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Lake Mackintosh in North Carolina

Trip Overview

May 26, 2008

This Memorial Day paddle (And THANK YOU ALL who have served or have family who served in our Armed Forces) began at sunup. Wow, did you know sunup is at 6:03 on Memorial Day?

The idea sounded great when talked about Friday night, but at 4:30 Monday morning I wondered. So a group of us did meet up at Lake Mackintosh around 6 am. It is a fairly typical Piedmont NC municipal lake with gates opening at sun up and closing at sun down. The admission charge is 4 bucks per kayak for the day. So we greeted the lake office staff with sleepy eyes, but friendly smiles as we handed over the money.

The lake is just outside of Burlington, NC and has two access points easily reached from I 85-40. At exit 141, go south for about 3 miles, cross the lake and the Alamance County Marina is on the left. You can also exit 138 go south mile and the Guilford Marina is on your left.

This day we paddled from the Alamance Marina. The lower third of the lake allows only 'non gas' power craft. This is the broader section of the lake and offers about 2.5 linear miles of lake to paddle. As is common with many municipal lakes around piedmont NC, the lake is more akin to a finger lake than a broad round basin.

The paddle was a leisurely one with what ended up being 9 of us. We went down the lake near the dam and them up the lower lake prong that makes for another mile or so. A breeze had come up and in summer months that is typically from the SW. This part of the lake is oriented in that manner so much of the paddling was straight into the breeze. We made our way upwind and in the last bit of the lake was rewarded with a Bald Eagle sighting. The sun, still fairly low but bright in the morning sky, glinted of the bright white tail and head making a brilliant contrast between it and a dark blue sky and dark green trees. This was the first time seeing an Eagle there for me.

In this trip we saw Osprey and Hawk, Kingfisher and Heron, Geese and Duck. In other trips we have seen deer and otter as well as many different types of migrating water fowl, especially in the fall.

Seeing this eagle was at the last of several bends in the lake and we then scoped out the narrow little creek channel that feeds this fork of the lake. We were able to progress about another 200 yd up it until fallen limbs/trees and narrowing water prevented further exploration.

The trip back out of this part of the lake was with a breeze at our backs and was thus filled with easy paddling and much talking about life. There is enough room to be a part of a group and still separate so you can be with just one or two others or by yourself or a large flotilla. You will encounter fishermen in this part of the lake as you paddle by them or have them gliding by you with electric motors

We paddled back to the marina area and beached there to have a picnic. There are park facilities at both the Guilford and Alamance marinas. We grabbed a table and enjoyed talk about the paddle, some good nourishment as well as tasty but less nourishing snacks, and some cold drinks. Some had left earlier, some came later, some were staying longer but it was time for this paddler to head out to other things for this Memorial Day. It had been a good morning on the water...

There are some other things to know about Lake Mackintosh. While power boats are allowed on most of the upper portions of the lake there is a smaller protected waters area at the Guilford Marina. The Guilford marina only launches non powered craft. Both launching areas allow vehicles almost to the waters edge so carrying distance is limited. The only powerboat launch site is at the Alamance site. No personal water craft nor skiing are allowed. Most of the boat traffic is fishermen so there is less congestion over having those who are just cruising back and forth. Paddlers are a regular part of the users of the lake and folks seem to share the lake easily. Kayaks and canoes (I think Get Outdoors in Greensboro, NC provides the boats for this) are for rent at both marinas at very reasonable rates. This is something like 10 bucks day or 15 bucks the whole day. They are first come first serve, no reservations.

One of the unique things is that near the Guilford Marina is a cut to a flooded rock quarry. It is a good experience to float inside these cliffs.

The lake has easy access from urban areas but is not highly developed. Along the lake I would guess are less than 24 homes that are next to the water. It is mostly forest and farmlands. This makes for a very rural feeling along the 6 mile length of the lake.

Various outdoor companies will have demo days here through out the summer.

The lake is closed on Tuesdays.

Skill level is like most protected bodies and is easy but care still must be taken It can be as strenuous or relaxing as you wish. Our boats this trip ranged from 12-16 ft SOT and 14-17ft traditional. Skill level was from first timers to experienced.


typical municipal lake with boat rentals, picnic areas and controlled use of lake.

Food, supplies, etc are located at the exits near both marinas with major shopping areas and discount stores at exits 140 and 141


launch fee $4 per kayak (does not depend upon county of residency)


Interstate 85 - 40 exit 138 then south 1/2 mile


exit 141 then south 3 miles.

Map location for Alamance marina is :
2704 Huffman Mill Rd
Burlington, NC 27215

Map location for Guilford marina is :
1345 NC 61 South
Whitsett, NC 27377


For information, link is:

  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip