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6 Best Public Lakes near Charleston, SC for Recreation

Discover aquatic adventures at Charleston's top lakes! Swimming beaches, renowned fishing destinations, inflatable aqua parks, iconic kayaking opportunities, and more
Cypress Trees with Spanish Moss on Lake Moultrie in South Carolina

Charleston, with its abundant waters, surprisingly offers limited choices when it comes to lakes and reservoirs. For those willing to drive as far as Columbia, the list expands significantly.

However, the available ones like Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion are nothing short of spectacular, with the former holding state and world fishing records and being a paradise for outdoor lovers and anglers.

Both Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion are excellent for swimming with designated areas and beaches.

For those seeking a bit more adventure and fun, Trophy Lakes offers an inflatable aqua park and waterskiing, ensuring a memorable experience for all water enthusiasts.

Discover the best and nearest lakes to Charleston!

Lakes near Charleston South Carolina Comparison Table

1. Lake Moultrie

A scenic view of three trees in the Lake Moultrie, South Carolina
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Lake Moultrie
  • Distance from Charleston: 37 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Hiking, Birding, Camping, RVs

Lake Moultrie is a 60,400-acre artificial reservoir north of Charleston. It’s the nearest large lake and the top destination for fishing.

The reservoir has eight boat ramps that provide access to boaters and paddlers. But if it’s your first time visiting, Overton Park is the best destination. It has a beach, picnic shelters, and plenty of parking; top place for families. 

Unlike Lake Marion, Lake Moultrie was cleared of timber before being filled, making it safer for recreational boaters and waterskiing. Yet, there are still many stumps and shoals in the water, so extra caution is required.

The lake is known for trophy fishing and holds the whopping four state records, including 113.8lbs blue catfish and the world record 58lbs channel cat.

Overall, it’s a versatile reservoir with a good mix of areas. And if you want to make a weekend out of it, there are a couple of lakeside campgrounds here, too.

2. Lake Marion

Cypress Trees with Spanish Moss growing on them. In Lake Marion at Santee State Park, Santee, Orangeburg County, South Carolina
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Lake Marion
  • Distance from Charleston: 58 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Hiking, Birding, Camping, RVs

Lake Marion is a 110,600-acre man-made reservoir, the largest in South Carolina. It’s a versatile place with many activities and access options.

As mentioned before, Lake Marion wasn’t cleared of timber before flooding, making it a cozy fish habitat yet tricky to navigate. 

Because of all the stumps and hazards, it isn’t great for fast boating or waterskiing. Yet, it’s a nation-famous fishing destination with two state records.

The shoreline is dotted with boat ramps and campgrounds, but the best place for the first visit is Santee State Park. It’s an all-in-one destination with various facilities, including cabins, an RV park, hiking trails, and launching ramps.

All in all, Lake Marion is the top spot for fishing, camping, and paddling, but if you like to blast down on jet skis, it’s better to try elsewhere.

3. Goose Creek Reservoir

Scenic sunset over a lake surrounded by marsh plants in Charleston
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Goose Creek Reservoir
  • Distance from Charleston: 13 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnic, Sports Fields

Goose Creek Reservoir is a 1000-acre lake in Hanahan, just 13 miles from downtown Charleston. It’s a popular local spot known for fishing and boating.

The reservoir is accessed from John R Bettis Landing Park that features a gentle launching ramp, a pier, picnic shelters, and plenty of parking. It’s a family-friendly place with walking paths and playing fields.

Swimming or wading isn’t recommended in Goose Creek Reservoir because of alligators who frequent the area. Instead, it’s a place for bass fishing with reports of 6-pound catches and sometimes larger.

Also, it’s an excellent destination for kayaking as it offers an exciting shoreline, marshes, and plenty of birding opportunities, making for some stunning photographs. The loop along the shoreline is 8 miles long and takes approximately 4 hours to complete.

The reservoir won’t make your head spin with excitement and can be rather brutal on windy days, but it’s close to home and can be an ideal evening spot. 

4. Trophy Lakes

  • Official Page: Trophy Lakes
  • Distance from Charleston: 12 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Aqua Park, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing

Trophy Lakes is a set of private lakes on Johns Island, just 12 miles from downtown. It’s a well-known hub for water activities for all ages.

The lakes were built in 1985 specifically for waterskiing and since then gained a reputation as one of the best skiing spots in the state, frequently hosting tournaments.

Nowadays, they offer waterskiing and wakeboarding courses, as well as aqua park and paddleboarding activities, making them the top spot for water recreation near Charleston.

Granted, this is a unique destination, very different from other options on the list, but if you are looking for a fun spot or organizing a kid’s party, this is an excellent option.

5. Lake Warren

Kayak on Lake. Bow of a red kayak on a small lake with lilly pads and a wooded forest in the background.
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Lake Warren
  • Distance from Charleston: 82 miles (1h 40min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Birding

Lake Warren is a 200-acre reservoir near Hampton. It is a part of a modest state park, best suited for day trips.

Fishing is a popular activity in the park. You can fish from piers or rent a jon boat and test your luck away from shore. Or, bring your own boat and make use of two launching ramps. The motor limit is 10hp.

Lake Warren is home to alligators, so swimming isn’t a good idea here. 

On land, the park offers a couple of miles of trails which are an excellent way to explore the area, especially if you like watching the wildlife. Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and mammals such as armadillos and raccoons are frequent sights.

Camping is limited in the park, so it’s better to call in advance to book. Apart from that, it is an ideal lakeside destination, and it doesn’t get crowded. 

6. West Ashley Park

Slider Turtle sitting on a log in the swamp.
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: West Ashley Park
  • Distance from Charleston: 10 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Birding, Sports Fields

West Ashley Park is an urban lakeside spot, just 10 miles from downtown. It has access to ponds, swamps, and a lake, but generally, it is a public park with playgrounds and sports fields.

Water-based activities here include fishing and kayaking, but that’s pretty much it. You can fish from the bank or the water. 

It’s not the best place to go fishing, but it’s definitely one of the nearest. And if you want to test new fishing gear or just unwind in the evening, this is perfect.

Still, the park is a highly-rated family destination that offers a lot more than just a lake. It has baseball, basketball, and athletics grounds, as well as several trails for running, hiking, and biking.

Considering how far the excellent fishing lakes are from Charleston, West Ashley Park is a nice compromise.

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