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Lake James in North Carolina

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

My girlfriend and I decided to take our first kayak-camping trip together on the weekend of October 5-6, 2002. We have been hiking and camping all over the Carolinas but this would be our first trip with our kayaks. I figured we had better do a relatively light-weight trip for our first outing and after some research decided on Lake James, NC. Lake James is a reservoir situated about halfway between Hickory and Asheville. The Linville River, which flows through the very rugged and scenic Linville Gorge, empties into Lake James.

We loaded up the car on Saturday morning (a Honda CRX with two touring kayaks on the roof - quite a sight!) and drove the 2 hours to Lake James from Charlotte, NC. I had wanted to put in on the south side of the lake at Lake James State Park, but a call the previous day had confirmed that parking in the park overnight is prohibited. Duke Power has a 24-hour public use boat ramp where highway 126 crosses Lake James so we settled on putting in there. Our float plan was to paddle east then north from the boat ramp into a secluded finger of Lake James that rests within the confines of the Pisgah National Forest. We planned to camp on the shoreline of Lake James and a call to the Pisgah Ranger Station confirmed that a permit was not required where we were planning to camp. A permit IS required however, if you are staying with the confines of the Linville Gorge.

After squeezing all our dry bags and various other equipment into our kayaks (a Cape Horn 17' for me, a Cape Horn 14' for my girlfriend) we shoved off on a brilliant, blue-sky morning for our short paddle to our destination. We had not planned on a specific spot to camp and we paddled the length of one of the fingers looking for the ideal spot. After a total of about 5 miles (according to our GPS track) we settled on a nice sandy beach camp-site that had previously been used. The predominant recreation in the Pisgah National Forest must be hunting because there are many hunting blinds scattered through the forest and along the shore-line. Our camp-site had a nice fire-ring made of rocks constructed by a previous group.

Paddling for a couple of hours in the mid-day sun the temperature was probably hovering in the upper 80's, so we were both ready to hit the water for a swim after unloading our kayaks and setting up camp. The water temperature is perfect at this time of year for a refreshing swim. We found ourselves swimming several more times that afternoon as the temptation of the cool water was just too much to resist.

We hiked around the forest a bit that afternoon before making a camp-fire (they are allowed within the Pisgah National Forest, but check local laws first!) eating a quick dinner and turning in early. No critters bothered us during our slumber, I guess visitors are still rare enough that the racoons haven't pegged campers for a free meal quite yet!

Awaking the next morning I cooked a truly awful breakfast of bacon and eggs on a brand new skillet we had purchased specifically for this trip. I've decided I'm much better at cooking over my Peak stove than I am over an open camp-fire. We broke camp early, loaded up our kayaks and took a leisurely paddle back to the boat ramp, looking over a few prospective camp spots for future reference.

This trip was the perfect ice-breaker for our kayak-camping adventures. Both of us are new to kayaking and have only had our kayaks for a couple of months. Working up toward this trip we concentrated on paddling technique and self-rescues, although neither is really needed for this very simple trip. The round-trip mileage was probably only about 8 nautical miles when factoring in some zig-zagging to check out some of the sights. The lake water is crystal clear and we filtered it for our water supply and it tasted great. Boat traffic, even on the weekend, was extremely light compared to our home lake of Lake Wylie, NC. Occasional bass-boats, pontoon-boats and ski-boats made appearances, but I'd bet we only saw about 10 over the two days we were there. The lake level appeared to be down a few feet, so there is plenty of shore-line accessible to kayaks. Additionally it makes gathering fire-wood an easy chore since there is so much driftwood on the shore. Finding a camp-site with a gentle sloping beach with sand was fairly easy and the solitude was wonderful. We are looking forward to our next trip with anticipation since we know we can make much more difficult trips than this one.


Cape Horn 17' and Cape Horn 14' and many Seal Line Dry Bags!


No fees/permits if using the Duke Power put in and you are NOT camping in the Linville Gorge.


Take the Nebo/Lake James exit off of I-40 and drive north just a few miles following the signs for Lake James.


I used Garmin MapSource information to load a topo map of the area into my Garmin GPS. Additionally I printed topo maps of the area from Delorme Topo 4.0.

Trip Details

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

Trip Location