South Carolina boasts some of the best lakes in the country. Whether looking for a peaceful escape surrounded by nature or an action-packed outdoor adventure, South Carolina's lakes have something for everyone. From the mountains to the coast, these lakes aren't just natural wonders – they also provide hydroelectric power and endless recreational opportunities. With the state's warm climate, water activities are a year-round delight, and anglers are in for a treat.
In this guide, we'll explore some of the best lakes in Palmetto State, where life is better on the water. So, whether you prefer a serene retreat or an adrenaline-fueled getaway, these lakes are calling you for a memorable experience.
So, without any further ado, let's get started!
1. Lake Marion
If you're planning a trip to South Carolina and want an unforgettable experience, include Lake Marion on your must-visit list. It is the largest lake in South Carolina, spanning 110,000 acres. This vast lake stretches across five counties: Sumter, Orangeburg, Berkeley, Calhoun, and Clarendon. It offers a beautiful landscape with expansive farmlands and long shorelines. If you want to enjoy the scenery, Lake Marion offers several lakeside attractions, including Santee National Wildlife Refuge, Santee State Park, Interstate 95, and more. Rent a boat, use one of the many public boat ramps, and enjoy the surrounding beauty and vast waters.
Lake Marion is also home to diverse wildlife, which adds to its attraction. From striped bass, White Perch, and crappies to eagles and alligators, nature lovers will find a wide range of creatures here. Natural landscapes surround Lake Marion, and it serves as a true nature retreat, providing endless greenery and water for a peaceful escape.
2. Lake Greenwood
Lake Greenwood, which spans 11,000 acres, welcomes you with 212 miles of charming shoreline and a laid-back Southern vibe! This 4,600-hectare lake was constructed by a hydroelectric dam and is fed by the Saluda River, Rabon Creek, and the Reedy River. This lake is a popular destination for boaters, with numerous boat launches, boating clubs, and marinas. Wakeboarding, water skiing, and windsurfing are popular activities among lake visitors. Lake Greenwood stretches from Greenwood County into Newberry and Lauren Counties and is well-known for bass fishing, boating, and camping.
Lake Greenwood State Park, located on the lake's south side near the town of Ninety-Six, may be a small park, but it offers motorhome parking, picnic areas, camping sites, and a hiking trail for visitors to enjoy. Take note, catfish fans: the lake is so well-known for its catfish that Ware Shoals, SC, hosts a Catfish Festival every Memorial Day weekend! If you visit in June, don't miss the exciting South Carolina Festival of Flowers Triathlon held in the park every year.
3. Lake Murray
Lake Murray covers approximately 50,000 acres and has a shoreline of nearly 650 miles. It is affectionately nicknamed the “Jewel of South Carolina” due to its shimmering waters and scenic beauty. Whether you're a serious angler, a golf enthusiast, or just looking for a refreshing swim, this lake has something for everyone. From private tours and boating to tubing down the rivers and water sports, numerous activities exist.
Relax on the beach on the Lexington side of the lake or easily launch your paddleboard or kayak into the shallow waters. Anglers can enjoy fishing year-round for black crappie, channel catfish, bass, trout, and bluegill. Private boats are welcome during appropriate water levels, and kayaks and small boat rentals are available.
Swimming isn't allowed in the lake, but nearby beaches such as Marina Beach, Sunset Beach, and Martins Landing Beach provide alternatives. The area offers endless opportunities for bicycling, rollerblading, walking, picnicking, and jogging, featuring 10 BBQs and 64 picnic tables. Dogs are permitted but must be kept at least 50 feet away from the lake and are not allowed on boats. Lake Murray provides limitless opportunities for every adventurer.
4. Lake Keowee
Lake Keowee is an artificial reservoir in the northwest corner of the state in Oconee County, SC, near Seneca and Clemson. It was named after the Cherokee settlement of Keowee, located on the lake's edge. Lake Keowee is now a popular recreation destination due to its excellent kayaking, boating, swimming, and sailing conditions. Whether you enjoy motor boating, wakeboarding, jet skiing, or simply dipping your toes in the water at the small sandy beach in High Falls Park, this 7,500-hectare lake has it all.
The lake features ten public access points, allowing you to bring your boat or rent your dream watercraft to enjoy the serene waters fully. Keowee-Toxaway State Park is divided into three sections around the lake, providing campgrounds for visitors. Additionally, vacation homes and resorts are available for those looking to stay in the area. It's an excellent destination for various outdoor activities and a pleasant getaway.
5. Lake Moultrie
Lake Moultrie, South Carolina's third-largest lake, is located on the outskirts of the Francis Marion National Forest, just north of Charlottetown. The lake in Berkeley County, SC, spans over 60,000 acres. Cooper River feeds it via a diversion canal and Lake Marion. Lake Moultrie is conveniently located near Old Santee Canal State Park and provides easy access to nearby areas such as Pinopolis, Cross, Moncks Corner, and Bonneau, SC.
Cypress trees surround Lake Moultrie, thousands of tree stumps, blackwater ponds, and small swamps. Boaters can rent kayaks or canoes for a relaxing day on the water. Biking and hiking are also available on the surrounding trails, making Lake Moultrie a versatile destination for adventure seekers.
6. Lake Strom Thurmond
Lake Strom Thurmond, also known as Clarks Hill Lake in Georgia, is a large artificial lake formed in 1951 during the building of the J. Strom Thurmond Dam. It is situated at the confluence of the Savannah River and Little River. Lake Thurmond is South Carolina's second-largest artificial lake. This expansive 71,000-acre lake is Located on the border of Georgia and South Carolina, just north of Augusta, GA.
Lake Strom Thurmond offers various recreational opportunities, from largemouth bass and striper fishing to boating, camping, hiking, water skiing, and swimming beaches. With five state parks, six marinas, ten campgrounds, and seven day-use areas, Lake Thurmond ensures there's something for everyone to enjoy.
7. Lake Hartwell
Lake Hartwell is not only one of the biggest lakes in South Carolina but also one of the biggest reservoirs in the southeast. This lake, formed by the Savannah River, stretches 45 miles up the Seneca River and 49 miles up the Tugaloo River, creating a massive water body with nearly 1,000 miles of shoreline. You can access this remarkable lake at various points, with Sadlers Creek State Park and Lake Hartwell State Park being two notable spots. Lake Hartwell offers five marinas along with several boat ramps.
If you want to extend your stay, you can camp in one of the waterfront campgrounds at Sadlers Creek State Park or choose one of the Lake Hartwell State Park cabins. Nearby attractions include Andersonville Island, Rock Quarry, Eighteen Mile Creek, Issaqueena Dam, and Ghost Island.
8. Lake Jocassee
Lake Jocassee, located in Oconee County, spans approximately 7,500 acres. Lake Jocassee is one of four lakes with untouched shorelines, crystal-clear waters, inviting swimming beaches, and cozy coves for relaxation. Whether you prefer kayaking on calm waters, paddleboarding, or camping with your tent and fishing gear, this lake has it all. Lake Jocassee holds state records for five fish species: spotted bass, smallmouth bass, redeye bass, brown trout, and rainbow trout. Other species, like brook trout and catfish, are also present.
The lake has four fishing streams, with Horsepasture and Toxaway accessible in the summer and Thompson and Whitewater accessible in fall and winter. Lake Jocassee is only accessible through Devils Fork State Park in Salem and is open all year. The state park also has 20 lakeside villas, which are ideal for family vacations. Lake Jocassee was featured in 1972's The Deliverance and 2012's The Hunger Games.
9. Lake Russell
The Richard B. Russell Dam on the Savannah River created Richard B. Russell Lake, also known as Lake Russell. It shares borders with Abbeville and Anderson counties, S.C., and Elbert County, Georgia. Lake Russell is named after U.S. Senator Richard Brevard Russell Jr. and covers approximately 26,650 acres with a 540-mile shoreline. The lake is a recreational hotspot, with 12 public access points on the South Carolina side and many more in Georgia.
Summer is the ideal time for fishing, especially for bass and crappie. Boating facilities are available at Russell State Park, which is located along the lake's shores. Federal regulations have kept most of the shoreline undeveloped, preserving a rural and peaceful environment around the lake. It is a perfect spot for those seeking a relaxing getaway.
10. Lake Wylie
Lake Wylie is located on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina. It spans 13,400 acres with a 325-mile shoreline. Originally, it was called Lake Catawba, but in 1960, they changed it to Lake Wylie after the name of W. Gil. Wylie, founder of the Catawba Company. Since it's between both Carolinas, it's a popular spot for people in Fort Mill, Rock Hill, and Charlotte. The lake features many facilities like picnic areas, fishing piers, boat launches, golf courses, and yacht clubs.
The lake boasts two public swimming areas, one at Windjammer Park and the other at Ebenezer Park. The communities around Lake Wylie host many yearly events, including live music festivals, water sports team events, beer festivals, and fireworks shows. If you're lucky, you can plan your visit during one of these fun events.
11. Lake Bowen
Lake Bowen is a 621-hectare lake located in northern South Carolina, about 10 kilometers from the North Carolina border. The Interstate Highway 26 Bridge provides a scenic drive over the lake. Lake Bowen is the largest lake in Spartanburg County and was built to provide public drinking water to nearby communities. The lake features picnic pavilions, public boat ramps, and a playground along its 53-kilometer shoreline. The lake has always been popular for recreational activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming.
Before you go, make sure you're familiar with the lake's boating regulations. If you want to appreciate the lake's beauty from a distance, Bowen's Landing is a fantastic choice. This waterfront restaurant overlooks Lake Bowen and is known as one of the best in South Carolina. Whether you're seeking a peaceful day by the water or engaging in water-based activities, Lake Bowen provides a pleasant retreat for residents and visitors alike in South Carolina.
12. Lake Wateree
Lake Wateree is one of South Carolina's oldest man-made lakes. It is a 21-square-mile reservoir with a shoreline that stretches 181 miles across Lancaster, Fairfield, and Kershaw counties. The lake got its name from the now-extinct Wateree Native Americans when it was created in 1919. Lake Wateree State Park, a birdwatcher's paradise, sits in a portion of Lake Wateree. The park has a nature trail, a playground, picnic shelters, and several camping sites.
Lake Wateree, just north of Columbia, SC, in Lugoff, is a great place to catch bream, catfish, crappie, and bass. Every year, Lake Wateree State Park hosts many fishing tournaments! The lake is also home to abundant wildlife, so if you're lucky, you might see deer, foxes, turtles, ospreys, herons, or even an alligator. Five boat ramps and four marinas make boating accessible. You'll also find picnic tables and grills around the lake.
13. Lake Cooley
Located in Spartanburg County, Lake Cooley is a beautiful 330-acre reservoir in the city of Inman. This 134-hectare lake is an excellent spot for fishing, where you can catch crappie, bass, bream, and catfish. This beautiful spot is a favorite summer destination for both tourists and locals. It offers convenient amenities like a kayak launch, an ADA-accessible dock, a boat ramp, a playground, and picnic shelters.
If you want to go boating on Lake Cooley, you need a permit. Also, boats with engines more powerful than 15HP are not allowed on the lake. In the summer, you can also find rental shops and an adventure camp for everyone to enjoy. Lake Cooley is a relaxing and unforgettable experience waiting for you!
14. Lake Tugalo
Lake Tugalo is a great place to enjoy all that South Carolina has to offer. Lake Tugalo is a stunning mountain lake located on the Georgia-South Carolina border! This lesser-known lake spans 575 acres in the mountainous landscape of Oconee County. It is fed by the Chattooga River and the Tallulah Gorge and backed up by the Tugalo Dam. Here, you can enjoy the sight of small waterfalls flowing into the lake, surrounded by the forest-covered foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Lake Tugalo is a peaceful place to paddle and a great place to fish. If you enjoy fishing, you can find trout, bass, crappie, catfish, and bream here. The lake has only one boat launch point, and the area is mostly undeveloped. Only motor boats with engines under 20 hp are permitted to keep the atmosphere peaceful. If you plan to visit this beautiful lake, bring food and picnic supplies with you because there are no stores nearby.
15. Saluda Lake
Saluda Lake, a 330-acre lake in Greenville, is popular for boating, fishing, and kayaking. Imagine enjoying the sunshine, swimming in refreshing waters, and sharing laughs with your loved ones while munching on tasty picnic snacks. These dreams can come true when you spend an afternoon at Saluda Lake. Saluda Lake also offers a scenic trail that's only half a mile long, perfect for a short and enjoyable walk.
Saluda Lake stands out as one of the few small lakes in the Lowcountry, with a Bait and tackle shop right on its bank. So, when you visit, be sure to visit Saluda Lake Landing. It offers boat rentals (including kayaks and fishing boats), a boat ramp, and a full food menu.
16. Lake Robinson
Lake Robinson is a small and peaceful lake near Greer in Greenville County. It is an excellent location for those who want to enjoy nature without going too far from the city. The lake, which covers 800 acres and has fantastic amenities, is managed by the Greer Commission of Public Works. If you want to go boating, the lake has two fishing piers and boat ramps. Remember that boats with more than 10 horsepower are not permitted on the lake.
Lake Robinson is ideal for swimming and kayaking in addition to fishing. If you want to host an event at Lake Robinson, you can book a place right there. Visitors can also enjoy benches, picnic shelters, and a beautiful boathouse at this lovely park. While you're having fun at this pristine lake, remember to keep it clean, as it's part of Greer's drinking water supply.
If you plan to visit a beautiful lake, South Carolina has plenty of options. Most of the lakes in this state are man-made lakes and are meticulously maintained, offering a glimpse of the state's authentic natural beauty. I hope this guide to the best lakes in South Carolina has inspired you to plan your next trip to South Carolina!
Whether you're drawn to clear waters, lush landscapes, or exciting activities like fishing and boating, these lakes have something for everyone. So, add these amazing lakes to your South Carolina bucket list! Happy Travels!
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.