Lakes in South Carolina are a cultural institution and a way to pass the days in the great state. South Carolina’s pristine coastline and historic towns may get a lot of attention, but for most residents, they’re happiest fishing, relaxing, swimming, or boating around its lakes
It shouldn’t come as much as a surprise as the state is far from lacking in the lake department. This is in large part due to the numerous manmade lake throughout the state, but it’s tough to complain about that when they’re so enjoyable these days.
These are the best lakes in South Carolina.
Best Lakes in South Carolina
Take a day’s float in Lake Murray. The calm waters are ideal for setting sail, and dozens of marinas make put-ins easier. The lake was once the world’s largest dam, and a thriving recreation scene has naturally developed alongside the hydroelectric power providing waters.
Nowadays, the lake consists of 500 miles ripe for exploration, enough beauty to establish the lake as the jewel of South Carolina.
Once you’ve had your fill of boating, drop anchor on the Dreher Island State Recreation Area for a pristine picnic lunch. There are several camping options along the lake, as well as Airbnbs and cottages so that you can stick around well after sunset.
Lake Greenwood belongs to Greenwood County, and the folks in that county have been looking after this lake to build a thriving fishing community. Locals gravitate around Ware Shoals, and are always happy to show around visitors.
Greenwood consists of 11,000 acres of bass and crappie fishing. Fishers come right to the banks of Lake Greenwood State Park to try their luck.
Every March, Crappie Masters flock to Lake Greenwood to compete in the Crappie Masters South Carolina State fishing championship. Thirty boats compete for the biggest catch.
Old-growth Cypress trees surround the largest lake in South Carolina. Lake Marion spans 110,000 acres across five counties, providing plenty of options for a day in the water. Aided by Spanish moss, the tree coverage offers many camping sites right at the water’s edge.
Boaters can navigate from island to island, and smaller crafts can head into the wetlands created where the lake overtakes its tributaries. Humans aren’t the only creatures who flock to the lake’s peaceful shores. Numerous bird species choose to settle down and dig for worms in the marshes.
This recreation haven exists in South Carolina and North Carolina. Near urban hubs like Fort Mill and Charlotte, Lake Wylie is built for a day trip. A few restaurants scatter the shorelines near the designated swimming areas.
Ebenezer Park and Windjammer Park are the headquarters of the watersports activities on this lake. Boat rentals and picnic areas create a recipe for a full day out. Lake Wylie also boasts an outstanding 18-hole golf course at the River Hills Country Club.
Lake Wylie spends the summer months playing host to music and beer festivals, special events, and fireworks shows. If you’re heading here in the summer, chances are there will be something going on that weekend.
If you want a day at the lake with minimal human interaction, you might spend the afternoon at Saluda Lake without seeing many other explorers. The area is low-key, but the waters still provide a home for plenty of fish.
The only spot on the shoreline is the Saluda Landing, which serves as the lake’s headquarters. Head to the shack, where they’ll take care of everything, from a boat rental to your lunch plans.
Lake Keowee is often considered one of the best retirement lakes in America. The unspoiled waters stay at an optimal temperature year-round. There’s no bad day to eat at the water’s edge of Lake Keowee.
Its fame has attracted plenty of outdoor enthusiasts over the years. Jack Nicklaus designed a local golf course, Lake Keowee Golf Course, and around that area developed a surprising selection of quality lakeside dining.
The lake is named after its original Cherokee inhabitants, who built their whole community around the abundance provided in the lake. Head to Lake Keowee for the weekend, and you’ll have plenty of options.
Lake Strom Thurmond
South Carolina’s second-biggest lake is named after a controversial senator who served South Carolina for 46 years. The lake’s national name has ranked it as one of the ten most-visited Army Corps of Engineers Lakes in the country. Around 5.5 million outdoor enthusiasts head out to spend the day across the 71,000-acre lake.
There are ten different campgrounds mixed between five state parks, ensuring there’s plenty of room for everyone. Hiking and mountain biking trails stretch around the shores.
Alongside Strom Thruman is Richard B. Russell Lake. The other lake named for a South Carolinian Senator is smaller than Strom Thurmond Lake but provides many of the same traits for a trip to the water.
Lake Russell is split between 13 public recreation areas that serve as launching points for the day’s adventures. You can camp near this lake, fish its waters, and boat across its shores.
You won’t find many lunch options in these lake’s surroundings. A large majority of the shoreline is untouched, and it’s all free to explore for the right captain.
The grandmammy of them all drinks from Appalachian Mountain spring water to support a thriving ecosystem across its waters. Lake Jocassee highlights Devils Fork State Park and is home to record catches in five different fish species.
The mountain source of the water keeps it clear year-round, perfect for swimmers, scuba divers, and anglers. The surrounding State Park protects large swaths of the shoreline, and most of this lake has little human development.
Lake Jocassee’s beauty has attracted high-profile visitors. Hollywood film directors have occasionally portrayed the lake on the silver screen. This is not surprising at it’s widely considered the most beautiful of all the lakes in South Carolina.
Duke Energy established this hydroelectric power source in 1919 making it one of the oldest human-made lakes in the state. The resulting ecosystem has had more time to mature, and various animals have heeded the lake’s protection.
You can often spot deer prancing through the grass or hear a fox scuffle in the night, but if you’re lucky, you may spot an alligator or turtle slowly swimming through the lake.
It’s also the closest thing South Carolina has seen to Birdland, with its native hawk, egret, duck, and osprey populations.
You’ll know you’ve reached the bottom of Table Rock Mountain when you find the clear waters of Lake Pinnacle. The state park is known for more than its fabulous hikes. The surrounding shorelines serve as a great base camp for exploring the mountains but serve up enough water activities to be a worthy destination on its own. The calm waters are fed by mountain springs to ensure the lake in South Carolina is a beautiful spot to cool off year-round.
Visitors splashing in the waters of Lake Pinnacle relish the mountain backdrop that makes up the scenery. You can swim in full view of the mountains above, and a lifeguard is on duty in the designated swimming area. With picnic shelters, bathrooms, and boat rentals, this lake has everything you need to stay cool all summer long.
Parson’s Mountain Lake
Paddleboats dominate the waters of Parson’s Mountain Lake. Don’t expect to find much lining the shoreline besides camping spots and a few trailers. Parson’s Mountain Lake is for outdoorsy folk who want to get away for a little while.
Trails lead off from the camping areas at the base of the lake towards picnic lunch spots and great riding trails. Hikers can follow a path up to an abandoned Parson’s Mountain Fire tower. Along the trek, you’ll find plenty of evidence of the area’s rich history. Prospectors flocked to the lake to seek gold.
If you want a low-key weekend where all you have are the things you brought in with you, Parson’s Mountain Lake is accessible enough to car camp, but rugged enough to soak in plenty of stars.
Lake Moultrie draws quite a crowd, as it is one of the more scenic lakes of the low country. Its proximity to Charleston helps as well. If you’re looking for a day’s activities away from the city, you’ll find some action at this lake. World record black crappie and catfish catches have been recorded inside the 60,400-acre lake.
Explorers will enjoy the multitude of ecosystems that surround the lake. Blackwater ponds, swamps, and cypress trees line the shores, and many fish fill the waters. The lake’s easy access and the abundant activities available on the water have made the area an ideal day trip destination.
This lake sits on the border between South Carolina and Georgia, and folks from both states frequent the calm waters for weekend trips. You can bring your boat and have plenty of space for water-skiing. Fifty-six thousand acres of open water allow captains to forge their own roads, and over 500 campsites along the lake ensure you can set sail for sunset.
If you’re looking for a lake with myriad camping options, Lake Hartwell delivers. Trails, fishing, and swimming options expand throughout the lake. Lake Hartwell may draw in a crowd, but there is plenty of space for everyone to enjoy some time on the water.
A lake warden watches over this fishing lake near Greenville, South Carolina. Swimming is not allowed, and boats with outboard motors greater than 10 HP will have to stay at home. Near the boat ramp and warden’s office, you’ll find a fishing pier, restrooms, and a picnic area, and the rest of the shoreline is ready for your cast.
A hop and skip from Greenville, South Carolina, Lake Placid is the only swimmable area in Paris Mountain State Park. Kids of all ages looking to beat the summer heat find refuge in the lake, which has a lifeguard watching over things all summer long. The lake only covers 13 acres and functions more like a glorified swimming hole.
No boats with motors are allowed to putz across these waters, but small kayaks and paddleboards are available onshore. The lake creates an intersection between the city and the mountains around Greenville, and hiking trails depart from the shoreline to take trekkers into the shade of the oak trees that drink from the lake’s waters.
If you’re looking to fish with the locals, Monticello Reservoir deserves a stop during your next trip. The reservoir isn’t an outdoor activities mecca, and the community around the lake is perfectly happy with that; more catfish for them.
The locals fish on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but the lake is always open for swimming. No motors are allowed in the reservoir, establishing the area further as a fishers’ paradise. After a day in the water, head into town for an authentic catfish stew straight from the reservoir.
Lake Bowen has a family-friendly feel across the 1,534 acres of water. A playground sits next to a picnic area right onshore, giving your children plenty of options to work up an appetite. The low-key lake doesn’t have many overnight options, but its central Spartanburg County location makes it ideal for a day trip.
Plenty of public boat ramps set the scene for an intimate tour of Lake Bowen’s waters, but a day-use pass is necessary if you want to set sail. Driving to the lake is an experience in itself. Highway 26 crosses right over the middle of the lake. Be sure to wave to the multitude of fishers casting lines from the bridge as you drive by.
If you want a lake for yourself, head to the mountains that separate Georgia and South Carolina for a gem hidden between old-growth forests and Appalachian mountain peaks. Trout fishers love the serenity of the peaceful waters, and the abundance of bass, catfish, and bream certainly doesn’t hurt.
The only human development on this lake is one boat access point. A few campsite markers are scattered around the shoreline but don’t expect more people than the company you brought with you. There’s not much going on at Lake Tugaloo, which is exactly what draws in its visitors.
Lake Cooley is adjacent to the city of Spartanburg. Development has been kept to a minimum to keep this popular day trip destination low-key. Eventually, city planners hope to have a small huddle of businesses, a kayak launch, and a covered meeting area built on the water’s edge. For now, the lake is mainly untouched, besides the centrally located playground and fishing pier.
Boating access has been kept to a minimum, as the lake doesn’t contain the size to allow many captains. No boat with more than a 15HP engine can embark. Forests surround the lake, with a hint of the Appalachian Mountains in the background, ripe for quiet exploration for those looking to spend the day outside the city.