The 8 Best Lakes Near Charlotte, North Carolina
If you’ve ever seen an aerial view of Queen City while taking off or landing at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, you’ll notice that there are many lakes near Charlotte, NC. It’s a blessing to have so much natural beauty at the city’s doorstep, whether you like boating, fishing, watersports, or simply enjoying a book shoreside.
Living in Charlotte and looking to spend some time near the water? Grab your swimsuit, a book, fishing gear (and fishing license!), or a picnic basket, and let’s explore the eight best lakes close to Charlotte, NC, including:
- Lake Norman
- Lake Wylie
- Badin Lake
- Lake Tillery
- Lake Lure
- Mountain Island Lake
- Lake James
- Belews Lake
Let’s get started!
1. Lake Norman
Perhaps the most famous lake in North Carolina around Charlotte, NC, is Lake Norman. Its meandering 500 miles of shorelines are packed with large homes, private docks, and watersport fans all day long. Weekends, especially, get quite busy. Lake Norman is an aquatic fan’s dream where boaters, water and jet skiers, swimmers, and sailors alike spend hours on the water. Once a year, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra also hosts a concert on the lake.!
Less than an hour from Charlotte, Lake Norman makes for a great day trip, but many people who work in Charlotte have homes around Lake Norman. If they make the daily commute into town, it’s easy to see what a quick trip this can be.
2. Lake Wylie
Lake Wylie is actually a manmade reservoir, although you’d never know it from looking at it. This lake is actually just over the state line in South Carolina but is only about 20 to 30 minutes by car from the southern part of the city. Restaurants, bars, and picnic areas abound near the lake, including Pier 88 Yacht Club, where you can also rent a boat.
If you plan ahead, you can charter a boat and rent water equipment such as floating tubes and kayaks (or bring your own). A popular tubing adventure begins at the Lake Wylie Dam, where the two- to three-hour floating trip takes you down the Catawba River (be sure to plan accordingly so someone picks you up on the other end!). There are also places to camp by pitching a tent or bringing a camper vehicle, but advance reservations are required for overnight vehicles.
3. Badin Lake
This is a popular weekend destination for Charlotteans since it takes just an hour by car to reach. Badin Lake is located within the Uwharrie National Forest and is a fishing paradise, as the lake is known for its game fish such as largemouth bass, spotted bass, and catfish.
Many enjoy camping on this North Carolina lake, so bring a tent and supplies. There is also a sandy beach for those that want to swim in the lake on a warm day and biking and hiking trails that run along the water’s edge. Dogs are permitted on a leash, and those with tents can set up a camping site without charge.
4. Lake Tillery
To the east of Charlotte by about 50 miles, this lake (it’s actually a reservoir!) benefits from more than 100 miles of shoreline. This means you’ll find many residential and vacation homes here, but that doesn’t mean people cannot visit to camp, swim, fish, or rent boats. Golfers stay active on one of the many 18-hole courses nearby, and budding golfers can practice on nearby putting courses.
A notable feature of this body of water is the Tillery Dam, which is responsible for generating hydroelectric power for the area on behalf of North Carolina-based Duke Energy.
5. Lake Lure
Plan on a 1.5-hour drive west of Charlotte to reach this serene place, but once you’re there, your cares will melt away. Head to the water to fish, boat, or just relax, or get your heart pumping with a hike or bike ride up the spire at Chimney Rock State Park for a bird’s-eye view of the lake.
Those that want to relax on the water on Lake Lure can book one of the seasonal boat tours that leave from Lake Lure Marina, where there is plenty of free parking.
Fun fact: Hollywood buffs may like to know that the famous movie “Dirty Dancing” was filmed here decades ago!
6. Mountain Island Lake
From Uptown Charlotte, this small lake is less than 15 miles away to the northwest by car. The gorgeous lake wanders alongside the Catawba River and is the smallest of the three manmade lakes around Charlotte. As beautiful as Mountain Island Lake is, there is an extra purpose for it, since it provides water and hydroelectric power to many parts of the city and is owned by Duke Energy. You can still swim in the lake and enjoy it for watersports like stand-up paddle boarding, boating, and fishing. Within the lake is a large island known as Mountain Island, which is how this North Carolina lake got its name!
7. Lake James
Actually situated in the mountains, Lake James is in Linville, about two hours to the northwest of Charlotte. People love to fish for largemouth bass here, but it’s also possible to swim and boat here. What makes this setting particularly special is that it is at the base of Linville Gorge, often referred to as North Carolina’s very own Grand Canyon. The scenery is stunning, and the wildlife and flora surrounding the lake are quite eclectic. Mink, fox, rabbits, and deer abound here. This is one of the most diverse places to hike and bike given the mountainous terrain surrounding the lake.
8. Belews Lake
Also in the mountains, this reservoir lake was created as a cooling basin for the nearby power plant. For many years, it was considered contaminated, but over time, the ecosystem has healed itself. Its surrounding landscape, however, does not make it look as if it were manmade, and now it is a popular place for watersports and swimming. There are boating docks, and it’s typical to see people jet skiing, tubing, and sailing here.
Belews Lake is around two hours (or 100 miles) from central Charlotte. What sets this beautiful lake apart is that it is clear enough for scuba divers to practice their craft here since it can be as much as 130 feet deep in places. That also makes it an entertaining place to swim or boat. The trails around the lake are great for hiking, biking, and running, and given the distance from Charlotte, many visitors prefer to spend the whole day here or camp overnight.
Splash around the best lakes near Charlotte, NC
There are plentiful lakes around Charlotte, NC, of all shapes and sizes. While Charlotte is not far from the Atlantic Ocean, you needn’t drive more than an hour to enjoy a shimmering body of water on a sunny day. Depending on where you live, the drive may even be shorter. If you’re looking for a furnished apartment in Charlotte, Landing can be an essential time saver because it has taken the hassle out of the search. It features a range of furnished apartments with flexible leases and no need to deal with landlords or leasing offices. If you enjoy being on the water and want to move to Charlotte, Landing has some of the best options when it comes to where to live your best life close to the many lakes around Charlotte, NC. Learn more about what a membership can do for you today!
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Looking for more fun things to do outdoors in the Charlotte area? Check out our blog post, “A Local’s Guide to the Best Parks in Charlotte.”