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

(page 1 of 4)

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.

STAY
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.

EAT
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.

DO
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. 

 

Lake James

Price: $$

Distance from Charlotte: 90 miles, 1 hour 5 minutes

Linville, NC When locals talk about Lake James, they first mention the water, usually using the same two words: crystal clear. Located at the base of Linville Gorge, North Carolina’s “Grand Canyon,” Lake James is filled with the kind of pure mountain H2O you thought you could only find in the bottled-beverage section of your grocery store. After you marvel at the water, drink in the scenery—Linville Falls, Wiseman’s View, Pisgah National Forest—in short, some of the most spectacular landscape in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lake James State Park, on the northwest shore, recently expanded to include more than 3,000 acres reaching up to the southern tip of the Linville Gorge Wilderness area. Wild, open spaces abound, but you’ll find creature comforts too, at lakeside retreats and in the nearby towns of Marion and Morganton.

DON’T MISS: Get out on the lake! Area marinas rent out pontoons, canoes, and kayaks. Or launch your own boat from one of four public access areas. Lake views of Linville Gorge, the crystal clear mountain water, the wildlife, and tranquil coves are must-sees.

STAY
Upscale lakeside cabin rentals at Camp Lake James can accommodate up to eight. The property is beautiful and features a host of amenities—including canoes, kayaks, a pool, and a full-time activities director. For something more intimate, consider The Inn at Glen Alpine. Perched on five acres, this B&B boasts the best porch in Burke County.   For those willing to make a short walk to set up camp, Lake James State Park offers affordable tent sites with outstanding views.

EAT
For good food and a come-as-you-are atmosphere, you can’t go wrong with Lake James Pub and Grill. Locals opt for the smoked brisket and hand-tossed pizza. Root & Vine in Morganton is a good choice for fine dining, where the seasonal menu features local finds such as North Carolina mountain trout. Jack Frost Dairy Bar in Marion is the place to chill with a cone or shake. They’ve been making their own ice cream since the 1950s.

DO
Soaking up the scenery is high on everyone’s list. Cycling or driving Highway 126, which circles Lake James, is a popular way to take it in. If you’ve got the wheels for dirt-roading it, detour onto Old NC 105 for the best views of Linville Gorge and the falls. Lake James State Park gives you access to a swimming area, plus gentle hiking trails that lead to more amazing views. Or enjoy the vista with a glass of wine in hand; South Creek Vineyards & Winery pours Bordeaux-style wines in a renovated 100-year-old farmhouse with outdoor patios and breathtaking mountain scenery.

 

More »Related Stories

Around Town: Matthews

Fresh food, fresh faces, and an old way of life preserved

Top Doctors 2014

The Story of Charlotte, Part 3: The Corrupting Treasure

Two hundred years before Charlotte becomes a banking hub, a gold rush gives the city its first taste of wealth

The Story of Charlotte

We invite your responses and discussion. Please refrain from personal attacks, profanity, commercial promotion, or non sequiturs.

Add your comment:

Newsletters

Stay up-to-date on all things Charlotte by siging up for our newsletters. Learn more by clicking here.

Blogs »


Dine & Dish

News, Notes, and Gossip About the Charlotte Restaurant Scene

Kids Cook with Heart

Six groups of kids competed Saturday morning in a delicious fajita faceoff

Comments


On Tap

Matt McKenzie on Craft Beer in Charlotte

Salud Beer Shop plans expansion, nanobrewery

Will feature beers from Carolina Brewmasters, other guest brewers

Comments


Poking the Hornet's Nest

Greg Lacour on Politics

Art Pope and the Threat to N.C. Higher Ed

A thorough Washington Post profile explores Art Pope and his attempts to bring N.C. universities to heel.

Comments


Charlotte at Home

Creating Your Space in the Queen City

Talking Trellising

This technique works well to maximize space and add interest

Comments


Dine & Dish

News, Notes, and Gossip About the Charlotte Restaurant Scene

Fire in the City: It's back!

Luca Annunziata of Passion8 Bistro and Clark Barlowe of Heirloom kick off Charlotte's second round of competition dining

Comments


Revue

Andy Smith on Charlotte Arts & Culture

The Weekday Roundup: Dave Matthews Band, Maria Bamford, and Mary Poppins

Comments


Poking the Hornet's Nest

Greg Lacour on Politics

Bob Rucho's Idea of 'Local Control'

The Senate is considering a bill that would keep MeckCo voters from deciding on a sales tax hike. So much for the virtues of local control.

Comments


Charlotte at Home

Creating Your Space in the Queen City

Painting Pointers

A local designer helps us broaden our palette

Comments


Dine & Dish

News, Notes, and Gossip About the Charlotte Restaurant Scene

Try This!

From Indian delicacies to Mexican cheese-smothered chicken, go out and taste all that Charlotte's restaurants have to offer

Comments


On Tap

Matt McKenzie on Craft Beer in Charlotte

Lenny Boy Brewing Company celebrates flagship beer release

North Carolina's first certified organic brewery will now be open on Fridays

Comments


Poking the Hornet's Nest

Greg Lacour on Politics

How Pat McCrory Undermines His Own Good Ideas On Education

The governor has some decent ideas about school reform--but he keeps lying about nonexistent 'teachers' unions.'

Comments


Charlotte at Home

Creating Your Space in the Queen City

Which tomato do I want?

Take a taste this Saturday in Matthews

Comments


Dusk Till Dawn

Jarvis Holliday Chronicles Charlotte's Nightlife and Social Scene, Straight No Chaser

The Gray Classic Weekend, Martini and a Makeover, Cirque de Whisky, Daytime Summer Parties, and More - July 17-20

It’s another eventful span of four days in Charlotte, and several of these events are fundraisers, which means you can feel good while you're feeling good.

Comments


Dine & Dish

News, Notes, and Gossip About the Charlotte Restaurant Scene

Getting Greeky

I ditched Food Truck Friday for a taste of Greece - flaming cheese and all.

Comments


Revue

Andy Smith on Charlotte Arts & Culture

This Weekend in Charlotte: Discovery Place, KISS, and MattyB

Comments


Poking the Hornet's Nest

Greg Lacour on Politics

Foul

Pat McCrory bypassed the N.C. Arts Council in naming a state Poet Laureate. We respond with a 'Howl' of protest.

Comments


Dine & Dish

News, Notes, and Gossip About the Charlotte Restaurant Scene

Smashburger Fires Up for Grand Opening

A portion of opening month proceeds benefitting local charity and a free burger giveaway on opening day

Comments


On Tap

Matt McKenzie on Craft Beer in Charlotte

The anatomy of an award-winning beer

How Hop, Drop ‘n Roll went from a basement recipe to the gold medal at the World Beer Cup, and what’s next for NoDa Brewing

Comments


Charlotte at Home

Creating Your Space in the Queen City

5 Tips for Using Herbs in Summer Cocktails

Mint, rosemary, and basil are all natural fits with summer sips

Comments


Revue

Andy Smith on Charlotte Arts & Culture

The Weekday Roundup: Porgy and Bess, O.A.R., and Lionel Richie

Comments