20 AMAZING Lakes Near Charlotte, NC

Charlotte is known for many things – NASCAR, banking, and delicious restaurants, might come to mind. However if you find yourself seeking a break from city life there are some amazing lakes near Charlotte to delve into and get closer to nature.

The lakes in close proximity to Charlotte provide a calm retreat from the urban hustle and bustle, granting both locals and tourists alike a chance for outdoor fun. Whether you’re a fan of water sports, an enthusiastic angler, or just looking for a peaceful haven to unwind for the weekend, there is a lake near Charlotte for you.

Some of these lakes near Charlotte are just a short half day trip away from the city, while some take more than two hours to reach. We’re breaking them all down, starting with the closest lake near Downtown Charlotte and ending with ones clear in Tennessee!

Lakes Near Charlotte: 1.5 Hour Drive or Less

Mountain Island Lake

Mountain Island Lake
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 23 min (12.3 mi) via NC-16 N

Mountain Island Lake, closest to Charlotte, is just 12 miles away and takes less than half an hour to reach. It’s named for the literal mountain in the middle of the lake and is a favorite recreational destination for people from Charlotte and the other towns in the area. It’s other claim to fame is that it supplies drinking water to more than 750,000 people!

Water sports are very popular here, especially paddleboarding, with the many caves and coves of the 3200-acre lake just waiting to be explored. It’s also great for hiking with its 1.6-mile Mountain Island Park Trail taking you around Catawba River.

Lake Wylie

Lake Wylie
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 32 min (18.7 mi) via I-77 S and State Hwy 49 S

Less than 20 miles from Charlotte, Lake Wylie is great for adrenaline junkies and one of the most popular lakes near Charlotte. Jet skiing is very popular here, as well as tubing at Lake Wylie Dam, which takes visitors down the Catawba River to Riverwalk Carolinas. There are a lot of camping amenities, including lakeside cabins for those who want to experience outdoor living without the “outdoor” part. 

There’s also a beautiful marina from where you can go fishing at the lake, provided you have a valid fishing license, which you can get by contacting the local wildlife department.

Lake Norman

Lake Norman State Park
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 40 min (37.4 mi) via I-77 Express Ln

Heading to Lake Norman is one of the most popular things to do in Charlotte. With more than 520 miles of shoreline filled with incredible beaches with perfect sunsets, Lake Norman is the perfect setting for a lakeside getaway with the family and is what most Charlottians consider the best lake near Charlotte. While there’s lots to do on Lake Norman’s water, the area surrounding it is highlighted.  

Lake Norman State Park has miles and miles of hiking and biking trails, fishing, and birdwatching. If you’re looking for hiking then located nearby are Rock Springs Nature Preserve and Stumpy Creek Park. With so much to do, and being only 40 miles from Charlotte, Lake Norman can be a perfect day trip. Moreover, Cornelius and Davidson are consistently ranked among the top 10 U.S. communities offering the best living conditions near the water, so if you’re heading to Lake Norman, it might be worth scoping out some real estate (Davidson also has some fantastic restaurants)!

Additionally, one of the most interesting facts about North Carolina is that there are ghost towns beneath Lake Norman. The Long Island Mill and Mill Village, constructed during the 1800s, once claimed fame to this area. However, in the 1950s, the mill had to be shuttered because of the creation of Lake Norman.

Lake Tillery

Lake Tillery
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 1 hr 13 min (53.1 mi) via NC-27 E

Lake Tillery has some of the clearest water you’ll ever see in a lake near Charlotte, making it a favorite destination for fishing enthusiasts. You have a chance at catching many types of fish including Blue Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Striped Bass, White Bass, White Perch, Black Crappie, and Bluegill. 

Be sure to read up on local fishing regulations before you go though. Other popular water sports at Lake Tillery include boating, kayaking, and swimming, all while enjoying the beautiful surroundings. If you want to go camping, head on over to Norwood Campground or Lake Tillery Family Campground. There’s even a golf course nearby!

High Rock Lake

High Rock Lake
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 1 hr 5 min (62.3 mi) via I-85 N

High Rock Lake near Lexington is VERY popular, with visitors coming over regularly from all over North Carolina. That shouldn’t come as a surprise though, considering the incredible mountain views and the chance to explore the surrounding Uwharrie Mountain Range. 

If that isn’t outdoorsy enough, there’s also Dan Nicholas Park, which has an aquarium along with a campground and nature center, and Eagle Point Nature Preserve has some incredible hiking trails. 

If hiking excursions aren’t your thing, then head on over to the reservoir to fish for some catfish, bass, and bream.

Lake Hickory

Lake Hickory
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 1 hr 9 min (54.1 mi) via NC-16 N

Located in the mountain foothills of North Carolina, Lake Hickory near the city of Hickory, offers pristine emerald waters and is claimed by many to be an incredible getaway spot. Visitors can enjoy a range of water sports on the lake including sailing, water skiing, boating, jet skiing, and swimming. 

There are 16 different boat access locations and visitors can rent boats, canoes, kayaks, and even party barges. Anglers also flock to Lake Hickory to catch many different species of fish including redbreast sunfish, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, brook trout, brown trout, alewife, rock bass, and largemouth bass.

Rhodhiss Lake

Rhodhiss Lake
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 1 hr 18 min (68.9 mi) via I-85 S and US-321 N

Spanning 3000 acres and nestled between Lake James and Lake Hickory is Rhodhiss Lake. Surrounded by scenic forests and mountains, Rhodhiss Lake offers the quintessential lakeside getaway with boat ramps, fishing piers, picnic areas, and a campsite. 

Anglers can fish for striped bass, largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill, and white perch. The lake’s crystal blue waters and sandy bottom make it an attractive spot for swimming. If nothing else, the lake and the surrounding scenic views will make for a peaceful and tranquil getaway.

Badin Lake

Badin Lake
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 1 hr 6 min (47.6 mi) via NC-27 E

Surrounded by the beautiful forests and stunning wilderness of Uwharrie National Forest and Morrow Mountain State Park, Badin Lake is an outdoorsman’s paradise. 

When you’re not busy enjoying sailboats, jet skis, powerboats, water skiing, tubing, or wakeboarding on the pristine lake, take to the hiking trails and discover the wonderful flora and fauna of the surrounding forests. 

Another fun fact about Badin Lake is the hidden gold just waiting to be found in the streams surrounding the lake. The nearby town of Badin also has lots of things to do and some great food.

Lake Wateree

Lake Wateree
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 1 hr 18 min (67.6 mi) via I-77 S and US-21 S

While Lake Wateree might have initially been popular as a place for fishing and boating enthusiasts, today you’ll find various water sports like diving, canoeing, sailing, and kayaking. Also, once you’re done with the water then you can head over to Lake Wateree State Park, one of the most beautiful state parks in South Carolina.

In fact, the park is home to Desportes Island Nature Trail, which many consider to be one of the most beautiful hiking trails in South Carolina. There are also campsites with showers, toilets, and drinking water, but the lake is quite remote, so be sure to stock up on all essential supplies before your trip.

Lake James

Lake James
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 1 hr 37 min (92.5 mi) via US-321 N and I-40 W

This picturesque lake is at the bottom of the Blue Ridge Mountains and has incredible views of pine and hardwood trees, large mountains, and gorgeous wildflowers. The visitor hotspots are Paddy’s Creek, a beach that’s great for swimming, and Catawba River, where visitors can picnic, boat, or fish. 

Located near the lake is South Mountains State Park, a true testament to the area’s natural beauty and wilderness that offers visitors incredible views of the Appalachian mountains and even has a few waterfalls. 

You can even camp at the lake, which has decent camping amenities, but it’s still a good idea to carry the necessary supplies with you since the lake is pretty remote.

Lakes Near Charlotte: 3 Hour Drive or Less

Lake Lure

things to do in lake lure
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 1 hr 44 min (91.4 mi) via I-85 S and US-74 W

To enjoy golden beaches, the best place to head to is Lake Lure, one of the most stunning lakes in North Carolina. Adults can relax on the sandy beaches and enjoy the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, while the kids can enjoy themselves at the nearby water park. 

The surrounding area has a lot to offer, allowing visitors to explore attractions like the Rocky Broad River, the Flowering Bridge, and the surrounding forests and mountains. 

The nearby Chimney Rock State Park has some hiking trails as well if you’re in the mood to explore the wilderness and native fauna and flora. Make sure to check out Hickory Nut Falls. At 404 feet, it is one of the most famous waterfalls in North Carolina

Lake Murray

Lake Murray
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 1 hr 46 min (102.4 mi) via I-77 S

The Jewel of South Carolina, as it’s locally known, Lake Murray has a shoreline stretching more than 650 miles, surrounded by beautiful trees and beaches. Boating is by far the most popular activity at Lake Murray is boating, followed by swimming and fishing, for which the best spot is on the Lexington side of the lake. 

Any spot is great for a wide variety of water sports. Beyond the water, visitors can also enjoy hiking trails, cycling, and watching wildlife like wood ducks, ospreys, deer, and Purple Martins during their migration in the summer. 

Visitors can also go camping or rent one of the many villas to spend the night in comfort.

Lake Hartwell

Lake Hartwell
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 2 hr 38 min (163.2 mi) via I-85 S

Lake Hartwell is located within easy reach of three different cities, including Charlotte, and is surrounded by national parks and forests, offering visitors a long list of activities to keep them busy. 

For nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts, there are more than 55,000 acres to be explored and, if you’d like to go fishing, the lake is one of the most popular fishing destinations in the state. You can catch striped and hybrid bass, largemouth, bream, and catfish.

Jordan Lake

Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 2 hr 18 min (146.5 mi) via I-85 N

For campers, Jordan Lake is the best spot! There are five well-maintained campsites around the lake with a wide variety of amenities and Jordan Lake State Recreation Area provides all the recreation that you and the family could need. Wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers will also enjoy exploring the 14,000-acre lake, with a variety of hiking trails that suit every difficulty level. 

If you’d like to stick to the water only, you can go fishing, swimming, and boating too, with the 11 different boat ramp locations. If you do go fishing, you’ll need to get a license before doing so.

Watauga Lake

Watauga Lake
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 2 hr 42 min (127.9 mi) via US-321 N

If you’re looking to visit a lake surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery and forests, then Watauga Lake is the place for you. Hiking enthusiasts will enjoy this spot very much since part of the Appalachian Trail can be trekked from Watauga Lake. 

You get stunning views of the lake and mountain while traversing part of the longest hiking trail in the world. The lake is also a great spot for boating, swimming, skiing, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. 

The best part, however, is that the remote location of the lake and relatively challenging access make it less crowded. You won’t have to worry about any tourist crowds that way.

Smith Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 3 hr 10 min (189.5 mi) via I-85 N and US-29 N

Smith Mountain Lake is one of the most popular lakes in the country, with its beautiful parks, beaches, and picturesque lake. So much so, there was once even a rumor that Tom Cruise owns a home in the area (it proved to be untrue). But who could blame him if he wanted, considering the beautiful backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains? 

Camping, boating, and hiking are just some of the outdoor activities you can indulge in. There are some lakeside resorts and great restaurants in the area if you’re looking to spend a few days at the lake in relative comfort.

Lakes Near Charlotte: 4 Hour Drive or Less

Douglas Lake

Douglas Lake
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 3 hr 20 min (198.5 mi) via I-40 W

Douglas Lake has so much natural beauty, that you even begin to experience it on the drive there, as you roll through Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains. 

While there’s no doubt nature and wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy Douglas Lake, there are a lot of other activities as well including horseback riding, biking, fishing, swimming, and other watersports, including white water rapids at Pigeon River. 

Another plus point is that the city of Knoxville is located nearby, which is also a popular tourist destination with a wide range of recreational activities.

Lake Lanier

Lake Lanier
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 3 hr 27 min (211.3 mi) via I-85 S

Lake Lanier is a popular destination for families all year round because of the many recreational activities that can be found on its shores, including horseback riding, hiking, a waterpark, and even golfing. 

If you want to spend time in the water, then just keep it limited to boating and fishing. Swimming in the lake can be risky because of harmful levels of bacteria and swimming in the nearby Chattahoochee River should ALWAYS be avoided for the same reason. If you’re looking for some extra entertainment beyond the lake, the city of Atlanta is also located nearby.

Fontana Lake

Fontana Lake
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 3 hr 27 min (202.2 mi) via US-74 W

Imagine an emerald lake surrounded by mountains dotted with lush green trees. Fontana Lake near Bryson City, holds the distinction of being surrounded by both the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, making it incredibly picturesque. 

Visitors can enjoy fishing, boating,  swimming, and even enjoy a hike among the mountain forests along part of the Appalachian Trail. You won’t get any views of the lake during the hike, but you will come across wildlife and even a waterfall. 

If you’re looking to stay over, you can head over to the nearby Fontana Village Resort where you’ll find amenities like campsites, cabins, restaurants, and even an outdoor swimming pool.

Lakes Near Charlotte: Full Lake Vacation Away!

Norris Lake

Norris Lake
Distance from Downtown Charlotte: 5 hr 6 min (265.0 mi) via I-40 W

When you visit Norris Lake in Tennessee, you also have the opportunity to visit Norris Dam State Park. This means there are a lot of outdoor activities to keep you occupied here including hiking, fishing, golfing, rock climbing, and camping. 

The area’s marinas also offer rentals for jet skis, scuba equipment, and other water sports. You should take advantage of the watersport activities at this lake. The lake waters are pristine and always clean due to the two rivers that constantly feed it.

This also results in Norris Lake being a popular spot for anglers looking to fish for walleye, striped bass, bluegill, and largemouth bass.

What is the closest lake near Charlotte?

The closest lakes near Charlotte are Mountain Island Lake, Lake Wylie, and Lake Norman.

What is the most popular lake near Charlotte?

Over six million people visit Lake Norman each year, making it the most popular lake in all of North Carolina!

What is the big lake near Charlotte?

Lake Norman stands as North Carolina’s largest man-made freshwater reservoir and the largest lake near Charlotte. Lake Mattamuskeet near the Outer Banks is the largest natural lake in North Carolina.

Which is better – Lake Wylie or Lake Norman?

The choice between Lake Wylie and Lake Norman depends on personal preferences. Lake Norman, at 32,500 acres is much larger, offering more space for activities and boating, while Lake Wylie, at 12,500 acres, has a quieter atmosphere. Lake Norman is slightly closer to Charlotte, providing easier access to urban amenities. In general we find Lake Wylie more beautiful and quieter than Lake Norman, but Norman provides access to more amenities, restaurants, and shopping around the lake.

Plan For Your Trip to the South!

  • Get Around: We suggest renting a car for traveling the Carolinas. Check Prices on RentalCars.com
  • Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always Allbirds.
About Natasha

Natasha moved to North Carolina for college years ago (but she's not trying to age herself here). Her days were spent reading a book on the beach and enjoying a cold glass of sweet tea in between classes at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Upon graduation, she met her partner, Cameron, and they traveled the world together crossing 85 countries and seven continents. After, many years of international travel they settled down a bit and launched Lost in the Carolinas to share their experiences about and travel tips on South Carolina and North Carolina.

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