Written by Carol Bareuther
October 2021

When the weekend isn’t long enough to go for a saltwater cruise, or when it’s time to change up the boating lifestyle with a freshwater fix, then head to one of the great boating lakes in the southern
United States.

From far inland to nearer the coast, several lakes in the south Atlantic and Gulf-bordering states offer splendid boating adventures, plus scores of things to do ashore from hiking and historic sites to playgrounds and dog parks, golf courses and name-brand resorts, and nearby towns ideal for sightseeing, shopping and supping.

Lake Lure - southern boating lakes - marinalife
Lake Lure | ExploreAsheville.com

North Carolina
Go boating on the same picturesque lake in the iconic lift scene between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the 1987 movie, Dirty Dancing. This 720-acre lake, located less than an hour northwest of Asheville, boasts 21 miles of shoreline, including a beautiful sand beach with a water slide and water park. Rent 13-passenger pontoon boats, 14-foot fishing boats, or SUPs, canoes and kayaks for the hour or day. Washburn Marina offers a public boat launch. Guided boat tours are also available. As a parting glance, climb nearby Chimney Rock for a panoramic view of Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge beyond.

South Carolina
Boating and fishing are the big favorites at this nearly 100-square-mile lake an hour north of Charleston. Small boats can cruise 35 miles up the Cooper River, although leave time for bridge and lock openings. Better yet, drive, tow your boat and put in at one of the lake’s nine public ramps. Then, head out and drop a line. Species to catch include bass, perch, crappie, pickerel, stripers and whopper catfish, like the record 113.8-pound blue catfish caught in 2017. The fishing pier at Angel’s Landing Campground, Restaurant & Marina has bait, tackle and fishing licenses for sale. If paddling is more your speed, go to the kayak rental and tour company on the lake’s shore.

Lake Lanier - southern boating lakes - marinalife
Lake Lanier | LanierIslandsdot.com

This largest lake in the state is less than a half hour’s drive from Atlanta. So close in fact, that the northern end of the lake served as the Olympic rowing venue in 1996. Boat is the best way to explore a nearly 60-square-mile island. Rent pontoon, tritoon or houseboats, canoes or kayaks, or bring your own boat and use one of the many ramps. Nine marinas on the lake offer everything from transient slips for dinner ashore to fuel, stores and marine repair. Cruise the open waters at the southern end of the lake or the quaint coves with parklands and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond to the north. Waterskiing, wakeboarding and fishing are popular aqua activities. Land attractions include top-notch restaurants, charming boutiques, and accommodations ranging from cabins and campgrounds to plush hotels.

It may be at the opposite end from the state’s Gulf Coast and closer to Tennessee than the sea, but this 100-plus-square-mile lake delivers a great inland water fix. By the numbers, you find 18 boat ramps, eight islands to explore by boat and seven marinas with soup-to-nuts services. Flat bottom, bass and pontoon boats are available for charter, plus rental canoes and kayaks. Bass fishing tournaments and powerboat races happen each summer. In January and February, Lake Guntersville State Park, located at the southern end of the lake, hosts its Eagle Awareness program. Conservation efforts have created a soaring nesting bald eagle population. It’s possible to see bald eagles year-round and from land or by boat on the lake.

silver glen springs - southern boating lakes - marinalife
Silver Glen Springs snorkeling | New York Times for Visit Florida

Named for England’s King George III by his royal botanist, John Bartram, when working in America during the mid-1800s, this is Florida’s largest lake after Lake Okeechobee. Forty miles west of Daytona and 50 miles east of Ocala, the Lake George boat ramp is ideal for launching trailered vessels. If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, boat tours are available. These include tubing and swimming trips, guided fishing charters and sightseeing excursions. The lake’s ruggedly beautiful shoreline, much of it surrounded by parklands, is filled with eye candy. You discover everything from multi-million-dollar mansions to bears, beavers and bald eagles. Tour boats include Silver Glen Springs snorkeling pontoon vessels, small powerboats and Florida’s famous airboats. Some of the latter are based at Georgetown Marina, Lodge & RV Park on the lake’s northeast section, an area also known as “The Bass Capital of the World.” Two miles north of where Juniper Creek meets Lake George, Silver Glen Springs is a magical place, spectacular as a swimming and snorkeling hole.

There’s double the fun on this two-in-one, reservoir-made lake located on the Tallahatchie River, about an hour south of Memphis and double that time north of Jackson. The half-square mile Lower Lake is a cozy spot to go tubing, waterskiing or fishing. In 2019, the state record for silver carp, a 27.25-pounder, was caught here. The 21-square mile Upper Lake boasts 11 boat ramps to launch from for a larger place to cruise for the day. Slip leasing at Sardis Lake Marina makes it easy to spend a whole season on the water. For shorter trips, rent a houseboat for a half or full day.

Lake Pontchartrain - southern boating lakes - marinalife
Lake Pontchartrain | Visit New Orleans

If you can’t choose between salt or fresh-water, head to this 630-square-mile brackish estuary that is reachable by sea or from the Big Easy of New Orleans. Over a dozen marinas, plus three yacht clubs are based here. Sailing regattas, fishing tournaments, powerboat races are popular events. If you didn’t BYOB (bring your own boat), charter a family-sized sailboat or powerboat. Best of all, tie-up at a waterfront restaurant and fork into Louisiana seafood specialties such as fried catfish, soft shell crab po-boys and shrimp etouffee.

A half-hour drive from Austin leads to this water wonderland of a reservoir on the Colorado River. Marinas and boat ramps make access, fuel and overnighting easy. Rent tritoon or pontoon boats, wave runners or charter sailboats for a bareboat, captained or learn-to-sail cruise. There’s a waterpark kids love, and the park’s sister location nearby offers a zipline tour with incredible bird’s eye views of the lake. Wind down after a day on the water at The Oasis. This Texas-sized eatery, the largest outdoor restaurant in the state situated high on a bluff, is the perfect perch to sip margaritas as the sun sets over the lake.