The 12 Best Lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia are full of beautiful and scenic mountain ranges, hiking trails and waterfalls.   Also found, tucked in the valleys, between the mountains are beautiful, pristine lakes where you can soak 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?   We've done a ton of research, and visited some of these lakes personally, and picked the best Blue Ridge Mountain Lakes for you below.  

We realize "best" is very subjective, so the criteria we used are:

  • Provides for swimming
  • Scenic and picturesque
  • Boating rentals available
  • Clear and clean water

Think we missed a top lake?  Let us know in the comments!

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

1 - Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia

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!

If you don’t want to drive a boat yourself you can always book a cruise with Virginia cruises they offer sightseeing tours.

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


2 - 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. The 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).


3 - 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.


4 - 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. 


5- Lake Fontana, 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 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 Tail of the dragon which is nearby.


6 - 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.


7 - 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. 


8 - 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 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.


9 - Lake Blue Ridge, Georgia

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.


10 - Lake Rabun, Georgia

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.  


11 - Nottely Lake, Georgia

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.


12 - Watauga Lake, Tennessee

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.

About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life and an accomplished author who has many years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of the eastern United States. He has a deep passion for nature, history, and storytelling, and has combined these interests to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a guide to this stunning area that he calls home.

With over 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, Larry has established himself as a leading voice in the field of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He has published numerous articles and guides in online publications.

In addition to his writing, Larry is an avid hiker, photographer, and conservationist. He is committed to preserving the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains for future generations and has worked to promote environmental awareness and sustainability in the region.

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