheville: 100 miles (1h 50min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Hiking, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Lake Santeetlah is a 2,800-acre reservoir nestled by Nantahala National Forest. It’s the perfect mix of untouched wilderness and a few developed areas.

The reservoir is an outdoor haven. It offers numerous boat ramps, campgrounds, and swimming areas, yet it feels remote and wild.

The only marina on the lake is part of the Lake Santeetlah peninsula. It offers boat rentals and services. Apart from it, there are a few lodges and cabins for rent, but beyond that, the reservoir is entirely wild.

Swimming is allowed at Santeetlah Lake and the national forest maintains a designated beach at Cheoah Point. Also, kayak or canoe campers would love the lake; it has several boat-in campsites. 

Also, water sports like wakeboarding and skiing are allowed, and there are several launching ramps to take advantage of. 

The only drawback to this lake is the 100-mile drive from Asheville. It may not be worth it for some, but it’s a small price to pay for a weekend on a gorgeous lake. 

Related: 11 Stunning Lakes near Greensboro, NC

12. Nantahala Lake

Nantahala Lake
  • Official Page: Nantahala Lake
  • Distance from Asheville: 95 miles (1h 50min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Hiking, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Nantahala Lake is a 1,600-acre reservoir in Nantahala National Forest. It’s another fantastic option with public access and a stunning mountain setting.

Like most lakes on the list, it has a mix of private and public land. Marinas, resorts, and lodges offer boat rentals, comfortable stays, and modern facilities. 

Yet, public boat ramps like Rocky Branch and Choga are more primitive but free to use. These areas are quiet and tranquil and rarely get busy.

What makes Nantahala Lake unique is the population of Kokanee salmon that was planted back in the 1960s and still thriving today. The reservoir even holds the state record for this species, making it an attractive option for anglers.

Swimming is allowed at Nantahala Lake, but kayaking is the most popular activity here. Also, you can try water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing; it’s a no-limits lake.

The only drawback to this destination is the lack of campgrounds. Unfortunately, there are no camping options, and you will have to travel for a couple of miles to find one. Still, it’s a fun lake with a modest footfall and plenty to do.

Related: 11 Fantastic Lakes near Murphy, NC

13. Lake Jocassee

Source: flickr/public domain
  • Official Page: Lake Jocassee
  • Distance from Asheville: 81 miles (1h 30min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Hiking, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Scuba Diving

Lake Jocassee is a sizeable 7,565-acre reservoir in South Carolina. It’s the prime example of a recreation lake with tons of activities on offer.

The only way to access the lake is to visit Devils Fork State Park. It has rental facilities, boat ramps, lodges, campgrounds, and a nature trail, everything you may wish for.

Swimming is allowed at Lake Jocassee, and its spring-fed waters attract crowds in summer. It’s as clear as the Caribbean and even popular with scuba divers. 

Another unique point is the waterfalls that empty into the lake. You can only reach them by boat or kayak, making the shoreline exploration a lot of fun. Also, the park offers boat-in camping, so you can easily go on multi-day lake adventures.

And to add to the list of advantages, Lake Jocassee is a legendary fishing ground. It holds a whopping five state records in South Carolina, more than any other lake there. Trophy trout and various bass species attract keen anglers year-round.

Lake Jocassee is the best option on the list. It has it all! And the familiarity of the state parks’ system makes it an easy choice, especially for first-time visitors.

Related: 9 Gorgeous Lakes near Boone, NC

14. Lake Oolenoy

  • Official Page: Lake Oolenoy
  • Distance from Asheville: 61 miles (1h 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Hiking, Camping, Swimming

At 67 acres, Lake Oolenoy is a small but charming reservoir nestled by the mountains. It’s an excellent place for nature fans who like to avoid the hustle and bustle of bigger lakes.

It is part of the Table Rock State Park that offers more than just lakeside fun. The biggest attractions here are trails that lead to viewpoints and waterfalls. 

Still, the park offers boat rentals, launching ramps, and a designated swimming area. Motorized boating is prohibited here, which suits kayakers and anglers who like to remain undisturbed.

The choice of accommodation is excellent, too. From walk-in primitive camps to RV spots and cabins, the park has it all. Although it’s modest in size, the calm atmosphere will make you want to spend a few days here.

This location is best suited to families, keen hikers, and people just getting into the outdoors. It’s a less-known gem.

Related: 11 Stunning Lakes near Greensboro, NC

15. Charles D Owen Park

Charles D Owen Park
  • Official Page: Charles D Owen Park
  • Distance from Asheville: 10 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Hiking, Picnics, Playgrounds

Charles D Owen Park is much closer to Asheville than most of the other options on the list. It has a couple of ponds for fishing, but that’s really it.

It’s an urban park with many sports grounds, hiking trails, and a dog park. Although it’s not a traditional lake destination, it’s worth knowing about.

The ponds are stocked frequently with trout, and there is no size limit, although you can only keep seven per day.

Swimming is prohibited at Charles D Owen Park. Yet, there is still plenty to do, and the area is rich in wildlife and especially excellent for birding.

The park is great for afternoon walks and day family trips. But if you’re looking for a more versatile destination, you will have to travel further. The nearest no-limits option is Lake Lure (#2 on the list).

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