Wild Logo v4

9 Incredible Recreational Lakes near Columbia, SC

The state's capital Columbia sits bang in the middle of the state, offering direct access to some of the best and largest lakes in South Carolina. The options are diverse and plentiful here.
ItIsWild.com: Lakes near Columbia

Located in the center of the state, Columbia is perfect for accessing some of the best lakes in South Carolina. 

There is a wide selection of reservoirs, some of which are large and versatile, offering every type of fun imaginable. And others that are more cozy and peaceful, perfect for nature fans and families.

Whether you are into fishing, boating, or want to cool down in summer, there is an option here for you. 

Lakes near Columbia:

  1. Lake Murray
  2. Parr Reservoir
  3. Lake Monticello
  4. Lake Wateree
  5. Lake Marion
  6. Adams Mill Pond
  7. Sesquicentennial Lake
  8. Chester State Park Lake
  9. Lake Greenwood
Lakes near Columbia South Carolina Comparison Table

1. Lake Murray

Lake Murray
  • Official Page: Lake Murray
  • Distance from Columbia: 12 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Swimming, Camping, RVs, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Jetting

Lake Murray is one of the most developed and versatile reservoirs near Columbia, and at 48,000 acres, it’s one of the largest. It can be reached in just 20 minutes from downtown.

The 620-mile shoreline is a mix between public parks and private resorts and marinas; there are over 40 recreational spots altogether.

Yet, one of the best ways to enjoy the lake is Dreher Island State Park which sits on the northern shore, some 30 miles from Columbia. It offers boat ramps, a marina, and a wide selection of accommodation types. Also, this is the best spot for hiking at Lake Murray.

And if 30 miles sounds too much, you can try Lake Murray Public Park on the eastern tip of the lake, just 12 miles from Columbia. It has a long sandy beach and several picnic benches, perfect for short gateways.

Lake Murray is as versatile as it gets; there are hardly any activity restrictions. From fishing to jet skiing, everything goes here, and you can even try more exotic sports like scuba diving, too.

Related: 10 Best Lakes near Augusta, GA

2. Parr Reservoir

Parr Reservoir
  • Official Page: Parr Reservoir
  • Distance from Columbia: 30 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, BBQs, Hiking

Parr Reservoir is a 4,400-acre lake 30 miles northwest of Columbia. It is an undeveloped and wild destination, best known for fishing.

Parr Reservoir is a striking contrast to the nearby Lake Murray. Despite its size, the lake only offers two access points, both relatively primitive, with only boat ramps, restrooms, and a couple of picnic tables.

The water is shallow and muddy here and doesn’t look inviting for swimming. Yet, it’s a popular fishing spot, well-known among anglers.

Also, it is a decent location for kayaking and canoeing; the boat ramps allow for easy access, and the area is tranquil, free from zooming boats.

Parr Reservoir won’t take your breath away, but the access areas a free, and if you are looking for solitude and pristine nature, it’s a good bet.

Related: 6 Amazing Lakes near Charleston, SC

3. Lake Monticello

  • Official Page: Lake Monticello
  • Distance from Columbia: 31 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, BBQs, Swimming

Lake Monticello is 6,700 acres in size, located 31 miles northwest of Columbia. Although it’s not the most versatile lake around, it’s a fun family destination that enjoys many visitors.

The lake has two well-developed parks, one on the northern side and another on the east side. Both have beaches, picnic shelters, grills, and fishing piers, perfect for warm summer months. 

Also, the reservoir is known for excellent fishing, particularly catfish that reach larger-than-normal size as the lake’s water is used to cool down the power station, making it warmer in winter.

In addition to parks, there are a couple of boat launching ramps that make it easy to launch kayaks, canoes, and small boats. However, wakeboarding and jet skiing are prohibited on the lake.

Overall, it’s a pleasant, family-friendly lake with tons of activities. Well-worth the drive!

4. Lake Wateree

Beautiful scenes on lake wateree in south carolina
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Lake Wateree
  • Distance from Columbia: 40 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Swimming, Camping, RVs, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Jetting

Lake Wateree is a 13,000-acre reservoir 45 minutes drive from Columbia. It’s a very popular place for water activities and nature getaways.

Similar to Lake Murray, Wateree is a well-developed destination with over a dozen access points, both public and private. 

If you are into boating, for which the lake is excellent, you can make use of eight public boat ramps dotted around the lake. Also, there is plenty of private marinas, RV parks, and campgrounds; everything you may need!

Yet, the best place to enjoy the lake is probably Lake Wateree State Park. You can always rely on facilities and rangers at state parks, and this park doesn’t disappoint either. It has a selection of accommodation types, a swimming area, a hiking trail, and much more. It’s a safe bet.

Related: 10 Best Lakes near Augusta, GA

5. Lake Marion

  • Official Page: Lake Marion
  • Distance from Columbia: 53 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Swimming, Camping, RVs, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Jetting

At 110,600 acres, Lake Marion is the largest reservoir in South Carolina. It’s a popular tourist destination that attracts people from all over the state and beyond.

Like Lakes Wateree and Murray, Lake Marion offers a wide selection of access points and amenities, both public and private, with at least a dozen marinas dotting the 315-mile shoreline.

Yet, it has a few unique features that make it an attractive destination. For example, when the reservoir was created in 1941, many trees were left standing. This created a superb fish habitat, and nowadays, the lake is the premier fishing spot. It holds two state records; for the largest white perch and largemouth bass.

The downside of leaving the trees is that they create hazards to navigation, so there are some areas where extra caution is required. Still, other reservoir areas are deep enough to accommodate even the largest of cruisers.

If it’s your first time visiting, Santee State Park is an excellent place to start, especially if you like hiking and biking, too.

Related: 6 Amazing Lakes near Charleston, SC

6. Adams Mill Pond

  • Official Page: Goodale State Park
  • Distance from Columbia: 41 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking

Adams Mill Pond is the centerpiece of Goodale State Park that sits just east of Camden, 45 minutes from Columbus. 

What makes this location unique is the 3-mile water trail that you can explore on kayaks or canoes. It runs through the stunning, swampy pond with water lilies and Cypress trees. It’s a fantastic little adventure for nature fans, and you even get a chance to spot an alligator!

Facilities in the park include a hiking trail, picnic shelters, and boat rentals, but that’s pretty much it. It’s a small and peaceful place.

Related: 9 Gorgeous Recreational Lakes near Clemson, SC

7. Sesquicentennial Lake

Sesquicentennial Lake
  • Official Page: Sesquicentennial State Park
  • Distance from Columbia: 13 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Camping

Sesquicentennial Lake is a small, 30-acre reservoir in the heart of Sesquicentennial State Park. It’s a popular lakeside spot, just 25 minutes from Columbia downtown.

The park offers a selection of activities both on and off the water. You can rent kayaks or canoes to embark on a paddling adventure or test your luck fishing.

The downside to the Sesquicentennial State Park is that swimming or wading is prohibited here. However, kids can enjoy the splash pad – it’s heaps of fun, as any child will testify. And despite this restriction, the park offers SUPs to rent during the warmer months.

The off the water activities include hiking and biking (12 miles of trails), as well as camping and even sand volleyball. Overall, it’s a fantastic family-friendly destination, and it’s right on the doorstep.

Related: 10 Best Lakes near Augusta, GA

8. Chester State Park Lake

Chester State Park Lake
  • Official Page: Chester State Park
  • Distance from Columbia: 62 miles (1h 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Camping

Chester State Park is another fantastic lakeside option. It features a 160-acre lake, best suited for fishing and paddling.

The park isn’t big, yet it offers plenty of modern facilities. For example, the lake is excellent for water activities, and you can rent Jon boats, kayaks, canoes, and SUPs, or bring your own and make use of the launching ramp.

Also, there is a selection of camping options with RV and tent sites, making it an excellent choice for multi-day stays.

Like Sesquicentennial State Park, swimming or wading is not allowed here, which is the park’s biggest drawback. 

Yet, the best thing about Chester State Park is that it doesn’t attract crowds, probably because it’s not as versatile as other lake destinations. It is a chance to escape it all and enjoy nature’s serenity. 

Related: 6 Amazing Lakes near Charleston, SC

9. Lake Greenwood

Lake Greenwood
Photo: mogollon_1 / CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Lake Greenwood
  • Distance from Columbia: 67 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Picnics, Hiking, Swimming, Camping, RVs, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Jetting

Lake Greenwood is a vast 11,400-acre reservoir, 65 miles west of Columbia. It’s a versatile destination with a perfect mix of wild and developed areas.

The 212-mile shoreline is dotted with private marinas, RV parks, and public boat ramps. Yet, the safest bet is the Lake Greenwood State Park when visiting for the first time.

Like most state parks in South Carolina, it offers a little bit of everything: boat ramps, a fishing pier, tent or RV camping, and a couple of miles of hiking trails.

When it comes to water activities, Lake Greenwood is as fun as they come; there are hardly any restrictions here. It’s large enough for blasting on jet skis or wakeboarding, and at the same time, you can easily find peaceful, undisturbed spots.

It’s another fantastic option near Columbia that rarely disappoints, certainly worth the drive!

Best Lakes near Columbia, SC

More Lakes in the Area:

State Parks in South Carolina:

Beaches in South Carolina:

You Might Also Like: