15 Best Lakes in Raleigh

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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The capital city of the state of North Carolina, Raleigh is known as the ‘City of Oaks’ thanks to the beautiful oak trees that line many of the city’s streets. It also happens to be a city filled with culture, what with its many museums, fabulous restaurants, buzzing nightlife and craft-breweries. It also happens to be home to North Carolina State University, Shaw University, Saint Augustine’s College and Meredith College, as well as the NHL’s Carolina Hurricane’s.

Raleigh sits in the Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line and as a result there are lovely rolling hills both in and surrounding the city. This, together with its numerous parks and nature preserves, may be the reason why EcoSalon named Raleigh as one the ‘Best Cities in America for Health and Happiness’ in 2012. Some of these parks have lakes, others don’t, but there are also plenty of great lakes to visit close to the city. Here is our list of the 15 best lakes in Raleigh.

1. Lake Johnson; 4601 Avent Ferry Road

Lake Johnson ParkSource: samray / shutterstock
Lake Johnson Park

This 60.7 hectare lake sits in the Lake Johnson Park in the very southwest corner of Raleigh. The lake and its surroundings is a great place to spend a day and enjoy the outdoors.

Lake Johnson features a waterfront centre that rents out kayaks, canoes, pedal boats and stand-up-paddle boards. There is also a private boat launch onsite that can be used by both Raleigh residents and visitors.

Those that would rather enjoy the lake from land can go hiking around the park’s eight kilometres of hiking trails. There are also picnic areas, a fishing boardwalk and a six station fit trail around the lake’s shoreline.

2. Lake Wheeler; 6404 Lake Wheeler Road

Lake Wheeler, RaleighSource: Bernd W. Herrmann / shutterstock
Lake Wheeler

One of the most popular lakes in the city, Lake Wheeler was constructed in 1956 for water supply, and still provides the city and Wake County communities today. The 263 hectare lake is just south of the city centre.

Lake Wheeler is particularly trendy in the summer months, what with its boat rentals, water skiing and tubing. There are also two piers where lake visitors can go fishing on the lake’s shoreline.

The lake is part of the Lake Wheeler Park that boasts a playground, a sand volleyball court, picnic shelters and even a conference room. Both the lake and the park are open year-round, although they close on Mondays from October until April.

3. Lake Lynn; 7921 Ray Road

Lake Lynn, RaleighSource: Chadarat Saibhut / shutterstock
Lake Lynn

Lake Lynn is a man-made lake that is located in Northwest Raleigh. The lake was created in 1976 to control floods, but today it is also used for recreation.

A park surrounds the 22.5 hectare lake that boasts a 4.5 kilometres paved trail encircling the lake. The trail happens to be a part of the Capital Area Greenway; a greenway trail system that runs throughout the entire city.

Also in the park are playgrounds, tennis courts, bocce courts, a youth baseball field and even a batting cage. There is also a large picnic shelter and a community centre onsite.

4. Lake Howell; 520 Ashe Avenue

Pullen ParkSource: ying / shutterstock
Pullen Park

Sandwiched between the city centre and North Carolina State University is the historic Pullen Park, which happens to be the first ever public park in North Carolina. It is here where you will find Lake Howell.

The park itself receives as many as 10,000 visitors a day, many who come to enjoy kayaking, canoeing or paddling around the tranquil lake. It also helps that there is a mini train that encircles the lake.

The park itself also has much to offer, including a carousel, tennis courts, a softball field, basketball courts and an art centre. It even hosts free theatre performances at its Theatre In The Park.

5. Falls Lake; 13304 Creedmoor Road, Wake Forest

Falls Lake, NCSource: Chadarat Saibhut / shutterstock
Falls Lake

This isn’t actually right in Raleigh, but rather just north of the city in the town of Wake Forest. Falls Lake sits within the Falls Lake State Recreation Area, which is one of the largest recreation areas in the state of North Carolina, and a must for any outdoor lover.

The 5,000 hectare lake spreads across three counties and is easily accessible from Raleigh by driving along Creedmoor Road. Once here, you can enjoy fishing, boating and even swimming.

Those that would prefer to stay dry can go hiking and mountain biking along the trails on the south side of the lake’s 280 kilometre shoreline. There are also endless possibilities for enjoying kayaking and canoeing around the massive lake.

6. William B. Umstead State Park; 8801 Glenwood Avenue

William B. Umstead State ParkSource: Zhong Chen / shutterstock
William B. Umstead State Park

There is not one, but three different man-made lakes in this massive park, the largest of which is Big Lake. Here, you can hire a canoe or a kayak and paddle your way around the lake.

Fishing is offered in all three lakes within the park, though there is no swimming in any of them. There are camping grounds near all of the lakes, while cabins can be found along the shoreline of Sycamore Lake.

Aside from the lakes, one of the most popular things to do at William B. Umstead State Park is to go hiking along its 35 kilometres of dedicated hiking trails. The park also features 21 kilometres of multi-use trails for horseback riding or cycling.

7. Shelley Lake; 1400 West Millbrook Road

Shelley Lake, Raleigh, North CarolinaSource: KAD Photo / shutterstock
Shelley Lake

This North Raleigh lake takes up the majority of the Shelley Lake Park; home to the Sertoma Arts Center. Shelley Lake is also a great place to spend an afternoon.

There are no boat rentals or launches here, making it quieter than some of the other lakes in Raleigh. Instead, there is a scenic three kilometres trail that encircles the lake.

Shelley Lake Park is home to two playgrounds as well as basketball courts. The park is open to be enjoyed every day throughout the entire year from dawn to dusk.

8. Jordan Lake; 280 State Park Road, Apex

Jordan Lake, NCSource: Zhong Chen / shutterstock
Jordan Lake

This massive reservoir spans for over 5,600 hectares and boasts a 290 kilometre shoreline. The best part is that Jordan Lake is just 30 minutes away from Raleigh’s city centre, making it a great place to escape to on a nice day.

The lake one of the main features of the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, what with its undeveloped shoreline, seven swimming beaches and numerous boat ramps. Those that don’t have their own boat can hire a kayak, pontoon boat or stand-up-paddle board from the boating centre.

In addition to water sports, visitors can also go hiking along the park’s 22 kilometres of hiking trails. There are also campsites both with and without hook-up situated around the lake.

9. Lake Crabtree; 1400 Aviation Parkway, Morrisville

Lake Crabtree, NCSource: CeGe / shutterstock
Lake Crabtree

Lake Crabtree sits just west of the city in the suburb of Morrisville within the Lake Crabtree County Park. In fact, it is just minutes away from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

The 210 hectare lake was built for flood control purposes as well as for providing a place where area residents could enjoy recreational activities. Sailing is particularly popular, although many also come here to go boating and fishing.

In addition to water-based activities, Lake Crabtree County Park also offers plenty of land activities, including hiking, mountain biking and picnicking. There are also sand volleyball courts, playgrounds and a horseshoe pit.

10. Bond Lake; 197 Bond Park Drive, Cary

Bond Lake, North CarolinaSource: ying / shutterstock
Bond Lake

Just west of Raleigh is the man-made freshwater Bond Lake. The lake sits within Bond Park, which is one of the largest municipal parks in Wade County.

The lake is completely encircled by a three kilometre trail that is linked to greenway trails heading in all directions. At the very northeast tip of the lake is a boathouse that offers kayak, canoe, pedal boat, sailboat and row boat rentals.

Visit between April and October and enjoy live music and local eats one Friday of every month. The boathouse is usually closed between November and March, although it does depend on the weather, though the rest of the park is open.

11. Lake Benson; 921 Buffaloe Road, Garner

Lake Benson, North CarolinaSource: samray / shutterstock
Lake Benson

South of Raleigh is this large lake, although access to it is via the Lake Benson Park, which sits along the lake’s north shoreline. The lake is a great place for boating and fishing, which can be done from a boat or the dock at the nearby boathouse.

The Lake Benson boathouse is just west of the park and hires out Jon boats, canoes and kayaks. The boathouse is open from March to October, with rentals being on a first come basis.
Lake Benson Park also offers activities, including picnicking and hiking along both paved and unpaved trails. There are also two playgrounds and four picnic shelters within the park.

12. Durant Nature Preserve; 8305 Camp Durant Road

Durant Nature PreserveSource: SilentSnowJosh / shutterstock
Durant Nature Preserve

Formerly the headquarters for the Occoneechee Council of the Boy Scouts, the camp is now the Durant Nature Preserve. They still provide summer camps, although it is also open to the public.

There are two lakes within the reserve with fishing being allowed off of the lower lake’s dock. Otherwise, no activities are permitted at the lakes, however they are a tranquil place to spend a day.

The nature reserve itself is also well worth exploring, what with its bird garden, butterfly garden and interpretive tree trail. There are also trails throughout, including along the lakes’ shorelines.

13. Harris Lake; 2112 County Park Drive, New Hill

Harris Lake, North CarolinaSource: rharrison / Flickr
Harris Lake

Situated just southwest of Raleigh near Jordan Lake, Harris Lake is a 1,700 hectare lake that was created by the impounding of Buckhorn Creek. Harris Lake County Park can be found on the northeast side of the lake, which provides the lake’s recreation.

The park is known for its 18-basket disc golf course, but also features eight kilometres of hiking trails and almost 13 kilometres of mountain bike trails. There are also picnic shelters, playgrounds and a volleyball court onsite.

Harris Lake is a great place to go fishing, canoeing or kayaking. There are also primitive campsites that are ideal for the true outdoor lover.

14. Bass Lake; 900 Bass Lake Road, Holly Springs

Bass Lake, North CarolinaSource: Margaret.W / shutterstock
Bass Lake

Surrounded by Bass Lake Park, Bass Lake is a peaceful place to enjoy the outdoors. The park is home to a number of trails, one of which circles around the entire lake for three kilometres.

There are two fishing docks at the north side of the lake as well as picnic tables and concessions. It is also possible to rent a canoe or Jon boat, as personal boats are not allowed.

There are greenway trails throughout the park as well as a few secluded picnic shelters. Those that want to get in touch with nature should head to the park’s nature centre.

15. Buckhorn Reservoir; 8177 Rock Ridge School Road, Sims

Buckhorn Reservoir is located east of Raleigh in the town of Sims. The reservoir is the primary water supply for the city of Wilson, as well as being used for recreation.

The 930 hectare lake hosts a triathlon every September and boat racing in October. When these events aren’t going on visitors can go boating and fishing in the lake.

There is a 2.5 kilometre horse trail along the southeast shoreline near Sullivan Road and a park shelter. The boat ramp is at the northeast corner of the lake.

15 Best Lakes in Raleigh:

  • Lake Johnson; 4601 Avent Ferry Road
  • Lake Wheeler; 6404 Lake Wheeler Road
  • Lake Lynn; 7921 Ray Road
  • Lake Howell; 520 Ashe Avenue
  • Falls Lake; 13304 Creedmoor Road, Wake Forest
  • William B. Umstead State Park; 8801 Glenwood Avenue
  • Shelley Lake; 1400 West Millbrook Road
  • Jordan Lake; 280 State Park Road, Apex
  • Lake Crabtree; 1400 Aviation Parkway, Morrisville
  • Bond Lake; 197 Bond Park Drive, Cary
  • Lake Benson; 921 Buffaloe Road, Garner
  • Durant Nature Preserve; 8305 Camp Durant Road
  • Harris Lake; 2112 County Park Drive, New Hill
  • Bass Lake; 900 Bass Lake Road, Holly Springs
  • Buckhorn Reservoir; 8177 Rock Ridge School Road, Sims