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9 Best Lakes near Greenville, NC for Fishing, Swimming, and Kayaking

Greenville has a couple of parks with small lakes and ponds. But if you want to experience bigger lakes with wakeboarding and trophy fishing, you will have to travel further afield.

Greenville has a nice selection of recreational lakes. The nearest options are small but versatile and offer fishing, kayaking, and even swimming.

Large reservoirs with big bass and water skiing are further from the city, usually under an hour’s drive.

Some options are family-friendly, while others are more remote and undeveloped – best for seasoned outdoors people. Check them out!

Lakes near Greenville:

  1. River Park North
  2. Wildwood Park
  3. Phelps Lake
  4. Tar River Reservoir
  5. Buckhorn Reservoir
  6. Wiggins Mill Reservoir
  7. Lake Wilson
  8. Lake Gaston
  9. Lake Mattamuskeet
Lakes near Greenville North Carolina Comparison Table

1. River Park North

River Park North
  • Official Page: River Park North
  • Distance from Greenville: 2 miles (5 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Birdwatching

River Park North is a natural spot in Greenville that you’ve probably heard about. It’s the nearest place to go fishing and paddling.

The park offers five ponds stocked with catfish monthly and a couple of piers for easy access. If you don’t own fishing gear, it’s not a problem. The park runs Loaner Rod and Reel program so that everyone can give it a go.

Also, the park has canoe, kayak, and jon boat rentals. Or, you can launch your own. It’s a great way to get on the water and explore.

This location is rich in wildlife. And the nature trails make it easy to spy on various birds and reptiles. Plus, there is a nature center where you can learn more about local flora and fauna.

The unique thing about this location is that it offers camping, which is rare for an urban park. This is perfect for testing new gear or if it’s your first time sleeping in a tent.

Although it’s not a typical lake spot, the park is perfect for half-day trips and family adventures; and it’s right on the doorstep.

Related: 9 Fantastic Lakes near Fayetteville, NC

2. Wildwood Park

Wildwood Park
  • Official Page: Wildwood Park
  • Distance from Greenville: 5 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Swimming, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Birdwatching

Wildwood Park is the recent addition to Greenville. It features a lake and a good deal of activities. It may soon become the top recreational spot in the city.

Swimming is allowed at Wildwood Park, and the lake has a sandy beach, although the slope is a bit too steep. It’s not ideal for small kids, but having a swimming lake within city limits is a luxury.

Also, the park offers kayak and paddleboard rentals, hiking trails, and camping sites. And you can launch your own paddleboats, too. It’s rather versatile for a city park.

Plus, there are plans to add more features like a floating aqua park, cable wakeboarding, and a boat ramp. So by the time you’re reading this, the area might already be even better.

Overall, it’s a fun destination, perfect for short visits, but if you’re looking for more serious lakes, you’ll have to travel much further.

Related: 15 Superb Lakes near Durham, NC

3. Phelps Lake

Phelps Lake
  • Official Page: Phelps Lake
  • Distance from Greenville: 65 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, Sailing

At 16,600 acres, Phelps Lake is the second-largest natural lake in North Carolina. It’s a unique destination with rich history, stunning surroundings, and plenty of things to do.

Pettigrew State Park manages the lake and offers campgrounds, fishing piers, boat ramps, and hiking trails. It’s a well-kept and versatile destination. Check out this map to get an overview of the park’s facilities.

Swimming is allowed at Phelps Lake. It has a designated swimming area with a gentle slope and a pier. And the famously clear water is always tempting.

Canoeing and kayaking are excellent ways to enjoy the lake, especially on windless days when the water is like a mirror. The park offers canoe trails to make the most of your visit.

Fishing is fantastic at Phelps Lake, too. The typical catch here is largemouth bass, but there are plenty of other species like blue catfish and pumpkinseed. You won’t set any state records here, but 4lbs+ bass is pretty common.

The swampy atmosphere and Native American history make this lake unique. But the best thing is that it’s crowdless. It really is a hidden gem.

Related: 7 Unique Lakes near Wilmington, NC

4. Tar River Reservoir

Tar River Reservoir
  • Official Page: none
  • Distance from Greenville: 42 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Sailing, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing

Tar River Reservoir is a 1,860-acre lake near Rocky Mount. It’s a popular fishing and boating spot but is largely undeveloped.

The reservoir has two boat ramps. One is on Bent on the River Rd, and another is on S Old Carriage Rd. Both locations are primitive and don’t have anything else but parking.

Fishing is really good at Tar River Reservoir. There is a wide selection of species, and many fish reach a decent size. Boat or kayak fishing is best, but there is some bank access too. If you are interested in fishing at this lake, here is a useful article.

When it comes to other water recreation, the reservoir has hardly any limits. Swimming, paddling, sailing, and skiing are all possible here.

However, the lake is moody. The water levels aren’t stable, and the clarity varies from very clear to murky, depending on the rain. 

It’s a destination for seasoned anglers and boaters. Plus, you have to bring your own craft to really enjoy it. Still, this keeps crowds away and leaves more fish in the water.

Related: 9 Fantastic Lakes near Fayetteville, NC

5. Buckhorn Reservoir

Buckhorn Reservoir
  • Official Page: Buckhorn Reservoir 
  • Distance from Greenville: 48 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing

Buckhorn Reservoir is a 2,300-acre lake near Wilson. It’s a prime boating spot with a lot of space and relatively good fishing.

The best way to access the lake is the boat landing on Rock Ridge Rd. It’s a well-kept facility with a large picnic shelter, grills, and a couple of ramps. It gets busy here during the summer weekends, but other than that, it’s a nice spot.

When it comes to water activities, the lake doesn’t have any restrictions. From swimming to paddling to water skiing, everything goes at Buckhorn Reservoir.

However, on windy days kayaking and even boating can be a challenge due to the lake’s shape; it’s vast and open, with very little wind protection.

There is plenty of fish at the reservoir, but catching requires skill, local knowledge, and a bit of luck. But once you’ve figured it out, the lake yields decent size bass and catfish.

Like Tar River Reservoir, Buckhorn is excellent for seasoned boaters and anglers, but it’s not the most family-friendly option.

Related: 15 Superb Lakes near Durham, NC

6. Wiggins Mill Reservoir

  • Official Page: Wiggins Mill Reservoir
  • Distance from Greenville: 40 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding

Wiggins Mill Reservoir is a 200-acre lake near Wilson. It’s a very popular paddling and fishing spot with a relaxing atmosphere.

You have two options to access the reservoir. There is a viewing area on Route 301 with water cascades to marvel at and bank access for fishing. And a put-in place for kayaks on Downing Rd marked as ‘boat launch’ on Google maps.

Gas boats are prohibited here, and the lake is relatively shallow with underwater obstacles. However, this makes paddling even more fun, and it feels somewhat remote and wild, too.

Fishing is very popular at Wiggins Mill Reservoir. But the reports suggest that it’s average, and many folks claim that the reservoir is overfished. Still, bass, crappie, and bluegill are typical species here, and 4-pound largemouth is feasible.

Although it’s not versatile, the reservoir is worth the drive, especially for paddlers who love remote lakes.

Related: 7 Unique Lakes near Wilmington, NC

7. Lake Wilson

Lake Wilson
  • Official Page: Lake Wilson
  • Distance from Greenville: 40 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, picnics, Hiking, Playgrounds

Lake Wilson is about 80 acres in size. It’s located 50 minutes from Greenville, near Wilson. It’s a highly-rated destination with modern amenities and plenty of things to do.

The lake is part of the park that offers a 2-mile hiking trail, a boat ramp, picnic shelters, and ample parking. 

Paddling is very popular here. Beginners will find the lake’s modest size reassuring, although there is plenty to explore.

Recently, the boating rules changed here. Motorboats aren’t allowed anymore (except with trolling motors), making fishing a lot more peaceful. 

The lake has excellent bank access and scores above average for fishing. And although it doesn’t produce trophy-sized fish, the bite is generally good.

This is a much more developed destination compared to Wiggins Mill or Buckhorn Reservoirs. It’s family-friendly and charming, perfect for day trips.

Related: 9 Fantastic Lakes near Fayetteville, NC

8. Lake Gaston

Lake Gaston
Photo: -ted/ CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Lake Gaston
  • Distance from Greenville: 91 miles (1h 30min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Jet Skiing, Tubing, Camping

Lake Gaston is a massive 20,000-acre reservoir near the Virginia border. It’s a classic recreational lake with dozens of access points and plenty of things to do.

Choosing the spot will depend on your circumstances and how much you are prepared to drive, but the lake has it all. Hotels, marinas, lodges, RV parks, and day-use beaches are spread throughout the 350-mile shoreline.

And when it comes to activities, there are absolutely no limits here. Swimming, paddling, boating, wakeboarding, and camping are just a few to mention. 

Perhaps where the lake is laking are hiking trails. There are a few options, but they aren’t common.

Fishing is terrific at Lake Gaston. The reviews are through the roof, the selection of species is great, and the lake holds two state records, one of which is a 121-pound monster catfish (blue). 

If it’s your first time fishing here, hiring a guide is an excellent idea. There are many of them, and you will quickly learn local tricks.

Overall, Lake Gaston is one of the best recreational lakes in the state, maybe even the whole southeast. It’s worth the drive.

Related: 15 Superb Lakes near Durham, NC

9. Lake Mattamuskeet

Lake Mattamuskee
Photo: NCDOT/ CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Lake Mattamuskeet
  • Distance from Greenville: 86 miles (1h 40min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Photography, Birding

At 40,000 acres, Lake Mattamuskeet is the largest natural lake in North Carolina. It’s a fantastic place for wildlife photography, paddling, and fishing.

The lake is a wildlife refuge. It accommodates hundreds of species and offers hiking trails for exploring and blending in with the surroundings.

The refuge allows boating, but the lake’s average depth is just 2 feet. It can be too shallow for most motorized boats, but kayaks and canoes will be at home here.

Fishing is also allowed on Lake Mattamuskeet. The selection of species is excellent here. You can catch bowfin and alligator gar, which aren’t common in other lakes.

What you can’t do, however, is swim or camp in Lake Mattamuskett. Still, there are a couple of campgrounds outside the refuge, so multi-day trips are possible.

Overall, it’s a unique destination, very different from other recreational lakes. If you are a fan of wildlife photography or just want to escape the city, it’s a fantastic spot.

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