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12 Best Lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains are full of beautiful and scenic mountain ranges, hiking trails and waterfalls.   Also found, tucked in the valleys, are pristine lakes in the mountains where you can soak (pun intended) in the outstanding views and enjoy the many water activities they include.

With so many Blue Ridge Mountain Lakes to choose from, how do you know the right one for you?  Which one is perfect or your mountain lake vacation?   Well, we've done a ton of research, and visited these lakes personally. Using some criteria, we hand picked the best Blue Ridge Mountain Lakes for you. 

Whether you're looking for a big lake, clean lake, clear lake or just a cool lake town to hang out in, our best lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains guide help you find the right mountain lake for you!

We mentioned criteria and we fully realize that "best" is very subjective, so in full disclosure, the criteria we used are:

  • Provides for swimming
  • Scenic and picturesque
  • Boating rentals available
  • Clear and clean water
  • Local towns and ammenties nearby

Think we missed a best blue ridge mountain lake?  Let us know!

Here are our top 12 picks for best lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in no particular order and organized by state:

Updated: 06/05/2023

Best Lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains - Lake Lure NC looking towards the mountains

Best Lakes in VA Mountains

Located within the splendor of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, a collection of stunning lakes awaits those seeking water, adventure, and nature. Reflecting the majestic peaks and lush forests, these Virginia mountain lakes serve as a beautiful mountain retreat. The mountain lakes of Virginia offer an unforgettable setting for exploration and rejuvenation.

Join us as we explore the best lakes in Virginia, unveiling the hidden treasures of each lake and highlight the best lake vacations in Virginia. 

Smith Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake

Photo by: Virginia State Parks, Sarah S

Hiding in the rural southwest corner of Virginia surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and just southwest of Lynchburg and southeast of Roanoke is Smith Mountain Lake.  

The lake and surrounding areas provide: camping, cabins and recreational activities like boating, fishing, swimming and kayaking.  There is also a park for kids to enjoy the beach, mini-golf and to feed the numerous carp.  

Get this ...

 If you enjoy ice cream on a hot summer day, there is a boat that travels around the lake selling ice cream, they will pull up to your boat or to the dock!  How awesome!

After enjoying your day at the lake there are many different restaurants and wineries nearby as well.

South Mountain Lake Map:

Philpott Lake, Virginia

Philpott Lake Virginia

Photo by: Virginia State Parks

Philpott Lake is located in Franklin, Henry and Patrick counties in Virginia, near Martinsville and Rocky Mount VA. This Virginia lake covers 2,900 acres and has over 100 miles of natural shoreline.

While there are many normal lake activities, including: swimming, fishing, boating, hiking and biking.  You can also visit Bowens Creek Falls, Blue Falls, and Emberson Falls by paddle boating or kayaking (some may be a day trip).

Philpott Lake Map:

Best Lakes in NC Mountains

Located in the breathtaking peaks of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains you'll find many different peaceful and picturesque lakes in western NC, surrounded by tall green mountains. 

With their crystal-clear and cool waters, surrounded by lush forests and high elevation mountains, these lakes form a charming scene. Whether you're looking for thrilling water adventures, peaceful solitude, or simply an opportunity to immerse in the surrounding scenery, the lakes of the North Carolina mountains deliver.

This section of our guide to the best lakes in the North Carolina Mountains showcases each NC mountain lake's unique characteristics, recreational opportunities, and landscapes. 

Whether you enjoy fishing, water sports, hiking, or simply looking for peace and serenity, the lakes of the mountain lakes in NC offer all of this and more.  

Lake Glenville, North Carolina 

Lake Glenville

Photo by: David Reeves

This Lake Glenville reservoir is located 8 miles from the popular Cashiers, North Carolina.    The lake has 26-miles or shoreline and includes 7 islands as well.

When visiting, you can enjoy recreational activities such as tubing, paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing and swimming. You can rent boats from local stores to enjoy the lake and/or visit the three waterfalls that are found around the lake (Hurricane Falls, Mill Creek Falls and Norton Falls).  

You can also enjoy swimming at the Pines Recreation Area with free admission (no pets) and enjoy a picnic after.

Lake Glenville Map:

Lake Lure, North Carolina

Lake Lure NC

Sitting in cozy Hickory Nut Gorge, Lake Lure provides gorgeous clear waters and a clean beach.  Visitors can   swim, enjoy the sun, and sandy beaches located near the main area of Lake Lure.

Of course, Lake Lure includes both motor and non-motor boating (lake permit required for private boats) as well. Various companies in the area provide Lake tours and provide boat rentals.

Just minutes away above Chimney Rock Village, is Chimney Rock State Park where you can enjoy hiking up to the top of the Chimney for spectacular views all around.  You can also enjoy the flowering bridge just a short walk or drive from the lake.

There are numerous restaurants in the town as well as hotels, motels and Inns for overnight stays.   Plenty of shopping is available in Chimney Rock Village as well. 

Lake Lure Map:

Fontana Lake, North Carolina

Lake Fontana

Often called the "Best Kept Secret in the Mountains", Lake Fontana is 29-miles long, and covers 11,700 acres.  The lake is located in Western NC and about 30 minutes from Bryson City NC, and was featured in the Hollywood movies, A Walk in the Woods and Nell.  

Lake Fontana is the largest lake in Western North Carolina and is unique with its gorgeous aquamarine colored water.

Private marinas are available to rent boats or you can bring your own and put it into the lake at one of the boat ramps.

There are different locations around the lake that allow swimming as well as fishing.  There are shuttle services to both Eagle Creek and Hazel Creek, both north shores where you can fish, hike, explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and camp.  

You can also stop by the visitor’s center at Fontana Dam, and then walk or drive across the dam itself. This is also where the famous Appalachian Trail crosses the lake. 

Motorcycle and sports cars enthusiasts can enjoy the famous and challenging Tail of the Dragon which is nearby.

Fontana Lake Map:

Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

Lake Santeetlah

Photo by: Tidwell Family

Known for the beauty of its surrounding mountains, forest shorelines and crystal clear water, Lake Santeetlah is the perfect place to head for a quiet get away, a boat ride or a picnic on the water.  

You can also enjoy canoes and kayaks that are available for rent, as well as stay the night at the available Inns or Resorts.  Primitive campsites are available around the lake( no water or toilets available) and no permits nor fees are required.  

Those that are into whitewater rafting can enjoy the water being released from the dam, giving you a Class IV and V rapids several times a year.  

You can also find the “Tail of the Dragon” nearby, which used by motorcyclists and sports cars enthusiasts due to its 11 miles curvy mountain roads.

Lake Santeetlah Map:

Lake James, North Carolina

Lake James NC

Photo by: Todd Money

Along with the usual boating, swimming and fishing in the beautiful, clear waters of 6,812-acre Lake James, there are also hiking and biking trails, campgrounds as well.  There is even a boat-in campground for a real outdoor adventure.  The lake offers more than 150-miles of shoreline to enjoy.

Canoe, kayak and paddle-board rentals are available at the Paddy’s Creek Area concession stand from May through September and is a popular spot.  There is even a beach area to enjoy and relax at.

Boat ramps at Canal Bridge and Hidden Cove on NC 126 are located between the park’s two day-use areas. 

Directions/Location:

Lake Junaluska, North Carolina

Lake Junaluska

Lake Junaluska is a beautiful 200-acre lake and community located just outside of Waynesville NC and near Maggie Valley NC.  The lake offers numerous things to do, including hiking, non-motor boating, fishing, and swimming.

The lake is surrounded by a community, and offers restaurants, boat tours, events and activities, and wildlife.   There is a paved hiking/walking trail that goes around the entire lake.    There is even a playground and mini-golf course.  Be sure to tour the beautiful gardens as well.

The Lake Junaluska community is Christian based, and has a beautiful and historic chapel, and a cross at Inspiration point that lights up at night over the lake.

Directions/Location:

Best Lakes in Georgia Mountains

Located among the majestic peaks of North Georgia's awe-inspiring mountain ranges lie a collection of stunning lakes.   With their pristine waters and breathtaking surroundings, these Georgia mountain lakes offer a sanctuary where visitors can get away.

Whether you're into thrilling water sports, peaceful sits besides the waters, or a relaxing and sunny boat ride, Georgia's mountain lakes provide the perfect setting for unforgettable Georgia mountain experience.

This best lakes in the Georgia mountains portion of our guide highlights the best mountain lakes in Georgia, and share their unique attractions, recreational opportunities, and gorgeous landscapes. 

Lake Blue Ridge

Lake Blue Ridge GA

Photo by: Fr. Gaurav Shroff

Blue Ridge Georgia is a very popular resort and tourist area, and the nearby Blue Ridge Lake makes for a beautiful place to enjoy fishing, swimming and boating.   Lake Blue Ridge is one of Georgia's most picturesque lakes and is full or clear and clean water.

The lake is 3,290 acres, 11 miles long, has 65 miles of shoreline, that is only 25% developed.  The remaining land in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

There are several places to launch your boat, some have fees and others are free.  Morgantown Point Recreations is recommended for launching boats as well as having a beach for families relax.  Some of the surrounding facilities offer paddle board, kayaks and pontoon boat rentals.  

Camping facilities are also available.

Directions/Location:

Lake Rabun

Lake Rabun GA

Located in Northeastern Georgia in Rabun County, Lake Rabun offers boating, skiing and tubing.  The lake is 835-acres and offers 25-miles of shoreline.  

Lodging, marinas, and restaurants ( including dinner on the lake) are just a few of the amenities.  There are a number of options for boat rentals as well.

Hotels and restaurants are located all around the lake as well for those that want an extended break.  

Directions/Location:

Nottely Lake

Nottely Lake Georgia

Lake Nottely is known as a hidden gem to many and is located in Blairsville, GA in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest with a scenic view.  The town gives Lake Nottely a real small town charm. 

The lake is not only known for fishing and boating, but known for swimming as well.  What can be more fun than dropping from a swing into this beautiful cool lake on a hot summer day?  Especially after a hike on one of the many trails that are found in the woods surrounding the lake.

Nearby activities include horseback riding and Meeks Park.

Directions/Location:

Best Lakes in Tennessee Mountains

Tennesee has lots of beautiful lakes throughout the state, but only one of significance is located in Blue Ridge Mountain Range, Watauga Lake.

Watauga Lake

Watauga Lake

Photo by: Robert Karma

Watauga Lake is located south of Mountain City, TN and is surrounded with beautiful mountain views.  Access to the lake by road is a little difficult but well worth it.  

The famous Appalachian Trail crosses the southwestern corner of the lake.  Recreational options include fishing, swimming, motor-boating, kayaking, paddle boating, parasailing, jet skiing and much more.

Various Marinas are around the lake and have boat rentals available.  There are lake side and lake view restaurants in the area, as well as Watauga Lake Winery to visit.

Helpful Tips for visiting the Best Lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains

When visiting the best lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, here are some tips to make your visit more enjoyable:

  1. Research and choose the right lake: The Blue Ridge Mountains are home to many beautiful lakes, each offering unique features and activities. Research the different mountain lakes and select the one that aligns with your interests, whether it's fishing, boating, swimming, or simply enjoying scenic views.  Hopefully we've helped with this one!
  2. Check for permits or fees: Some lakes may require permits or charge fees for entry, parking, or specific activities. Check ahead of time to ensure you have the necessary permits or cash on hand to avoid any inconvenience.
  3. Bring the lake essentials: When visiting a lake, bring along essentials such as sunscreen, insect repellent, drinking water, snacks, towels, and appropriate swimwear. It's also a good idea to bring a first aid kit, especially if you plan on hiking or participating in water sports.
  4. Follow safety guidelines: Always prioritize your safety when near or in the water. Follow any posted rules and regulations, use life jackets when boating or swimming if required, and be aware of your swimming abilities and limitations. Stay away from restricted areas or dangerous currents.
  5. Plan for quick weather changes: The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable and change quickly. Check the weather forecast before your visit and dress accordingly. Pack extra layers, rain gear, and be prepared for sudden changes in temperature or weather conditions.
  6. Capture memories responsibly: Photography is a wonderful way to preserve memories, but be mindful not to disturb the natural habitat or other visitors. Avoid stepping on delicate vegetation or disturbing wildlife while capturing the beauty of the lakes and surrounding landscapes.
  7. Leave time for relaxation: Don't forget to simply relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the lakes. Bring a book, have a picnic, or find a quiet spot to appreciate the natural beauty and just rejuvenate your mind and body.
  8. Leave No Trace: The Blue Ridge Mountains are renowned for their natural beauty. Practice Leave No Trace principles by disposing of your waste properly, staying on designated trails, and avoiding the disturbance of wildlife and vegetation. Be mindful of the environment and help preserve it for future generations.

Remember, each of the best lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains has its own set of guidelines and regulations, so it's important to research specific information for the lake you plan to visit.

Most importantly - Enjoy your time exploring the stunning lakes and picturesque landscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Best Lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains FAQ

Here are some common questions asked about Lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains:

What is the clearest lake in the NC mountains?

The clearest lake in NC is White Lake near Elizabethtown NC.  The lake isn't in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is closer to the NC Coast.  Now, the clearest lake in the NC that IS in the Blue Ridge Mountains is, in our opinion, Lake James.   You can literally see the bottom around most of the lake.

Can you swim in Lake Blue Ridge?

Yes!  Lake Blue Ridge GA has nearly crystal clear water, and has dedicated swimming areas.

What is the cleanest lake in western North Carolina?

There really isn't one cleanest lake in western North Carolina, as all of the mountain lakes are overall very clean.   If we had to pick just one, it would be Lake Fontana.  However, Fontana Lake doesn't look clean due to the aqua/green color of the water, but it is.

What is the most beautiful lake view in Georgia?

This is heavily debated, but most would agree that Lake Blue Ridge, near Blue Ridge GA has the most beautiful lake view in Georgia.

What is the clearest lake in North Carolina is almost too beautiful to be real?

This would be White Lake, near Elizabethtown NC.  It is basically a beach with white sand that can be seen through the lake water.

About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.


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