Posted by Lindsay Taylor
Once warmer temperatures start making their way to the North Georgia/Western Carolina mountains, tourists and locals alike begin craving the summer lake life. The glittering, expansive waters of Lake Chatuge satiate that desire, while the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains invites a sense of escape from life’s daily bustle. Nestled between Clay County, NC and Towns County, GA, this hidden gem offers endless water recreation options. It is a favorite vacation spot for many reasons, but Lake Chatuge surely tops the list. Whether you’re into boating, kayaking, fishing, swimming, sight-seeing or lakeside camping, Lake Chatuge offers something for everyone at every price point.
History of Lake Chatuge
Named for a neighboring Cherokee settlement, Lake Chatuge is a manmade reservoir steeped in World War II history whose shorelines touch parts of both North Carolina and North Georgia. The picturesque waters, now home to endless recreational activities, was once home to a number of local families whose farmland is now covered by the Chatuge’s waters. Originally designed and constructed by the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) in 1941 and 1942 to bolster the wartime effort and provide an additional source of power production, Lake Chatuge has since stimulated considerable growth and tourism to this part of the Appalachian Mountains.
The construction of the Chatuge Reservoir put an initial dent in some of the agricultural economy of the area as several acres of local farmland were covered by Lake Chatuge’s waters. Despite this minor hurdle, forming Lake Chatuge also helped to answer the desperate need for more job opportunities in the area. Construction efforts provided preliminary job access, whereas operating, sustaining and maintaining the reservoir continues to provide the tri-county area with additional job opportunities.
Stretching across the Hiwassee River in Western North Carolina and extending into North Georgia, Lake Chatuge provides one of the most beautiful recreation spots in all of North Carolina, and its presence continues to serve multiple purposes. Developments to the reservoir’s structures in the years after its initial construction, such as the addition of a small generator in 1954, ensured that Lake Chatuge would continue to serve as a source of clean and affordable hydroelectric power that would maximize the area’s yearly rainfall to its full potential. This means that affordable electrical power and flood protection continue to be benefits of Chatuge Reservoir. An example of these benefits can be seen in the decreased threat of flooding the local communities face each year. Whereas this was once a huge concern of local families, the Chatuge waterway system allows the TVA to aid in reducing the threat of flooding, while continuing to provide high enough water levels to sustain summertime lake activities. This ability to regulate and control the water has been instrumental to the sustainability of the local area. While farmlands were lost in the process, the benefits to the local area have helped to strengthen the community’s resistance to natural disasters as well as bolster the local economy.
Lake Chatuge Recreation Opportunities
Once Chatuge Dam and Reservoir fulfilled its wartime duties, a public park was created along its shores called the Clay County Recreation Park. This park gives residents and tourists access to walking paths, bike trails, campsites, fishing spots, pavilions, boat ramps and a playground. Next to the playground, the Clay County Recreation Park has a swimming area, complete with a sandy beach, a roped-off area designated for swimmers, picnic tables, and benches for watching your children play or for enjoying the awe-inspiring views of Lake Chatuge and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Two pavilions and restroom/shower house facilities are located in the same vicinity, while an additional pavilion and a ballfield are positioned directly up the street. Another bathroom can be found further up the path, next to additional campsites and the walking path. The majority of campsites in Gibson Cove, home to the camper and tent sites you will see at the Recreation Park, are positioned directly on Lake Chatuge Shores. The rest are lake view. This provides easy lake access for the many campers who are often found riding jet skis and enjoying time on their boats when they aren’t at their campsite.
Clay County Recreation Park also has launching sites for kayaks, paddleboards, canoes and tubes. Restrooms, shower facilities and campsites are only open during the late Spring and Summer seasons, however, the grounds themselves are accessible for year-round enjoyment.
Even those who don’t enjoy water activities still have a place at the Recreation Park. The park’s pathways are often bustling with people enjoying the fresh air by walking, jogging, walking their dog or biking. It is not uncommon to see friends and families out for an evening stroll, but it is equally as common to see runners out practicing for an upcoming race. These paths are open year-round, unless otherwise noted. On a rare occasion, the wooded pathway might be sectioned off for clearing, but generally, the trails stay open throughout all four seasons.
Although the campsites and restroom/shower facility are shutdown during the colder months, winter visitors can still experience the recreation and beauty of the lake. The pavilions, playground, and ballfield remain available for your use, and portable restrooms are provided along the trail for those still brave enough to venture outside. Regardless of the season, Clay County Recreation Park on Lake Chatuge does not disappoint.
Where to Play on Lake Chatuge
Lake Chatuge offers multiple places to play. A self-professed lake community, the water is rarely empty during the summer months, but it is never too full for you to take part in all that Lake Chatuge offers. With 133 miles of shoreline and more than 7,000 acres of lake water, there are endless opportunities to enjoy everything lake-related. Scenic coves throughout Clay County, NC and Towns County, GA provide lake visitors ample room to play, picnic and enjoy the great outdoors. Many families enjoy afternoons on the lake by simply finding a cove off the roadways and parking for a few hours of fun, while others visit a marina for a boating excursion.
The North Carolina side of Lake Chatuge in Hayesville, NC offers multiple areas for recreational fun. These include:
- Jackrabbit Mountain Campground – campgrounds, bike trails, hiking trails, swimming areas, sandy beaches, picnic areas, boat ramps, a pavilion, and a fishing pier.
- Gibson Cove/Clay County Rec Park – campgrounds, pathways, swimming areas, sandy beach access, playground, boat ramps, pavilions
- Ledford Chapel Wildlife Access Ramp – fishing pier, boat ramp, launching sites for kayaks, canoes and paddle boards
Visitors and locals are advised by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to contact the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to obtain additional information or licensures.
The North Georgia Side of Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee and Young Harris, GA offers: