Lake James State Park
It’s easy to overlook Lake James State Park. The waterlogged park combines 3,500 acres of rolling terrain with a 6,510-acre man-made lake on the southeastern edge of Pisgah National Forest, literally in the shadow of Linville Gorge and the Black Mountains, arguably the most dramatic range in North Carolina. By contrast, Lake James State Park is mellow. But the emerald-green lake offers 150 miles of mostly undeveloped shoreline, hiking trails with dramatic views of the mountains to the west, and a lifetime of boating opportunities on the main channel and in secluded coves.
The park has two public boat ramps, Hidden Cove and Canal Bridge. The lake is popular with canoeists and powerboaters alike, but the size and nature of this finger lake make it easy to find solitude on one of the coves away from the main channel. The park offers canoe rentals at the Paddy Creek Area ($5 first hour, $3 each additional hour). A handful of primitive islands punctuates the main body of the lake, and the shoreline is dominated by remote channels and steep, forested banks. Large populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass thrive in the mountain water, as do walleye and bluegill, offering anglers plenty of distractions.
Between May and the end of September, Lake James is popular with families looking to take a dip to cool off. The older beach is a smaller patch of sand on the edge of a small cove in the Catawba River Area. A new beach in the Paddy Creek Area, opened in 2010, offers more room to spread out and a more comprehensive view ($5 adult access fee, $4 child access fee).
Backcountry camping isn’t permitted, but 20 “backpacking” campsites are spread out in a loop a few hundred yards from the parking lot ($20 a night, reservations recommended). Each site has a picnic table, fire pit, and gravel tent pad, and a few offer easy lake accesses for boaters.
While an extensive trail plan is in the works, a few trails already offer roughly ten miles of hiking. In the Catawba River Area, the half-mile Sandy Cliff Overlook Trail leads to an incredible view of the lake and the rocky Shortoff and Table Rock mountains in the distance. The 2.2-mile Fox Den Loop Trail cruises through a tall pine forest over rolling terrain with occasional lake views. The one-mile Paddy Creek Trail follows alongside the creek before ending at the swimming beach and pavilion.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication