7 Great Lakes to Visit, All Less than 4 Hours Away

We’ve scoured the region to come up with seven great lake escapes, featuring the best the South has to offer, from luxurious spas and world-class golf to tranquil swimming holes and pristine waterfalls.


Sara Brennan-Harrell

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The summertime heat is officially here, which means one thing: it’s time to hit the water. But we’re not talking about the same old eastbound exodus to the ocean. We’ve scoured the region to come up with seven great lake escapes, featuring the best the South has to offer, from luxurious spas and world-class golf to tranquil swimming holes and pristine waterfalls—with a whole lot of outdoor adventures thrown in, too. Now all you have to do is turn off your iPhone, pack your gear, and get out on the highway. Your next great summer vacation awaits. Click here for our exclusive Great Lakes Resource Guide including more information and accomodations for travel.


Lake Lure, NC


Price: $$$

Distance from Charlotte: 90 miles, 1 hour 45 minutes

Lake Lure may be famous as the setting for Dirty Dancing, but a weekend here can play more like an action-adventure flick. Make your outpost near Chimney Rock State Park in Hickory Nut Gorge. You’ll have ready access to rock climbing—including routes that will embolden novices and challenge old hands. When you’re tired of hauling yourself up, clip in and take off at tree level on a network of zip lines. Then saddle your horse and swim the river or catch a ride on a tube when the Lake Lure dam releases its daily flow. All the go, go, go makes sundown with a cold one that much sweeter. At the 1927 Lake Lure Inn, you can grab a beer on the veranda and look out over the water in the same spot where Patrick Swayze honed his mambo.

DON’T MISS: Bubba O’Leary’s General Store & Outfitters is an old-time shop with a great selection of outdoor clothing. You can also play a game of checkers and get a ten-cent cup of coffee.

Three fine inns near Lake Lure offer quite different experiences. The Lodge on Lake Lure features lakeside rooms and the ambiance of a mountain house. The 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa is a historic hotel with a beach, bars, and restaurants at the center of the action. The Esmeralda Inn combines rustic décor with modern comforts and great views of Chimney Rock and Hickory Nut Gorge.

Though best known for barbecue, Lake Lure Smokehouse offers eggs, bacon, biscuits, and gravy that are a tasty way to fuel up for a busy day. For gourmet fare served casually, try Medina’s Village Bistro in Chimney Rock, across the street from the park. The rib eye sandwich and smoked Gouda and roasted red pepper bisque are local favorites. For dinner, head to Larkin’s on the Lake for pecan encrusted trout, either upstairs, where the vibe is white-tablecloth-but-casual, or lakeside, where bathing suits and flip-flops are welcome.

Rock climbing, of course. Fox Mountain Guides leads outings at Chimney Rock State Park and Rumbling Bald Mountain. A zip-line tour with Canopy Ridge Farm lets you travel six lines at tree level, including the 1,000-foot-long Zip Zilla. Riverside Riding Stables leads adventurous horseback rides, including a two-hour trip that crosses the river, where you’ll swim with your horse to the other side. 

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