The North isn’t the only region with great lakes. Down South, we have plenty of family-friendly bodies of water to explore. From waterfront vacation homes and marinas to campgrounds and boat rentals, there are plenty of fun options to keep you and your family cool this summer. Grab your sunscreen and check out these six popular Southern lake destinations!

Douglas Lake

Location: Sevier, Jefferson, Cocke, and Hamblen Counties in Tennessee (about one hour from Gatlinburg)
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Douglas Lake in East Tennessee was formed at the height of World War II when the Tennessee Valley Authority built Douglas Dam for flood control and hydroelectricity. Today, it’s a popular destination for East Tennesseeans and travelers from all over the world who want to enjoy the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

As the lake boasts an area of over 44 square miles, it spans several East TN counties, and it’s an easy drive to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg — neighboring towns jam-packed with family-friendly shopping, dining, and attractions like Dollywood and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies — as well as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Lake Douglas itself is a premier bass fishing destination and offers ample opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and more. Stay at the charming Mountain Harbor Inn (pictured below), or choose from a wide variety of vacation rentals and campgrounds.

large white inn on lake with boats docked
Mountain Harbor Inn offers a quaint respite on Douglas Lake, complete with a private marina. Image: Facebook

Lake Lanier

Location: Hall, Forsyth, Gwinnett, and Dawson Counties in Georgia (45 minutes north of Atlanta)
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Fed by the waters of the Chestatee River, Lake Lanier was originally created by the completion of the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River in 1956. Named after American poet Sidney Lanier, the lake was built and is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and water supplies. Today, Lake Lanier is the lifeblood of three states, providing a water supply to Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. But those who live in and around Atlanta think of Lanier more as an endless supply of summer fun.

This massive lake offers everything from vacation homes to boating and water sports galore. There is ample camping, fishing, hiking, dining, and even shopping on and around Lake Lanier. Stay at the beautiful Lanier Islands Resort, which offers golf, hotels, dining, and meeting and wedding space, and enjoy the on-site Margaritaville Water Park.

The islands of Lake Lanier
Go rustic or resort at Lake Lanier, which is filled with opportunities for summer fun. Image:

Lake Martin

Location: Tallapoosa, Elmore, and Coosa counties in Alabama
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Lake Martin is a man-made lake that spans Tallapoosa, Elmore, and Coosa counties in Alabama. It was formed when the Martin Dam on the Tallapoosa River was built in 1926 as the powerhouse to generate hydroelectric power for the Alabama Power Company. One of the largest man-made lakes in the United States, Lake Martin sits northeast of Montgomery, AL, and is a hotbed of events and activities, including a wildly popular 60-foot cliff jump at Chimney Rock.

The area that houses Chimney Rock was the Tallapoosa River gorge before Martin Dam was built, and the water beneath the cliff is more than 150 feet deep. The spot is visited by numerous boaters every year who park in front of Chimney Rock to watch thrill-seekers climb to the top and plunge into the water.

If you prefer milder adventures, Lake Martin offers swimming, boating, fishing, water sports, camping, parks, and golf courses nearby. Each year the lake is home to fishing tournaments, a fireworks show on the Fourth of July, and the Alexander City Jazz Festival held in June.

Chimney Rock overlooking a lake, with people jumping in
Chimney Rock is actually located several hundred yards away, and the popular jumping rock is technically called Acapulco Rock. However, everyone simply refers to the hangout as Chimney Rock. Some call the lowest jumping point Chicken Rock and the highest jumping point Lost Boys. Image: Lauren Helmer
Hundreds of people sitting outside at an amphitheater overlooking a lake.
Catch a show at Lake Martin Amphitheater.

Lake Ouachita

Location: Ouachita National Forest, near Hot Springs, Arkansas
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Lake Ouachita was formed when the Ouachita River was dammed by the Blakely Mountain Dam in 1953. The original purpose of Lake Ouachita was flood control and hydroelectricity, but today it is enjoyed for its endless acres of pristine waters and wooded shoreline.

Lake Ouachita is surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest and is known for its clean, clear water. The largest man-made lake in Arkansas is a short drive from the town of Hot Springs and offers water sports like swimming, skiing, scuba diving, boating, and fishing. Lake Ouachita State Park features fully equipped cabins that overlook the lake and park campgrounds with 93 campsites and four camper cabins. The park also has picnic areas, hiking trails, swimming areas, a marina, and a visitor center. There are also a number of programmed events that take place on the lake throughout the summer!

People kayaking on a lake.
Spend a day kayaking on Lake Ouachita. Image: Arkansas State Parks Blog

Lake Lure

Location: Lake Lure, North Carolina (25 miles southeast of Asheville)
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Dr. Lucius B. Morse came to Hickory Nut Gorge in the early 1900s and envisioned a lake and resort development that would eventually become Lake Lure (perhaps best known today as the backdrop for the popular film Dirty Dancing). His vision came to fruition when dam construction was completed in 1926, and Lake Lure was ready for visitors by 1927.

Visitors to this section of Western North Carolina come for the outdoor natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and its famous Chimney Rock, and Lake Lure’s stunning waters and shoreline provide ample opportunities for a variety of water activities, including canoeing, fishing, boating, and water skiing. Both motor and non-motorized boats are allowed on the lake, but a lake permit is required to place a private boat on the lake. Rent a house on the lake, or stay in the Rumbling Bald Resort, which features tennis, golf, swimming, and more.

A man in a baseball cap, sitting in a blue hammock over the water.
Boating is just one of the countless ways to enjoy a visit to Lake Lure. Image: Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority
The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge
The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge | Image: Lindsay Ferrier

Trophy Lakes

Location: Johns Island, South Carolina (about 20 minutes outside of Charleston)
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If you have an active family that loves a little competition, put Trophy Lakes in Johns Island, SC, on your list of must-visit destinations. Built by water skiers for water skiers back in the 1980s, this is a great spot to learn or practice your ski skills — but there’s plenty to do beyond water skiing. Trophy Lakes also offers wakeboarding, disc golf, paddle boarding, kayaking, and an aqua park.

Located just outside of Charleston, SC, there are ample dining, shopping, and entertainment options nearby for when you’ve had your fill of water activities. Likewise, you can easily find accommodations to suit your family’s needs, from city-center boutique hotels to breezy waterfront rental homes.

water skier on a lake
Trophy Lakes is an ideal destination for active families who love water sports but also want to be near the city’s action. Image: Facebook

Here’s to long summer lake days!


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About the Author
Melonee Hurt

Melonee is a native of East Tennessee who spent six years as a writer in NYC before returning to the South. She enjoys coaching CrossFit, traveling, cycling, camping and spending time outdoors with her family.