10 Lakes That Prove Southerners Know Where to Head When It Gets Hot
We love the ocean for all the sea breeze and sandy beaches, but sometimes when you’re hunting for the perfect spot for summer fun you want a quieter alternative. Luckily the South is filled with beautiful lakes that are the ideal retreats for boating, swimming, fishing, and good old fashioned fun. These idyllic natural wonders make the perfect backdrop for summer memories filled with laughter, love, and water sports of every type. Here are 10 perfect lakes for kicking off the summer in style. Pack up the family and the picnic fixings and head to the lake.
Nestled on the border that separates Texas from Louisiana, about 15 miles west of Shreveport, La., Caddo Lake holds the title of the state’s only naturally-formed lake. This 26,000-acre watering hole is home to hungry bass as well as hundreds of species of birds, animals, and reptiles that make their home among the Spanish moss-covered cypress trees. Pack the canoe, fishing gear, and a picnic lunch and spend the day exploring the interlocking bayous and the wonders that lie within.
Center Hill Lake
Three scenic waterfalls feed into this gorgeous lake that sits a little over an hour’s drive from Nashville. The 64-mile long lake twists through Edgar Evins State Park where boaters and jet skiers can find a launch and marina. There’s birding, butterflies, and plenty of places to commune with nature. Anyone looking to mix a little indoor fun into their outdoor time, head to the nearby town of Smithville, which hosts the annual Fiddler’s Jamboree and Crafts Festival in July.
Chain of Lakes
Memorial Day marks the start of summer and the water skiing season. There’s no better place to get in on the fun than in the Chain of Lakes that run along the west side of Winter Haven, Florida a.k.a. the Water Skiing Capital of the World. Grab your provisions and pick a lake (Lake Harris is the largest of the bunch) and head out for a day of fun. If you’re not a water skier, sign up for lessons or simply watch the fun from the shore. There are also plenty of spots for sailing, boating, fishing, and camping, no water skis required.
The shores of Enid Lake are the perfect place to enjoy a Mississippi summer with picturesque picnic spots, wildlife viewing, and the rolling blue waters of the Yocona River that feeds into the lake. Head to Persimmon Hill for camping and picnicking, bike, fish, or horseback ride, and wander through the thick woods to feel like you’re a world away—even though you’re only about an hour from Memphis.
Georgia and South Carolina
This idyllic retreat is an easy getaway for city dwellers from Georgia and South Carolina. Head to Tugaloo State Park, which sits on a peninsula surrounded by the lake, allowing for gorgeous views and easy access to the water. The park has seven picnic shelters as well as plenty of places to spread out a blanket. Hit the Sassafras hiking trail, wander through the oaks and cherry trees, and splash in the cooling waves watching the sail boats water skiers pass by.
Named for Alabama’s first and (so far) only female governor, the nature-loving Lurleen Wallace, this gem of a lake has plenty of beaches for swimming, picnicking, fishing, and paddleboating. When you tire of the water, the surrounding state park also offers mountain biking trails, hiking, and camping. The beautiful park is just a short drive from Tuscaloosa meaning Alabamans can get back to nature in no time at all.
This lake may be man-made, but mother nature would undoubtedly approve. After all, striped bass call the lake home and the island that sits in center of the reservoir is the nation’s first official sanctuary for the little blue birds known as Purple Martins. When the Martins come home to roost, over a million of them fill the evening sky, making for a striking site. The lake also boasts plenty of places for picnicking, boating, fishing, and of course, watching for birds swirling over the brilliant blue water.
Escape the summer heat in the crystal clear waters of Lake Ouachita (that’s pronounced, Wash-it-tah), surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest not too far from Hot Springs, Arkansas. The lake has nearly 1,000 miles of shoreline and stretches more than 40 acres, making it easy to find a quiet corner to call your own. The lake has all the fixings for a picture perfect holiday with options for boating, fishing, and swimming, as well as soaking in the springhouse filled with the restorative waters from the Three Sisters’ Springs.
New Orleans may be called the Big Easy, but Louisianans looking to take it easy head to the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain. Hop on the 24-mile long causeway to the pine-filled woods and wetlands that make the region a natural respite from the big city. Head to Mandeville or Abita Springs to stock up on picnic provision and cold drinks before heading to the lake shore. Explore wildlife refuges, angle for redfish, and bike The Trace or just hang out on the shores of the lake and enjoy the view. If you’re the type to plan ahead, be sure to book one of the lovely over-water cabins at Fontainebleau State Park for a truly memorable stay.
The old growth trees of the Nantahala National Forest surround Lake Santeetlah, creating a quiet idyll for anyone looking to get away from the equidistant big cities of Asheville or Chattanooga. The lake’s peaceful waters are perfect for canoeing or kayaking or fishing for trout and bass. Hikers have easy access to the Appalachian trail, while those who prefer the great indoors, can tuck in at the Blue Waters Mountain Lodge.