This is the my home paddling ground, I'm on it every week. It's a joy to paddle with parks, nature reserves, coves, riverbends, and creeks to explore and interesting man made structures including two dams, two pump stations, a steam station and ash ponds. It's a big "S" swelling of the Catawba River, complements of Duke Power, that pretty much spans the 13 mile distance between the Cowan's Ford Dam and Lake Norman NC to the north and the Mountain Island Dam to the south, just above Lake Wiley SC.
The lake provides the drinking waters for the residents of Charlotte and several of the surrounding communities. There are two pump stations, the Riverbend Steam Station, and the ash piles beside the ash ponds are visible in the middle to the north side of the lake on the left bank. It separates Mecklenburg from Gaston and Lincoln counties.
What makes this a special place to paddle is most powerboat traffic is drawn to the larger lakes to the north and south, so there is comparatively less motorboat traffic and the fact that on the north end most of the area is undeveloped being part of Latta Plantation Park, Cowan Ford Nature Reserve or Duke Power's undeveloped property. As you paddle north of Latta Plantation Park and beyond, the now inactive, Riverbend Steam Station and its coal ash ponds, the wildlife increases, heron, duck, kingfisher, osprey, turtle and deer sightings are common. There are lots of coves and creeks to explore.
East (Mecklenburg County) Bank Access:
At Latta Plantation Park there are two for paddlers only put-ins along the east bank, Mecklenburg County (Huntersville & Charlotte), off of Beatties Ford Road in Huntersville, Gar Creek and North put-in by the horse stables.
To the left at Gar Creek is a shallow lagoon that serves as hunting grounds for kingfishers and osprey. To the right is the main channel. Be aware that Latta Plantation Park and its put-ins are locked at dark.
A few miles north is the North Neck Road access with both a paddle access, grassy beach and powerboat ramp with 24 hour access. On the lake two miles north of Neck Road is the only sandbank, even if it's underwater, you won't miss it because of the volleyball net set up there. From the Neck Road put-in there is a cove on the left with shallow areas where I take new paddlers to get the feel of the kayak before we go further. From Neck Road, its and eight mile paddle north to the Cowens Ford Dam and five miles south east to Mountain Island. Exploring McDowell Creek is a treat in high water.
West (Gaston County) Bank Access:
The Riverbend Access is on the south end of the Lake, a powerboat ramp with low docks, is located off of Highway 16 north of Charlotte. On the lake, head south about a mile to the Mountain Island and the Mountain Island Dam. The Mountain Island is a great place to stop for lunch or to chill out, it's a forested island with nice beaches for kayak landings. Though there is a lot of homes and development along the southend, Mountain Island and the area around it is undeveloped.
The other access point is an informal one along Killian Road off of Highway 16. You'll want to check it out on a map first. Look for the point where you see a lagoon on the right. You'll probably see a car or two with yak racks parked along the side of the road. Get out there and follow the path, about a 20 yard portage to the lagoon's dirt beach put-in. This is the northmost put-in on the Lake and has the most wildlife. Seeing carp darting around is common in the shallow lagoon.
Directly, across the main channel from this lagoon is the Duck Pond, a shallow pond which is another good place to observe kingfishers and ospreys hunting. Osprey and an occasional eagle's nests decorate some of Duke Powers energy towers.
Flatwater, easy currents, beautiful sunrises and sunsets; it's a nice paddle. It's primarily a day trip since there's no camping on the lake, but you could spend days exploring its different features.
There are no camping facilities at the Lake or at Latta Plantation Park, however they have the Raptor Center (got bird identification questions?), hiking trails, horseback riding, picnic areas, disc golf, etc.
There are a variety of private camping and lodging facilities in the communities of Huntersville, Charlotte, Mt Holly and Mountain Island. The National Whitewater Center is just to the south of the Lake with whitewater kayaking and rafting, flatwater kayaking (they own 1.5 miles of Catawba waterfront and rent SOT kayaks), mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, ziplining, and festival events.
Additionally, the Lake is less than 10 miles from downtown Charlotte with easy access to all its attractions. From Killian Rd put-in, its 4.5 miles north to the Cowan's Ford Dam and 4 mile paddle south to Neck Road put-in.
From Charlotte, take Beatties Ford Road north to Latta Plantation Park (not to be confused with Latta Park) for Gar Creek and the North put-in there. Continue north on Beatties Ford and take the Neck Road exit on the left to the Neck Road put-in.
For the west bank put-ins, take Highway 16 north, make a right following the first bridge, you'll see the Riverbend put-in. Keep following Highway 16 north, the next true right turn is Killian Road. There are no signs, so you'll look for the lagoon on the right and pull over at the opening. Take the path down to the lagoon.
Lake Wylie and Mountain Island Lake Map by Kingfisher.
The Catawba River Companion, a guide book of the Catawba River and its lakes.
Check water levels if you're looking to stop at the sandbar, which disappears at about 98% of full pond, at
The park rangers at Latta Plantation park are knowledgeable and helpful.
The workers at the Raptor Center have helped me identify birds I've seen (it's right next to the Gar Creek put-in).