Travel

The Untamed Heart of Lake Jocassee

Cool Blue Ridge waters feed this secluded lake—and the soul

photo: Leigh Webber

A cove near Laurel Lake Falls.

LAKE: Jocasse
LOCATION: Oconee and Pickens Counties, South Carolina
SIZE: 9,000 acres
SHORELINE: 75 miles
ELEVATION: 1,100 feet


WHY WE LOVE IT: The kayak settles on a pebble-sand beach, with the sound of a contented sigh. Behind you lies Lake Jocassee, a shimmering plain of clear mountain water. Before you rises the verdant palisade along the South Carolina–North Carolina border where the Blue Ridge Escarpment tumbles two thousand feet in mere miles—called the Blue Wall by the Cherokee Indians. You are surrounded—by moving water, by quiet water, by falling water. And somewhere behind the forest lies even more. Rushing over mossy cliffs, braiding through boulders, tumbling in unseen cataracts.

This is why you’ve come to this still-wild lake, one solely accessed by the public through Devils Fork State Park. Here, four major rivers and streams fall from bluffs, filling Lake Jocassee, a fjord-like reservoir gathered from some of the highest waterfalls in eastern America. A place where you can touch a cascade from the seat of a kayak. Hike in the footprints of black bears. Or relax on the bow of a powerboat, anchored deep in a solitary cove, angling for trout on one of the most pristine lakes in the South.

photo: Leigh Webber

A dock diver in the lake’s remarkably clear waters.


HOW TO DO IT: Just a three-and-a-half-hour drive northeast of Atlanta, and only two hours south of Asheville, Lake Jocassee makes for a perfect weekend getaway or a sweet side trip on a longer mountain journey. Wind your way to the lake on the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway, enjoying the stunning views till you reach Devils Fork State Park. Before you hit the water, though, a difficult choice has to be made: where best to check in for sunset and starlight views.

If you’re not the kind to pitch a tent, you can jump in your boat in a flash from one of the twenty two- and three-bedroom villas operated by the park—charming, fully furnished cottages with screened porches and waterfront views. For a more romantic stay, Three Pines View, a modern gourmet bed-and-breakfast inn, offers Blue Ridge vistas just minutes away from the Jocassee shoreline.

Options abound for folks who like to paddle their own kayak, canoe, or paddleboard, or let a motor do the hard part. Jocassee Outdoor Center rents pontoon boats, ski boats, and self-propelled craft, and lines up guides for the lake’s fine trout and bass fishing, as well as waterfall tours. If you’re
looking for a quiet row, book a stand-up paddleboard or kayak tour of the lake’s remote coves with Expedition Carolina. Paddlers will thread through steep gorges that dead-end in towering waterfalls. At Wright Creek Falls, when the water is at its highest, you can paddle your boat behind the falls’ stunning veil. If the water is low, it’s a short walk to a sandy beach hidden behind the cascade.

photo: Leigh Webber

Jocassee paddlers.

For those who’d rather seek solitude with boot leather than a boat hull, the lush forests of Gorges State Park, along the North Carolina side of the lake, beckon. A stunning portion of the seventy-six-mile Foothills Trail vaults across deep gorges on suspension bridges and winds along the Jocassee lakeshore. Many of the area’s thirty-plus waterfalls are in the park or nearby, including the 411-foot-tall Whitewater Falls and Rainbow Falls—perhaps the most photographed in the Southeast.


LOCALS KNOW: Hash out your Jocassee adventure at Aunt Sue’s Country Corner, about twenty miles east of the lake on the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway. The spot serves as a general store, an ice cream parlor, a restaurant—the Sunday buffet offers classic fried chicken and okra—and a rollicking live old-time music and bluegrass venue.

 

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