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9 Gorgeous Recreational Lakes near Clemson, SC

Clemson is a city on the lake with plenty of water activities. Yet, there are even more incredible options in the vicinity. Spring-fed lakes, boating reservoirs, and cozy family ponds are all waiting to be discovered.
ItIsWild.com: Best Lakes near Clemson, SC

Clemson is a fantastic base for lakeside recreation, with Hartwell Lake just a stone’s throw away. Yet, there are plenty more incredible options in the area.

Most of the lakes on the list are within an hour’s drive away and offer boating, kayaking, swimming, and camping. And some options like Tallulah Falls Lake and Lake Oolenoy are particularly great for hiking.

Whatever your reason for going to a lake, there is definitely an option here. Check out what Clemson has to offer!

Best Lakes near Clemson South Carolina Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Lake Hartwell

Lake Hartwell near Clemson South Carolina
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Lake Hartwell
  • Distance from Clemson: 2 miles (5 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Swimming, Mountain Biking, Camping, RVs, Wakeboarding, Jetskiing

Lake Hartwell is a 55,590-acre reservoir in Clemson, just a stone’s throw away from the downtown. It’s a stunning lake and a popular recreational spot with plenty of activities.

The reservoir is managed by the US Corps of Engineers, which operates various recreation areas with a dozen of boat ramps and nearly 500 campsites across seven campgrounds.

The nearest option is the highly-rated Twelve Mile Recreation Area, 2 miles north of the city. It has a boat ramp, picnic tables, and a fantastic sand beach for cooling off in summer. If you’re looking for a day-use spot close to Clemson, this is the best option.

Another excellent spot is Tugaloo State Park, near Gumlog. It provides modern facilities and various lodging options, from primitive camping to yurts and cottages. Plus, there are tennis and volleyball courts, miniature golf, and kayak rentals. This park is best for overnight trips with family.

Needless to say, Lake Hartwell doesn’t have any restrictions on water recreation. From swimming and kayaking to wakeboarding and jet skiing, it’s all possible here.

What’s more, it’s a decent fishing lake that frequently gets top reviews. Despite its size, it only holds one state record  – 3 lbs 7 oz redeye bass in Georgia. Still, you can expect largemouth and striped types, too, as well as various cats and plenty of panfish.

2. Lake Keowee

Lake Keowee near Clemson South Carolina
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Lake Keowee
  • Distance from Clemson: 12 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Swimming, Mountain Biking, Camping, RVs, Wakeboarding, Jetskiing

Lake Keowee is an 18,500-acre reservoir northwest of Clemson, some 20 minutes away. It’s another highly-rated lake and an excellent alternative to Lake Hartwell.

With 300 miles of shoreline, Lake Keowee offers dozens of access points like boat ramps, parks, campgrounds, and marinas.

Choosing the best location is difficult, but the nearest spot is South Cove County Park on the southern tip of the lake. It’s a gorgeous location with an RV park on a peninsula and a fantastic swimming beach.

Also, if you’re into boating and water sports, Keowee Marina is just a stone’s throw away from Clemson. You can rent anything from a pontoon boat to a paddleboard here or get one of their slips for storage.

And for those who prefer a more wild experience with hiking and wildlife spotting, Keowee-Toxaway State Park on the northern side of the reservoir is an excellent spot. It’s an all-in-one destination with plenty of amenities and a serene natural environment.

Although a little smaller than Lake Hartwell, Lake Keowee provides just as much fun and water activities. It’s an excellent alternative to its bigger neighbor.

3. Lake Jocassee

Lake Jocassee near Clemson South Carolina
Source: flickr/public domain
  • Official Page: Lake Jocassee
  • Distance from Clemson: 28 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Hiking, Camping, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing, Scuba Diving

Lake Jocassee is a sizeable 7,565-acre reservoir north of Clemson. It’s the prime example of a recreation lake with stunning views and tons of activities on offer.

The reservoir has only one access area – Devils Fork State Park. It has rental facilities, boat ramps, lodges, campgrounds, and nature trails – everything you might need on a lake trip.

Swimming is allowed at Lake Jocassee, and its spring-fed waters attract crowds in summer. The water here is as clear as in the Caribbean, making activities like scuba diving and snorkeling possible, too.

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 probably 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.

4. Clarks Hill Lake

Clarks Hill Lake
Photo: Joe Sepielli / CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Clarks Hill Lake
  • Distance from Clemson: 46 miles (1 h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, BBQs, Hiking, Swimming, Mountain Biking, Camping, RVs, Wakeboarding, Jetskiing

Clarks Hill Lake is a huge 71,000-acre reservoir on the Savannah River that straddles the Georgia and South Carolina border. It’s another fantastic example of a well-developed reservoir with a large selection of amenities.

The lake is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which operates dozens of recreational areas and access points. Also, there are three state parks on the Georgian side: Richard B. RussellElijah Clark, and Mistletoe State Park; all are fantastic and highly-rated options. But the former is the nearest one.

Needless to say, the facilities around the lake are plentiful and varied, the choice only depends on your level of comfort and your hobbies. For example, state parks are particularly good for families as they have designated beach areas and ranger-led programs.

And when it comes to activities, Clarks Hill Lake offers it all, from swimming to scuba diving and everything in between. Thanks to its size, it’s especially great for waterskiing, wakeboarding, and jet skiing.

No matter what your hobby is, Clarks Hill Lake has it. It’s probably one of the best lakes in the state.

5. Tallulah Falls Lake

Tallulah Falls State Park in Georgia USA
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Tallulah Falls Lake
  • Distance from Clemson: 54 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, BBQs, Hiking, Swimming, Mountain Biking, Camping, RVs

Tallulah Falls Lake is a small 63-acre reservoir on the Tallulah River. It’s a part of one of the highest-rated state parks in the area – Tallulah Gorge State Park. Every outdoor enthusiast should visit this destination at least once.

As the name suggests, the park offers access to the majestic Tallulah Gorge, which stretches for 2 miles and is almost 1,000 feet deep. It offers breathtaking views, incredible hikes over a suspension bridge, and several sensational waterfalls. Bring your camera!

The park has campgrounds, picnic shelters, biking trails, and a sand beach. Like most state parks, it’s an all-in-one stop for outdoor recreation, making it an ideal choice for families. Yet, it gets hectic during peak periods, so arrive early to secure the best spot.

The lake itself has restrictions on motorized boating – only motors under 5hp are allowed, making it the perfect destination for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Due to its modest size, it’s a beginner-friendly lake where you don’t have to worry about wind, waves, or wake from boats.

Tallulah Falls Lake may not be the main draw at this location, but it’s a nice addition to the park and the perfect place to relax after a day’s hiking.

6. Lake Rabun

Lake Rabun in Georgia USA
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Official Page: Lake Rabun
  • Distance from Clemson: 55 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Boating, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Swimming, Mountain Biking, Camping, RVs, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing

Lake Rabun is an 835-acre reservoir on Tallulah River, just one dam above Tallulah Falls Lake. Most of its shoreline is built up with private housing, making it an excellent option for lakeside lodging and romantic getaways.

In addition to lodging, the lake offers a public recreational area on its westers side. It consists of a day-use beach area with a boat ramp and a campground with primitive and developed sites. If you decide to visit, check out the Minnehaha Falls on the lake’s opposite side. 

Another location on the lake is Hall’s Boathouse. It’s a community hub, a store, and a place to hire pontoons boats.

Also, Lake Rabun has a strong association that organizes the famous boat parade on the 4th of July; the prizes go to the most decorated boat. It’s a fun event and a good time to visit.

Although not the most outdoorsy or remote destination, Lake Rabun is worth checking out, especially if you’re into boating.

7. Lake Burton

Lake Burton
Photo: ESwift/ CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Lake Burton
  • Distance from Clemson: 58 miles (1h 20min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Swimming, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, Hiking, Camping

Lake Burton is a 2,775-acre reservoir in Georgia. It’s a versatile lake known for brown trout fishing and stunning views.

The reservoir has several access areas, including marinas and boat ramps. But one that stands out is the Moccasin Creek State Park

It has campsites, a fishing pier, a boat ramp, kayak rentals, and 4 miles of hiking trails. And with state parks, you know you are always getting a fair service at a reasonable price.

The unique thing about Lake Burton is that it’s a trout fishery. Every fall, the lake is stocked with 20,000 ten-inch brown trouts that quickly grow in size. There are reports of 11-pound lunkers taken from the lake. 

To learn more about fishing strategies at Lake Burton, check out this report.

Overall, it’s a fun and versatile reservoir with excellent boating and kayaking. Start with the state park and take it from there.

8. Lake Oolenoy

  • Official Page: Lake Oolenoy
  • Distance from Clemson: 31 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, 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 kayak 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 best suits families, keen hikers, and people just getting into the outdoors. It’s a less-known gem.

9. Oconee State Park

Lake in Fall
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Oconee State Park
  • Distance from Clemson: 27 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Hiking, Camping, Swimming

Oconee State Park is a fantastic option for outdoor enthusiasts. It has a couple of lakes in addition to waterfalls and several trails. It’s a family-friendly destination with lots to do.

As one of the CCC-built parks, Oconee also offers a historical twist. You can stay in one of the original cabins constructed in the 1930s and see other features like the water wheel that’s nearly 100 years old.

When it comes to facilities, the park has campgrounds, kayak and jon boat rentals, and a designated swimming area. Due to the lake’s petite size, motorized boating isn’t allowed here, making it a nice spot for beginner paddlers.

Also, the lake offers fishing for largemouth bass, bluegill, and sunfish. In winter, it’s stocked with rainbow trout, too. For most seasoned anglers, this isn’t a serious lake, but for kids and for learning how to fish, it’s an excellent option, especially considering that the park runs the Loaner Program and you don’t need to own fishing gear.

The great thing about this park is that it rarely gets crowded. Somehow, this hidden gem is frequently overlooked, making it the perfect choice for peaceful nature trips.

More Lakes in the Area:

State Parks in South Carolina:

Beaches in South Carolina:

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