Sitting in the American South, South Carolina is a state that if filled with history, culture and fantastic cuisine. The landscape is also stunning, with majestic mountains, beautiful coastlines and scenic forests.
South Carolina is also a state filled with lakes. In fact, its major lakes cover a total of 1,770 square kilometres, which is a lot considering it is one of the smallest states in the country.
Whether you are a visitor of South Carolina or you call the state your home, the lakes within it offer plenty of opportunities for recreational activities. They also make for a great excuse to get out of the cities.
These are the 15 best lakes in South Carolina:
1. Lake Marion; Clarendon, Orangeburg, Berkeley, Calhoun & Sumter counties
The largest lake in the state, Lake Marion covers an area of 45,000 hectares. In fact, it is so bit that it stretches across five different counties!
The man-made reservoir was built during the Great Depression by the construction of the Santee Dam. Today, it is still used for water conservation, but also for recreational activities.
Lake Marion is known for its abundance of big fish and incredible wildlife. Foxes, deer, alligators, hawks, egrets, wild turkeys and ducks all call the lake home.
2. Lake Jocassee; Oconee & Pickens counties
Lake Jocassee sits within the Devils Fork State Park and is fed by the clean waters from the Appalachian Mountains. As a result, the water in the lake is cool year-round, making it a hot spot for fishing.
The lake holds state records for five fish species, three of which come from the bass family. It is also a haven for scuba divers and swimmers.
Some may recognise Lake Jocassee from the 2012 movie The Hunger Games. It was also a setting for the 1972 Burt Reynolds film The Deliverance.
3. Lake Murray; Lexington, Newberry, Saluda and Richland counties
This 20,000 hectare reservoir boasts an 800 kilometre shoreline and is known for its fabulous recreational activities. In fact, the Dreher Island State Recreation Area sits on the west side of the lake, offering fishing, boating and hiking.
Those that wish to stay the night will find plenty of places to go camping around the lake. There are also a great number of cabins, cottages and villas to stay in.
Lake Murray was built in the 1920s to provide hydroelectric power to South Carolina. At the time of completion, it was the world’s largest earthen dam.
4. Lake Strom Thurmond; McCormick County
South Carolina’s second largest lake sits in the Savannah River Basin and is shared with the neighbouring state of Georgia. It is a major draw for both states, being extremely popular for recreational activities.
There are parks, campgrounds and marinas surrounding the 29,000 hectare lake, attracting millions of visitors each year. It is a must for any outdoor lover visiting the area.
Fishing, camping, hiking, boating and horseback riding are just some of the great things that can be enjoyed at the lake. Both the Hamilton Branch State Park and Clarks Hill sit on the South Carolina side of the lake.
5. Richard B. Russell Lake; Abbeville & Anderson counties
Also sitting along the Savannah River is Richard B. Russell Lake; aka Little Russell. This lake is just upstream from Lake Strom Thurmond, but is much smaller, at 11,000 hectares.
Richard B. Russell Lake is known for its wonderful recreational activities. In fact, there are 12 public access points on the South Carolina side alone, plus many others in Georgia.
Swimming, boating, fishing, camping, hiking and picnicking can all be enjoyed at the lake. Plus, the lake’s surroundings are almost completely untouched, creating quite a tranquil setting.
6. Lake Moultrie; Berkeley County
South Carolina’s third largest lake, Lake Moultrie sits at the edge of the Francis Marion National Forest just north of Charlottetown. It is also adjacent to Lake Marion, which actually feeds the lake via a canal.
Lake Moultrie is a man-made lake that is popular for its vast fishing environments. In addition to open water, there are black water ponds, small swamps, cypress trees and thousands of tree stumps that an abundance of different fish call home.
The 24,000 hectare lake is home to camping grounds, vacation rentals and boat launches. There are also a few restaurants and tackle shops.
7. Lake Keowee; Oconee & Pickens counties
This man-made reservoir sits right in the northwest corner of the state. The lake was named after the Cherokee settlement of Keowee, which sat in the edge of the lake.
Today, Lake Keowee is a popular recreational area thanks to it great swimming, sailing, kayaking and boating conditions. Water-skiing, windsurfing, jet skiing and other water sports are also enjoyed on the 7,500 hectare lake.
Keowee-Toxaway State Park is located in three different areas surrounding the lake, offering campgrounds to lake visitors. There are also vacation homes and resorts to stay in.
8. Lake Greenwood; Greenwood, Laurens & Newberry counties
Lake Greenwood is a known haven for boaters, being home to a number of boat launches, marinas and boating clubs. Wakeboarding, windsurfing and water-skiing are also common activities enjoyed by lake visitors.
The Lake Greenwood State Park sits on the south side of the lake near the town of Ninety Six. It is not a large park, but it does have picnic areas, camping sites, motorhome sites and a hiking trail.
The 4,600 hectare lake was formed by a hydroelectric dam. It is fed by the Saluda River, the Reedy River and Rabon Creek.
9. Lake Wylie; York County
This man-made lake is shared with North Carolina, although the majority of it is in South Carolina. Its location makes it a popular destination for residents from both states, as well as beyond.
The lake’s 523 kilometre shoreline is packed with facilities, like picnic areas, boat launches, fishing piers, yacht clubs and even golf courses. There are also camping grounds, resorts, cabins and luxury villas for rent.
The communities surrounding Lake Wylie organise a plethora of yearly events, including water sports team events, live music festivals, fireworks shows and beer festivals. If you’re lucky, you can organise your visit to the lake during one of these fun events.
10. Lake Bowen; Spartanburg County
This 621 hectare lake sits in northern South Carolina nearly 10 kilometres from bordering North Carolina. Interstate Highway 26 Bridge crosses over the lake, which is quite a scenic drive.
The largest lake in Spartanburg County, Lake Bowen was built to serve public drinking water to the nearby communities. It has also always been used for recreational activities, like fishing, boating and swimming.
The lake’s 53 kilometres shoreline is home to public boat ramps, picnic pavilions and a playground. Before you visit, make sure to familiarize yourself with the lake’s boating regulations.
11. Lake Wateree; Kershaw, Fairfield & Lancaster counties
This 5,000 hectare reservoir is one of the oldest man-made lakes in South Carolina! The lake was created in 1919 and named after the now-extinct Wateree Native Americans.
Part of Lake Wateree’s 389 kilometre shoreline is home to the Lake Wateree State Park, which is a haven for birdwatchers. The park features picnic shelters, a nature trail, a playground and numerous camping sites.
There is also an abundance of wildlife that call the lake home. So if you’re lucky, you may spot a deer, a fox, a turtle or even an alligator.
12. Lake Hartwell; Anderson County
Another lake that is shared with neighbouring Georgia, Lake Hartwell sits at the confluence of the Seneca, Savannah and Tugaloo Rivers. The 23,000 hectare lake is one of the largest in the area, making it extremely popular for recreational activities.
Fishing, boating, wake boarding, water-skiing and swimming are just some of the things that visitors can enjoy on the lake. Those that would prefer to stay on land can go hiking or biking.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers runs a whopping 524 campsites around the lake, which are set in nine different campgrounds. There are also hotels along the lake’s shoreline, as well as cabins for rent.
13. Lake Robinson; Greenville County
This pristine recreational lake is located just northeast of the city of Greer and is an excellent place for canoeing, kayaking and boating. It is also a fishing lake with a fishing pier and a public boat ramp.
You can enjoy swimming in the lake, relaxing on the surrounding grass or having lunch in the picnic area. There are also sheltered areas onsite that can be hired for the day.
A boating licence is needed if taking a boat on the 323 hectare lake that can be purchased at the Lake Wardens Office. As well, no boats are allowed with more than 10HP.
14. Monticello Reservoir; Fairfield County
This is not a popular lake for visitors, but it is famous to locals for its phenomenal catfishing. Fishing is only allowed on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but it is possible to go swimming seven days a week.
There are four fishing piers, three boat ramps and a picnic area surrounding the 121 hectare lake. Water-skiing, jet skiing and other motorised water sports are prohibited.
Monticello Reservoir has a nature trail along the very south end of it next to the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. The trail is marked and even has plant identifications.
15. Lake Cooley; Spartanburg County
Lake Cooley sits in the north part of South Carolina just northeast of the city of Spartanburg. The 134 hectare lake is a great place to go fishing for bass, crappie, bream and catfish.
Currently, facilities around the lake’s shoreline include a playground, a fishing pier, a boat ramp and picnic shelters. Plans are currently in place to build a large recreation centre that will feature a kayak launch, a large covered area and a commercial strip.
You need a permit to go boating on Lake Cooley and no boats with more than a 15HP engine can enter the lake.