ABOVE: Paddleboarding on Lake Blue Ridge, about two hours north of metro Atlanta, give or take. Photo: Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.
No ocean, no problem. Whatever you desire,
from A (activities) to Z (Zen), there’s a Georgia
lake to suit your style.
LET US TAKE A MOMENT to thank the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Because of this intrepid group, and Georgia Power, reservoirs (aka, lakes built by humans) dot the Peach State. You can blame geology for our lack of natural lakes.
Georgia’s 30-plus human-made lakes offer boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, sandy shores for summertime reading, golf, wildlife and picnicking all within driving distance of metro Atlanta.
We have snapshots of 10 to get you started. You can visit them to raise your activity level or lower your stress. Just remember to plop an umbrella in that drink and slather on the SPF.
Lake Allatoona | About an hour away
You might run out of leisure time before you run out of things to do at this 12,000-acre lake near Cartersville, northwest of Atlanta. Lake Allatoona has eight marinas, nine campgrounds and 15 day-use parks near and on the lake.
Fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout and perch. Bring your boat or rent one — with a fishing guide — for $250 and up. Dwell in the great outdoors for a few days of camping at Red Top Mountain State Park ($23-$25), where a sandy beach invites swimmers. Or choose a park cottage (some are pet-friendly), complete with central heat and air conditioning ($150-$175 per night). If neither suits your idea of a night in nature, try the park’s only yurt ($90 per night).
Lake Blackshear | 2.5 hours by car
Take I-75 south to Cordele to find ths 8,600-acre Lake Blackshear, which boasts a four-star golf course (and disc golf for those who’d rather), a model-plane-flying field, a sandy swimming beach, water sports and a hummingbird garden.
Or, perhaps, you’d like a day trip on SAM, the shortline excursion train ($28-$58), which glides from Cordele to Plains, stopping at cultural and historical sites along the way. Stay in style at the all-inclusive Lake Blackshear Resort & Golf Club, which has 68 villa rooms ($95 per person and up, some pet-friendly) and 10 lake-view cabins.
Become one with the woods at Georgia Veterans State Park. Use a tent or grab an RV site ($24) and gaze at the wavy waters from the cozy comfort of your sleeping bag.
Lake Blue Ridge | About 2 hours away
Peaceful, crystal-clear waters burble here, where 80 percent of the lake’s 3,300 acres is in the Chattahoochee National Forest and, thus, protected from development. Lake Blue Ridge, due north from Atlanta, has one of the largest earth dams in the nation. It’s fed by the Toccoa River and considered a “top-of-the-food-chain” lake, without commercial runoff.
Rent kayaks, pontoons and paddleboards at Lake Blue Ridge Marina or Morganton Point Recreation Area. There’s a pebble beach (wear shoes when you swim) at Morganton, with concessions and public showers.
The mountain town of Blue Ridge is laid-back and artsy. Visit shops, galleries and craft-beer taverns. If you hanker for an even more elevated view, take a scenic drive that shows you parts of North Carolina or Tennessee.
Lake Hartwell | 2 hours away
Lake Hartwell, straddling the Georgia/South Carolina border, is one of the largest recreational bodies of water in the Southeast with 962 miles of shoreline, camping, hiking, birds galore and plenty of wildlife to spot. It’s not your best bet if you’re bent on swimming, however.
Mix indoor comfort and outdoor fun by staying at the Skelton House B&B ($120 and up), a Victorian house on 2 acres with English-style gardens. You can walk downtown but still are near the water.
Here you can have your lake and eat from it, too. Striped bass are plentiful and 20-pound catches are not unusual. The South Carolina portion of Lake Hartwell State Park even has a tackle loaner program.
High Falls Lake | About an hour away
This lake is almost hidden in a pine forest some 50 miles south of Atlanta. High Falls Lake, named for the tumbling cascades on the Towaliga River, has some of the best largemouth bass fishing in Georgia.
Get your glamping (glamour camping) fix in a yurt with a lake view ($80) at the 1,050-acre High Falls State Park. The park also has 107 tent, trailer and RV sites; a paddle-in primitive campsite for up to 25 people; two boat ramps; and a swimming pool.
Note that swimming is not allowed in the lake or falls.
Visit Whimsical Botanical Gardens, seven miles away, and take a free, self-guided tour to see one-of-a-kind statues and portrait-worthy backdrops for vacation photo ops.
Lake Lanier | 50 minutes away
Lake Sidney Lanier is Atlanta’s outdoor party place, having attracted all ages since the 1950s. Georgia’s largest lake, slightly northeast of Atlanta, has 700 miles of shoreline along 38,000 acres.
Lodging choices are plentiful, and many are pet-friendly. They range from nearby chain hotels to Lake Lanier Islands’ hotel rooms and villas. Vacation packages at the grand Legacy Lodge ($149-$320) can include farm-to-table dining, golfing, water-park passes, horseback riding and romantic getaways.
New this summer: Waste away (in the best way) in Margaritaville, a 1,500-acre attraction that includes a sandy beach, a wave pool, two booze-cruising party yachts and an RV resort.
Lake Oconee & Lake Sinclair | About 90 minutes away
The Oconee River connects these sister lakes, sitting pretty between Atlanta and Augusta. Note that that they are 22 miles apart by road. Plenty of local businesses cater to both destinations.
The 20-mile-long Oconee (“great waters” in the Creek language) offers waterside golfing (seven courses), water skiing (rentals at Young Harris Watersports and rejuvenation (at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Spa, which has an indoor pool and fitness center).
You won’t really rough it at the 55-acre Lake Oconee/Greensboro KOA, which has 23 railroad boxcars, club cars and lakeside cabooses converted into camping cabins ($118 and up). There’s also a boat launch, a private beach and two swimming pools.
Lake Sinclair’s 15,000 acres are beloved by anglers and hospitable to swimmers. National fishing tournaments happen here, with your best bets being bass, catfish and bream. Recreational opportunities abound at Sinclair. Check out VRBO for condo rentals overlooking either lake ($95-$380).
Lake Rabun | 2 hours away
Woods, wineries, winding roads and waterways are signatures of North Georgia’s scenic Rabun County. Lake Rabun is a twisty 835-acre reservoir with 25 miles of shoreline.
The Lake Rabun Hotel (beginning at $127 in season) combines quaint with quality in its farm-to-table restaurant, chef-inspired desserts, cocktails and every-room-is-customized ethos. Rabun Beach offers camping (80 tent/trailer sites), swimming, boating and fishing.
This is the land of 12 waterfalls and high-view hiking. Plus, there are hundreds of acres of vineyards here, all of which welcome visitors for tastings and events. Other Rabun County lakes — Lake Burton, Lake Seed and Tallulah Falls Lake — offer additional R&R opportunities.
Lake Seminole | Almost 4 hours away
In this southeast corner of Georgia, you’re nearly in Florida. Notice the Spanish moss draping the trees and the sandhill cranes loitering to catch any fish you drop.
Fish are plentiful in the 37,500-acre lake, 79 kinds, in fact. The Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola rivers feed Lake Seminole, helping make it a Deep South paradise of birding, boating and rustic relaxation. Swimming is not recommended (beware the gators)!
Lake Seminole Cabins offers new, nicely appointed lodging on a cove (one to four bedrooms, $450-$700 weekly). Whether you’re fishing for foot-long black bass or catching time away from the city, Lake Seminole is waiting. So are the cranes.