Everybody enjoys the peaceful feeling of being out on the water, with sounds and sights of nature around every turn. Whether you prefer spending your time in a remote lake with unspoiled wilderness or a popular destination filled with nearby amenities, the options for boating in the South are plentiful.
Even better is the fact that the South is home to such different environments, so no two lakes are really the same, ranging from cypress trees growing out of the water to the towering Blue Ridge Mountains.
That’s not to mention the fact that the weather in most southern states is optimal year round – which means there’s never a bad time to take your boat out for a swim.
The question is, where do you want to go explore first? We have your answer in this list of the 20 best boating lakes in the South, so scroll down to find out more!
Table of Contents
- 1. Lake Rabun, GA
- 2. Caddo Lake, TX
- 3. Lady Bird Lake, TX
- 4. Lake Santeetlah, NC
- 5. Lake Douglas, TN
- 6. Stonewall Jackson Lake, WV
- 7. Lake Lure, NC
- 8. Guntersville Lake, AL
- 9. Lake Pontchartrain
- 10. Lake Oconee, GA
- 11. Lake Lanier Islands, GA
- 12. Lake Ouachita, AR
- 13. Philpott Lake, VA
- 14. High Rock Lake, NC
- 15. Lake Hartwell, SC/GA
- 16. Dale Hollow Lake, TN
- 17. Norris Lake, TN
- 18. Lake Burton, GA
- 19. Lake Sylvia, AS
- 20. Lake Allatoona, GA
1. Lake Rabun, GA
Stretching out over 800 acres in northeastern Georgia, Lake Rabun’s wide-open space paired with windy branch-offs make for an extremely fun boating experience.
This manmade lake was created with the help of the Tallulah River. The famous Blue Ridge Mountains that make up a good portion of the south only add to the picturesque scenery here.
Over the years, people have migrated to the area, as it’s considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the state – so you’ll see many large homes along the shoreline.
You can spend hours out on your boat exploring the pristine waters that never seem to get too crowded, except for during big events like their Fourth of July weekend firework show.
The fun doesn’t stop when you get off of the water, however. The lake is surrounded by plenty of hiking trails, scenic picnic areas, and small towns filled with interesting attractions.
The adorable bed and breakfast, Glen-Ella Springs Inn, is located just a few miles off the lake and offers the best place to spend an exceptional night.
2. Caddo Lake, TX
Caddo Lake is not your average boating experience, and its unique environment will have you coming back to eastern Texas time and time again.
Giant cypress trees grow tall from the depths of the lake and hang above the boaters, creating a fairytale-like setting.
The lake isn’t as deep as many other lakes in the area so you won’t want to bring your houseboat on the water – but small motorized fishing boats, kayaks, and canoes are free to explore.
The wide-sweeping 28,000+ acre lake offers stellar fishing opportunities with nearly 100 species of fish to catch, and there’s a fishing pier for those who can’t get out on a boat.
If you don’t have a boat of your own to launch on the water, consider going for a boat tour hosted by the Shady Glade Marina or renting a kayak from Riverbend Outfitters to get the full experience.
The beauty of this magical cypress forest isn’t limited to the water. Take time to explore some of the hiking trails that surround the lake.
3. Lady Bird Lake, TX
With ideal weather blessing Austin, Texas nearly year-round, Lady Bird Lake is a popular destination for kayaking and other water-based recreation.
Although motorized boats have recently been banned from the waters, it only makes it that much nicer for kayakers and canoers looking for a relaxing day of paddling.
There’s a huge variety of rental shops around the area supplying kayaks, canoes, and dragon boats – so everyone has the opportunity to get out on the water. You can also rent a paddleboard and explore the water with a mixture of balance practice and laid-back floating.
If you’d rather get out on the water without having to put in any work, you can always reserve a seat on one of the lake’s sunset cruises and take in the beautiful views while sipping on a beer of your choice.
When it comes to hiking and biking, the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail has you covered with a 10-mile trail that completely circles the lake for nonstop waterfront views.
Take a trip across the boardwalk with its picturesque charm for some breathtaking views of Austin’s city skyline out across the water.
4. Lake Santeetlah, NC
Nestled in the mountains of North Carolina, Lake Santeetlah is a marvel of untouched nature, and the pristine lake is one of the best places in the country to go for a boat ride.
You won’t find another lake for your boat that is more scenic than this one, with its prime location just a stone’s throw away from the iconic Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The Santeetlah Marina is located on a charming peninsula and offers all the rentals you could need for a day out on the water, including pontoon boats, jet skis, kayaks, and paddleboards.
Plus, the fishing here is hard to beat – with award-winning opportunities of catching species like crappie, walleye, trout, bass, and so much more.
When you fall in love with the place, find a spot to dock your boat in the marina and spend the night in one of the many waterfront campsites at Cheoah Point Recreation Area or check out 30 of the best hotels nearby.
5. Lake Douglas, TN
On the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains lies Lake Douglas, which offers a great starting point to a national park adventure and a beautiful place to take your boat out on the water.
The lake stretches out over 30,000 acres, so you can easily spend the entire day exploring the vast waters while taking in the natural beauty of the surrounding area.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the place you go to beat the crowds. In fact, the lake sees nearly two million visitors each year because of its pristine wilderness and close proximity to popular attractions.
If you do decide to head out on the water, make sure to bring your fishing rod, as the lake is known for being one of the best places in the country to catch crappie and largemouth bass.
6. Stonewall Jackson Lake, WV
Located within the Stonewall Resort State Park, West Virginia’s Stonewall Jackson Lake is a great place to take your boat for a spin out on the scenic waters.
The lake allows for all kinds of watercraft to enjoy its waters, and those who don’t have boats of their own can rent watercraft of their choice from one of the many shops in the nearby lake towns.
Like many of the popular boating lakes in the south, Stonewall Jackson Lake offers incredible fishing opportunities of well-liked catches, including walleye, bluegill, perch, and more.
When you need a break from the crystal clear waters, dock your boat and head over to one of the many hiking trails that border the lake. Don’t forget to swing by the visitors center to learn more about the habitat and the native wildlife that resides here before heading out for a day of exploration.
7. Lake Lure, NC
Known for being one of the most stunning man-made lakes in the south, Lake Lure is one of the best places to go for a boat ride and to enjoy nonstop mountain views.
The lake is nestled in the center of many of North Carolina’s most popular natural attractions including the Blue Ridge Mountains, Chimney Rock, and the Hickory Nut Gorge. Drop an anchor when you’ve found the view of your preference, and spend the day taking in all of the beauty with Chimney Rock never too far away.
Make sure to save some time for some of the other wonderful activities around the lake, like the scenic boardwalk that runs along the water and takes you across the Flowering Bridge.
If you don’t own a watercraft, head over to Lake Lure Tours and rent a boat for the day or go for a guided tour across the water.
Other popular things to do in the area include going to the award-winning golf club, going for a mountain bike ride on one of the many trails, and checking out a few of the museums in town.
8. Guntersville Lake, AL
Located at the heart of Lake Guntersville State Park, Guntersville Lake is a popular destination for outdoor recreation all year long.
When you aren’t on the lookout for bald eagles during the winter months, you can be spending the day relaxing out on your boat with the sun shining down on your face.
The park offers a massive campground with a large selection of waterfront campsites, chalets, suites, cottages, and hotel rooms for folks looking to spend a few nights in this beautiful place.
You’ll also find a restaurant serving breakfast through dinner and a luxury golf course with views of the lake within this popular park.
Plus, there are over 30 miles of hiking trails to enjoy – so when you’re not out on the water, you can be exploring even more that this magical place has to offer
9. Lake Pontchartrain
If you are spending the weekend in Louisiana, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to visit Lake Pontchartrain and marvel at its extensive size by hopping on a boat come summertime.
If you want to get an idea of how large the lake is, you should know that one of the largest stretching bridges in the world crosses its shores.
Kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals are available on-demand at various local shops, which makes it easy for everyone to get out on the water.
A variety of small state parks make up portions of the lake, so there are plenty of places to explore the waters – and each offers its own unique highlights.
Fontainebleau State Park is the place to spend your time if you want to end your night with an overnight stay at one of the scenic cabins that are built right over the water.
If guided boat tours are what you’re after, head to Fairview-Riverside State Park where you can have your pick between various tours, including the popular sunset guide.
10. Lake Oconee, GA
This hidden gem of a location may not draw many visitors in, but those who make their way over to Georgia’s Lake Oconee are instantly rewarded with waterfront serenity.
It’s amazing how the state’s second-largest lake doesn’t see millions of visitors a year, but you can’t complain about having a wide-sweeping body of water nearly all to yourself.
Need a way out on the water? Young Harris Water Sports offers a variety of boat rentals that range from jet skis all the way to two-story boats with slides. Add to the excitement by participating in some water sports like tubing and waterskiing – but just make sure you have someone to steer the boat.
The lake is home to one of the largest collections of fish per acre, which makes for an amazing day of fishing, and guided fishing tours are available at Reel Time Fishing for the newbies.
After an exciting day, head to one of the waterfront restaurants like Gaby’s by the Lake, Bone Island Grillhouse, and The Boathouse to enjoy a tasty dinner while also taking in the breathtaking views of the water.
11. Lake Lanier Islands, GA
Speaking of Georgia, the award for largest lake goes to Lake Lanier Islands – and the resort that houses this lake makes for an exciting trip at any time of year.
The resort is based on the cluster of islands at the center of the lake and offers a range of fun activities like zip-lining, horseback riding, golfing, and more.
When you’re not out on the water circling the islands in your boat or kayak, you can treat yourself to a stress-relieving treatment at the luxury spa.
You’ll feel like you’re transported to a tropical island at the lake’s beach with its white sandy shore, crystal clear waters, and tiki huts selling cold beverages.
Save some time to explore one of the charming lakefront areas, like Downtown Gainesville, for some shopping, sightseeing, eating, and drinking.
Arrive as early as you can to beat some of the crowds that fill up the parking lot within hours of the resort opening.
12. Lake Ouachita, AR
Known for being the largest lake in Arkansas, Lake Ouachita stretches out over 40,000 acres and provides a beautiful way to spend the day out on the water.
Since the lake is so large, there are multiple marinas to choose from – and each one offers a variety of watercraft rentals including motorboats, kayaks, pontoons, canoes, and fishing boats.
Feel free to partake in some of the other popular activities while out on your boat, like scuba diving and swimming in the crystal clear waters.
You’ll find peaceful coves throughout the lake that make for the perfect place to drop an anchor and spend some time fishing.
If the lake wasn’t beautiful enough for you on its own, you’ll definitely fall in love with the Ouachita National Forest that surrounds it.
There are plenty of hikes to choose from, but a fan favorite is the four-mile Caddo Bend Trail, which starts with an epic view of the lake before wrapping around the peninsula.
13. Philpott Lake, VA
Boaters will love the scenic views of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and the wide sweeping waters that make up Philpott Lake. The opportunities are endless across the lake’s 3,000 acres and 100 miles of shoreline – so get ready for a busy weekend of water-based fun.
The lake is an amazing place to visit simply for its natural beauty and dense surrounding forest – but there are plenty more reasons that keep visitors coming back year after year.
- Aside from the easy access for boaters across nine boat launches, the lake boasts 6 beach areas and 9 campgrounds, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
- The lake offers a large variety of water trails, called The Blueway, that allows for kayakers of all experience levels to enjoy some of the lake’s most scenic highlights.
- Popular Blueway trails include Bowens Creek Falls with its remote serenity, Deer Island, known for being the largest of its kind on the lake, Jamison Mill, which now lies at the bottom of the lake, and Calico Rocks, with its impressive height.
14. High Rock Lake, NC
With over 15,000 acres of crystal clear waters to explore, you can spend days exploring the vast lake and taking in the breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
The lush forest that borders the lake is a sight to be seen – but the real showstopper is the High Rock Mountain, which is the tallest peak in the Uwharrie mountain range.
Don’t forget to bring your fishing rod for some stellar fishing opportunities. Common catches include crappie, catfish, bream, and bass.
Make sure you take some time to explore the many hiking trails that are peppered throughout the area and go for a relaxing swim when the weather gets hot.
15. Lake Hartwell, SC/GA
Right on the border between South Carolina and Georgia, Lake Hartwell is a beautiful body of water that offers visitors a way to escape the stresses of everyday life.
Even though Hartwell is one of the most popular boating lakes in the South, its whopping 56,000 acres of waterfront makes it easy to find a space to anchor down your boat and enjoy some peaceful alone time.
Don’t forget your fishing gear because this lake is known for its award-winning fishing opportunities, with a focus on largemouth bass, catfish, and bream. In fact, the lake has held many bass tournaments throughout the years and has gained the title of one of the best fishing lakes in the United States.
Stretch your legs on a short nature trail that takes you along the lake to marvel at the pristine water before heading to one of the picnic areas for a scenic lunch.
16. Dale Hollow Lake, TN
Hidden away amongst the Highland Rim Mountains, Dale Hollow Lake offers a wild shoreline and an unspoiled experience with nature unlike any other in Tennessee.
With over 600 miles of shoreline, it makes sense that you’d have up to five choices when it comes to picking a marina and a place to rest your head.
The marinas offer all kinds of watercraft rentals but the most common are the houseboats, which come in many different sizes and offer a large selection of amenities to suit a wide variety of needs.
After spending the day exploring the peaceful waters and admiring the untouched nature, consider spending the night in any of the cabins, chalets, lodges, and more that reside along the lake.
Since the lake is deep within the wilderness, you can have some fun driving the nearby backroads that lead to a bunch of local businesses like restaurants, bars, and shops.
17. Norris Lake, TN
Another Tennessee gem is Norris Lake – with over 800 miles of shoreline surrounding its picturesque waters and offering up fun for the whole family.
Nestled between Powell River and Clinch River, the natural beauty at Norris Lake is hard to bear – and with over 33,00 acres of waters to explore, you can easily spend an entire weekend here.
Although the depth of this lake varies depending on the time of year and average rainfall, it is still considered to be the largest of its kind in the state of Tennessee.
With that being said, the options are endless thanks to an abundance of quiet coves offering up some peaceful alone time, a slew of hiking trails that wrap around the lake’s edge, two state parks to explore on your downtime, and so much more.
The best place to start is the marina, where you can launch your boat, rent watercraft of your choice, and get out on the water.
Spend the night at one of the many campsites around the lake and wake up early the next morning for the best chance to see some of the area’s wildlife like deer, turkey, and wild horses.
18. Lake Burton, GA
There may be five boating lakes that branch off of Georgia’s section of the Tallulah River, but Lake Burton holds the title for being the best in the area.
The lake was one of the first man-made reservoirs created to generate power in the early 1900s, and because of it, the town that gave the lake its name now sits at the bottom of the water.
You’ll be amazed by the number of remote coves that branch off along the water and make visitors feel like they have the entire lake all to themselves.
There’s no such thing as a bad fishing day with the lake’s continuously growing population of trout that are fed into the waters from the hatchery on its western edge.
Bordering the hatchery is Moccasin Creek State Park, which has everything you could need – including campsites to rest your head, a boat ramp to launch your watercraft, picnic areas for a scenic lunch, and a fishing pier that is free to everyone.
You won’t be able to rent a motorboat during your stay – so make sure you come prepared with your own watercraft or look into their seasonal canoe rental options.
Hiking trails are peppered throughout the area, and although you’ll have plenty of beautiful hikes to choose from, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to check out the cascading Hemlock Falls.
19. Lake Sylvia, AS
Lake Sylvia may be small in size – but it makes up for it with an abundance of outdoor recreation activities that can be enjoyed without the crowds. Hidden in the shadows of larger lakes in Arkansas, Lake Sylvia offers up some of the most picturesque views you can find.
When you aren’t out relaxing on its water or partaking in some amazing fishing opportunities, you can explore the area on foot. Short interpretive trails with wheelchair-accessible options make it easy for everyone to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding forest and unspoiled shoreline.
When you get hot, strip down to your bathing suit and go for a swim in the crystal clear waters that’ll be sure to be instantly refreshing.
20. Lake Allatoona, GA
You won’t find a lake more popular in the state of Georgia than Lake Allatoona, and with good reason, as the lake stretches over 12,000 acres and offers up all kinds of ways to enjoy time with nature.
Millions of visitors a year swarm to its extensive shorelines for a chance to sunbathe, swim, boat, and fish amongst its pristine waters.
There’s no shortage of amenities, with eight marinas to choose from – each offering watercraft rentals – so you’ll always have a way to get out on the water.
Spend some time lounging around Bartow Beach, go for a scenic hike in Red Top Mountain State Park, and rest your head at the McCaskey Creek Campground.