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Lake James in North Carolina

Trip Overview

This is a trip report for an overnight kayak and camping trip to Lake James in North Carolina. Five of us made the trip; Tom and his wife Karin, Mashid, Rich and Tim. Although the weather forecast called for isolated severe thunderstorms on Saturday, our camping sense was stronger than our common sense and so our trip began early Saturday morning. Encountering some rain as we traveled, we arrived at the Lake James State Park at about noon under relatively sunny skies. During a call to a ranger several days earlier, we learned that the previous weekend had been busy for camping with all sites occupied.

Although that may have been due to the holiday weekend, the ranger recommended arriving by 2 or 3 pm to ensure we would get a campsite. This was good advice since most campsites were already taken when we arrived. We checked in with a ranger and were told that rather than being assigned campsites and paying right then, we should go pick our sites from those available and set-up camp. Someone would be around later in the day to collect our money. We were lucky and got two sites right next to eachother, which gave us room to pitch two 4-man tents and one 2-man tent. It is quite a ways from the parking area to the campsites along a loose stone path with some wooden timber steps. The hand truck we brought made moving our gear to the campsites easier as well as making us the envy of other campers lugging armfuls of equipment down the path.

After setting up our tents we headed back over by the ranger's station to go kayak'in. We had brought three kayaks. Mashid and Rich did a combo consisting of hiking and later canoeing while Karin, Tom and Tim kayaked. We launched back near the rangers station where there is also a swimming beach and a boat dock. It was a several thousand feet carry to take the kayaks down to the water. Heading out from the park area into the lake, it was interesting to see a mix of developed and as yet undeveloped land. The lakefront homes were impressive as was the large amount of wooded area on the shoreline.

We paddled up the main portion of the lake heading toward the north-north west and saw many areas that would be good for boat-in camping; several were in use. There were also however, a lot of areas that were posted with NO TRESPASSING signs so during the busy camping seasons it may be a challenge to find a good camp site open. After several hours we took a break to stretch our legs at a small sandy area on the "Big Island". Tom and Karin swapped boats for the return trip. Soon after starting back, the wind picked up considerably making for some 1-foot swells to contend with. We paddled into the wind for about 15-20 minutes and then turned downwind traveling about 4 mph even when not paddling. Tom had fun in the smaller kayak taking many waves over the bow and lots of water in the cockpit.

We arrived back at the state park boat dock with no flip-over events and carried the kayaks back up the hill to the parking lot. While we had been out, Mashid and Rich had rented a canoe


Tent Camp Sites - $12/night + $2 for all the split wood you can burn.


Directions to Lake James State Park: Lake James State Park is located in Burke and McDowell counties five miles northeast of Marion on NC 126. Take exit 94 on I-40 and head north for 0.5 miles to a stop sign. Turn left on US 70 and follow it for 1.5 miles. Turn right on Bridgewater Road and travel 1.2 miles. Turn left on Benfield's Landing Road and follow it for 2 miles to a stop sign. Turn left on NC 126 and follow the signs to the park entrance, 1.7 miles on the right.

  • Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip