If you only think of beaches and Charleston when South Carolina comes to mind then you don’t know about one of the most beautiful regions of the entire state. Nestled along the foothills of the Appalachians the South Carolina Mountain Lakes region is exactly that: mountains and lakes. In between those mountains and lakes is great local food, stunning waterfalls, exciting outdoor adventures, and vistas you won’t soon forget. If you’ve never been to the Mountain Lakes of South Carolina keep reading to see why you need to book a trip now.
The 9,000-acre lake at the heart of the region is one of the most beautiful and exclusive lakes in the country. The only way for visitors to get a boat on the water is through Devil’s Fork State Park and they only allow a couple hundred a day. That might seem like a lot of boats but even on the busiest of days you’ll still have acres all to yourself. The 300-foot deep reservoir, operated by Duke Power, is also a haven for freshwater scuba diving; divers have found old buildings left at the bottom during the creation of the lake and frequently discover odds and ends scattered across the lake floor.
One of the more tranquil and stunning features of the lake are the waterfalls that tumble out of the mountain and directly into the lake. Some are hidden away in secretive coves best found by local guides while others are quite easy to spot while exploring the shoreline. Hiking trails wind through the mountains and around the lake. Hidden coves offer the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing lunch and take a nap in the shade on those hot summer days.
Chattooga Belle Farm
South Carolina isn’t exactly known for the mountains but that’s not because they don’t have any. That has never been more evident than while sitting on the patio at Chattooga Belle Farm with a glass of wine looking at the towering mountains reaching into the sky along the very close horizon. Sure it’s not the Rockies or the Alps, but it’s the Appalachians and even thought they’re smaller and younger us Southerners love them all the same.
The locally owned farm is a conglomerate of everything you would to do to enjoy those mountain views. They have a gift shop. They do tastings of wine made from grapes grown on the farm. Hop over to Belle’s Bistro for an amazing lunch. Walk down the hill to the distillery. Book a wedding in the event barn (don’t knock it til you’ve seen the barn). Or you can do like I did during my first evening in the region: come back for an unbelievable sunset view.
The County Parks
Oconee County Parks is on par with most state parks. Most awesome state parks. This county takes their parks so seriously they even have their own website and logo. Chau Ram Park is the county’s hidden gem featuring a small campground with full hookups, three miles of hiking trails including a 160′ suspension bridge over the Chauga River, and a beautiful 40′ waterfall that is handicap accessible. High Falls Park is located on the shores of Lake Keowee. This park features 91 campsites with full hookups and bathhouses, three rental shelters and picnic tables with charcoal grills, a nice swimming area on the lake, two boat ramps, and a fishing pier. South Cove Park is the second park on the shores of Lake Keowee with campground with 86 sites and full hookups, a fishing pier and boat ramp, a nice swimming area on the lake with a long and sandy beach, and a brand new visitor center and gift shop.
If you want fast food or a chain restaurant you can take the short drive to Clemson. But if you want some delicious local food you won’t have to go far in the Mountain Lakes. Little Pig BBQ makes everything from the bread to the sauces in-house every day for some absolutely mouth watering home cooked pulled pork. Blue Marble Deli offers some great sandwiches in downtown Seneca. If you enjoy some good local pizza try the Carolina Pizza Company in Walhalla for more than you’ll eat in one sitting.
But if you want the restaurant with the best view take a drive out to The Lighthouse Restaurant. Located on a bluff above Lake Keowee this restaurant has a menu filled with delicious items like crab pretzels, stuffed portobello, hand crafted sandwiches, amazing pastas, and fresh seafood. For the best view opt to dine at The Cabana, an outdoor bar-type setting just below the restaurant. They have a smaller menu but still some of the signature items like the sandwiches, steaks, and appetizers. Come at sunset to enjoy a gorgeous view across the lake from the open-air bar and then hang around for some nightly entertainment on the weekends.
All destinations have beautiful views, local food, museums and attractions, and some good shopping. But not all destinations have the Chattooga River. The river is a Wild & Scenic National River and remains untouched, natural, and jaw dropping. Visitors who dare to brave these waters have the option of enjoy relaxing Class II rapids or go head-first through the gorge along Class V rapids that will test your endurance and leave you breathless with excitement (and from paddling, of course). The natural beauty of the gorge will astound visitors during the quiet moments and the frothing water roaring around giant boulders will thrill you the rest of the time.
The Nanthala Outdoor Center is one way to enjoy an excursion on the Chattooga. They offer two guided trips each about 6 miles long and includes a lunch break in the middle of the 5-6 hour trip.
If you want a full weekend experience that includes more than just whitewater rafting visit Wildwater. Their expansive campus located in Long Creek has a thrilling zip line course, a ropes challenge course, log cabins and group yurts, and they offer guided rafting trips, SUP tours, and lake kayaking tours.
Lake Jocassee isn’t the only place in the region with big, beautiful waterfalls. The region boasts over two dozen waterfalls ranging from short to towering, easy hikes to day hikes, and some that you just have to see to believe it for yourself. Upper Whitewater Falls, technically located in North Carolina just across the border, is one of the tallest waterfalls in the country and viewable after a short hike and climb down about a hundred steps onto an observation platform. Brasstown Falls and Issaqueena Falls are two of the most popular because of their size and beauty, both located along well-maintained trails.
Visit the South Carolina Mountain Lakes website and click on “waterfalls” to see a list of the falls in the area and details on how to find each.