The South's Greatest Lakes
Few things are as relaxing as time on the water, and the South is filled with beautiful lakes. Think of these as perfect vacation ideas for every season. From cool, quiet trips through the heart of a city to broad, flat waters with nothing but relaxation for miles around, here are our editors’ picks for the South’s Greatest Lakes. Each one is unique; now see which of these fantastic southern lakes is just right for you. You’ll marvel at cypress trees and water lilies on Caddo Lakes in Texas. If your trip ideas take you further east, plan to stroll along Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain, boat Alabama’s Lake Martin, or Lake Guntersville, or fish Georgia’s Lake Oconee. In North Carolina visit Lake Santeetlah, one of our southern lakes mostly nestled in a national forest. Your vacation ideas should include any of these wonderful southern lakes. Go ahead—take the plunge.
Perfect Southern Lakes
You'll find plenty of Southern stereotypes alive and well when it comes to weekends at the lake around these parts. We love our iced tea, preferably a little sweet and sipped on the dock. We spend full days barefoot unless dinner calls for flip-flops, and we happily live life at a slower pace. Here, a look at some of our favorite supersized swimming holes around the region. Whether you crave the speed of water sports, prefer the solitude of a mountain lake, or count down the moments to the daily floating hour, you'll find a place to dive right into some of summer's greatest pleasures.
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Lake Rabun, Northern Georgia
Know for its classic style, this is the perfect lake for old-fashioned family fun. Stay at the Barn Inn at Lake Rabun, a 1920's stone-and-timber inn with a lake view, or check out Glen-Ella Springs Inn, a farmhouse-style inn, or the refined mountain lodge, Lake Rabun Hotel. Editor's tip: There are no boat rental facilities on the lake, so you'll have to BYOB and launch it from Hall's Boat House. Make sure you also bring your boater's license. If you don't have one, take a boater's education course online for a nominal fee at boat-ed.com.
Caddo Lake, TX/LA
Few lakes envelop their visitors like Caddo. Pristine water spreads oil-black and disappears beneath lush green water lilies while it wraps around the trunks of bald cypress. With so many unique species found in the water, you'd think it was a major port-of-call for Noah's Ark. On the northwest side of the lake, in Uncertain, Texas, Lafitte's Landing Guest Quarters' private cottages sit beneath the cypress trees. Each cottage has its own Acadian and Creole touches. Editor's tip: Pick up a swamp boat--and guide John Winn--at Caddo Outback Tours.
Lady Bird Lake, Texas
Downstream from Lake Austin's big homes and powerboats, quieter Lady Bird Lake allows only non-motorized boats. As a reflection to this music-loving town, Lady Bird boasts its own venue at Auditorium Shores, a wide riverbank slope that hosts concerts. Editor's tip: Discover Lady Bird's hidden local secret: a side trip on the lake's famous tributary, Barton Creek. Rent a kayak from Rowing Dock and discover the small dam that holds Barton Springs Pool.
Rowing Dock rentals: rowingdock.com or 512/459-0999.
Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina
In the quiet shadows of layers of mountains, Lake Santeetlah's 76 miles of shoreline are mostly protected as national forest. Enjoy the silence via canoe, sea kayak or stand up paddleboard. Afterward, head to the lakeside bar and dock at Blue Waters Mountain Lodge. Editor's tip: For lakeside camping with a few amenities--hot showers and flush toilets--Cheoah Point Campground has car campsites for $20 a night.
Trophy Lakes, South Carolina
Built specifically for skiers, this privately-owned lake's 10-foot depth and small size make it an ideal ski lake. For newbies, it's a great spot to learn from the pros. Stay just steps from downtown Charleston at the Ansonborough Inn, a restored 1901 warehouse. Editor's tip: At Carolina Water Sports, professional instructors ensure that you can learn to ski.
Lake Martin, Alabama
A popular second-home lake to Birmingham and Montgomery residents, Lake Martin also has a population of full-time lakeside dwellers. On the weekends, boats raft up at Chimney Rock, a prominent cliff-jumping spot near the dam. Rest up at Mistletoe Bough Bed & Breakfast, a restored 1895 Victorian Mansion 10 minutes from the lake. Editor's tip: When it comes to happy hour, the same common sense applies, but the open container laws are somewhat more lax. For goodness sake, just designate a captain!
Mistletoe Bough Bed & Breakfast: mistletoebough.com
Tennessee's Lake Douglas
This gorgeous lake sits about 30-45 minutes from Sevierville, Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you love the water, it's worth the trek. Boating, swimming, water skiing, and fishing await right at your doorstep.
Stonewall Jackson Lake, West Virginia
Ferris Bueller couldn't pack more fun in a day than you can enjoy here at the luxurious state resort set in the middle of 2,000-acre Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park. Book a room at the lodge on the lake's shore (Editor's Tip: request a water view). Cruise the waters of Stonewall Jackson Lake on a pontoon boat or tee it up on an Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course.
Stonewall Resort: 1-888-278-8150, (304) 269-7400, or www.stonewallresort.com
Missouri's Table Rock Lake at Big Cedar Lodge
Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris was pretty much the ideal person to start a heavenly lodge property on a nearly 60,000-acre lake just outside Branson, Missouri. Big Cedar Lodge's gentle call of the wild fills all 81 cabins, 3 lodges, 4 restaurants, and 100 boat slips. Guests can choose between cottages, cabins, and handsome hotel rooms in one of three ridge-side lodges. Access is incredibly easy―the brand-new $140-million Branson airport is just 10 miles from the lodge.
Big Cedar Lodge: www.big-cedar.com or 1-800-225-6343.
North Carolina's Lake Lure
Lead the family on an exploration of the grounds. Several blazed nature trails weave through the 1,000 acres. Skip the elevator and climb all 400 steps up to--ta da--Chimney Rock for a look at Lake Lure.
Chimney Rock Park: www.chimneyrockpark.com or 1-800-277-9611
Lake Guntersville, Alabama
Shavers Lake at Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia
Snowshoe Mountain: 1-877-441-4386 or www.snowshoemtn.com. Be sure to inquire about seasonal package deals.
Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana
For more information: St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce, (985) 892-3216 or
Lake Oconee, Georgia
The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation: (706) 467-0600 or Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Plantation.
Lake Lanier Islands, Georgia
Lake Lanier Islands: (770) 932-7200, 1-800-840-5253, or www.lakelanierislands.com.
Lake Ouachita, Arkansas
Brady Mountain Resort: (501) 767-3422 or Brady Mountain Resort and Marina Lake Ouachita.
Pine Mountain, GA
Callaway Gardens: 706-663-6833, 1-800-225-5292, or www.callawaygardens.com.
Lake Austin, Texas
For fun, ride a Hydro-bike, or go sculling on the lake, take a cooking class, or experience a wine-and-cheese tasting.
Lake Austin Spa Resort: 1-800-847-5637 or www.lakeaustin.com.
More Lakes Our Editors Love
Lake Bradford, Tallahassee, FL: www.fsu.campusrec.com/reservation
Lake Eufaula, OK: www.eufaulachamberofcommerce.com
Smith Mountain Lake, VA: www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/smi.shtml