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Lake James in North Carolina

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

I have always wanted to kayak in the Caribbean islands so when I heard that Lake James had several small and large islands, I decided that it might be the next best thing. I asked my son-n-law who also loves to kayak if he would like to make the trip. He agreed so I purchased a map from the marina and decided that we would check out the eastern end of the lake because it had the most islands.

We packed our gear and our kayaks and headed out on Friday June 23rd, 2006 around lunchtime from Hickory NC. It took only about 40 minutes to get to the public access at the middle of the lake. When we arrived the weather was beautiful, but by the time we had loaded our gear in the kayaks and shoved off we noticed a storm coming in from the west.

As we headed up the lake toward a large island about a mile away the rain came and the wind started blowing about 40 mph. The lake quickly turned ocean-like with 3-foot swells. Luckily the wind was blowing in the direction we were going. It got so bad that we just paddled as fast as we could riding atop of the swells until we ran aground on a very small sandy beach.

We waited for about 45 minutes until the winds died down and the lake returned to a calm state. We continued padding to several small islands but found each one had been taken. We eventually returned to the first larger island and found a cove on the other side with a circular 200-yard white sandy beach.

We estimated the island to be about 60 acres in size. We also noticed that someone had left a sturdy picnic table from an earlier trip. We felt that we had found the best campsite on the whole lake. We quickly set up camp and enjoyed a swim in our cove, which had a sandy bottom. I was surprised to find the water a very warm 75-80 degrees in the shallow water of the cove and it was very clear.

The next day on Saturday we cooked breakfast and then decided to paddle around the lake and see what the shoreline looked like. To our surprise just about all of the land around the lake is part of the state park and is posted with no swimming, camping or picnicking signs. So unless you want to stay at one of several campgrounds on the lake the islands of the lake are the only other place that you can camp.

Saturday the temperature was about 85 with mostly sunny skies so after lunch we inflated rafts and floated in our own personal cove watching the few boats go by. That night we built a fire on the beach, cooked steak, potatoes and vegetables and watched the fishing boats stopping a various places on the lake to fish.

Sunday morning we broke camp, packed our gear and took a paddle around our island noticing several other families on the end and other side. The islands and water of Lake James were not exactly the Caribbean, but I would highly recommend it as an alternative.


Lake James has several marinas, and public boat launches. It also has several private camp grounds and the state park camp ground, plus you can camp on the islands in the lake.


Old Towne 16' kayaks


We camped on an island and it was free.


Lake James is off of I-40 between Asheville, NC and Hickory, NC close to Morganton, NC.


I would recommend getting a map of the lake which has GPS coordinates.

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location