My wife and I decided to celebrate our 32nd anniversary with a camping/paddling trip to Lake Santeetlah near Robbinsville, NC. We left our home in Cleveland, Tennessee on Sunday with misgivings about the weather, overcast and intermittent rain. Since it's only about a two hour trip we figured at worst we could always just make it a day trip and come home if the weather turned worse.
Fortunately mother nature cooperated for the most part and we enjoyed the scenic ride across the Cherohala Skyway from Tellico Plains on the Tennessee side of of the Unicoi Mountains over to Robbinsville, North Carolina. Allowing for stops it took about 2 hours to make the trip across the mountain into the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Joyce Kilmer was a poet, journalist, and World War I soldier, killed in action. He was best known for his poem, "Trees."
We arrived at the Cheoah Point campground late afternoon between thunderstorms and setup camp. Cheoah Point is a nice developed campground with 26 sites, most of which have lake views. None of the camp sites here allow easy direct access to the lake but you can see the lake through the trees. The campground looks relatively new or has been recently upgraded with new flush toilet and hot shower facilities. There is a marina nearby with a small store for the essentials you forgot. The campground also has a separate boat launch area and a nice swimming area.
If you prefer less developed campsite areas there are numerous primitive sites all around the lake which doesn't have much development on the west side. If you like luxury, you can rent cabins (check with the marina) or you can enjoy some very nice B&B's. We visited the Blue Boar Lodge while exploring the lake by car on a rainy afternoon. It's very attractive and has its own boat launch area on West Buffalo Creek. They have numerous canoes and touring kayaks for guest use. They also offer private cottages on the property. We decided to come back in the Fall and try a little pampering along with our canoe trip.
For the next two days we managed to get in some great paddling in between showers. It's a beautiful lake especially during the week when there are few power boaters. The lake is supplied by a number of mountain streams and springs. You could spend days exploring the creeks, fishing, and bird watching. We saw a rare Pileated Woodpecker and a beautiful Indigo Bunting on one of our morning paddles. The highlight of the trip was on our last day. After a rainy night and early morning, we decided to let the tent dry out while we took one last paddle up Avey Branch on the northwest side of the lake. At the very end of the branch where Avey Creek enters the lake we saw a very inquisitive River Otter. It popped up about 30 feet in front of us and spoke to us several times with its head high out of the water. My wife was thrilled. She often says that in her next life she wants to come back as a River Otter.
Apparently the otter thought we were interesting enough to bring the family to look at us. As we were lashing the canoe on the rack at the boat ramp, we took a look back at the creek and saw our little friend and two more otters just a few yards away. Unfortunately a pontoon boat came along and the group decided to scurry up the bank to hide. Still it was a rare glimpse of a beautiful creature.
We did a little fishing but not much luck. We were told there are good size largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and walleye. Apparently the fish don't bite; they just taunt you by jumping all around your boat. I saw a huge largemouth bass swim by within 5 feet of our canoe. I swear he looked like he was smirking at me when he went by. If he had fingers he probably would have given me the "Hollywood Howdy." He obviously didn't care that I am strictly a "catch and release" fisherman either or he would have been sporting enough to bite and give me just a moment of pleasure fighting him. Oh well, I guess that's why they call it "fishing" instead of "catching."
Weather not withstanding we had a great time and plan to go back this Fall to see the leaves change and try to find my wife's future family again.
Several developed campgrounds around the lake with flush toilets and hot showers. Primitive camp sites around the lake, some with road access (they are marked along the road). Cabins can be rented from several realtor companies in Robbinsville or inquire at the marina. Check out the Blue Boar Lodge and Snow Bird Lodge for B&B accommodations. There's also a Microtel in Robbinsville and several restaurants.
Campsites in the family recreation areas like Cheoah Point and Horse Cove are $8 per night. The primitive sites are free.
From the Tennessee side take the Cherohala Skyway from Tellico Plains. The Skyway is Tennessee Route 165 then becomes NC Route 143. The quickest route to Cheoah Point camp is to take a left off the Skyway toward Horse Creek Campground then keep bearing right after passing Horse Creek. This is Joyce Kilmer Road. Take a right from Joyce Kilmer Road onto Thunder Mountain Road to Cheoah Point.
You can also reach the lake from US 129 South from Knoxville or 129 North from Robbinsville.
You can pick up a very nice lake map at the Ranger Station at the Cheoah District Office on Massey Branch Road near Robbinsville or at the marina near Cheoah Point.