Graham County has some of the most pristine mountain lakes that you will find anywhere. Lake Santeetlah was formed in 1928 with the construction of Santeetlah Dam. Nearly 80% of its 76 miles of shoreline is maintained by the United States Forest Service. Boat rentals are available to explore the many coves. There are more than 50 primitive campsites around the lake. Fishing includes smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and walleye. If you would like to rent a pontoon or fishing boat, jet ski, canoe, flatwater kayak or stand-up paddleboard, contact these Marina’s; Deyton Camp located on Hwy 143/Massey Branch 828-479-7422 or Santeetlah Marina located off Thunder Mountain Rd 828-479-8180.
The 29 mile long Fontana Lake is just as remote with its entire northern border on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was formed in 1944 with the completion of Fontana Dam (480 feet tall). Boat rentals and marinas are available. You will definitely avoid the crowds here. If you would like to rent a pontoon or fishing boat, jet ski, canoe, flatwater kayak or stand-up paddleboard, contact these Marina’s; Fontana Village Resort Marina located off Fontana Dam Rd 828-498-2211 or Prince Boat Dock located off Lower Panther Creek 828-479-3704.
Cheoah Lake was formed with the construction of Cheoah Dam in 1919. Many people refer to the dam as Fugitive Dam because it was the location of Harrison Ford’s jump in the movie The Fugitive. The dam, at 225 feet in height, was the highest overflow dam in the world when it was completed. Its turbines were the largest in the world. There is a modern boat ramp at the eastern end of the lake. Fish include lake and brook trout, bass, crappie, bluegill and yes, even Muskie.
Calderwood Lake was formed in 1930 with the completion of Calderwood Dam. Its 8 miles are probably the least used of any of the area lakes. The entire shoreline is National Forest. There is a boat ramp just off US 129 at ‘The Magazine.’ Folks love to kayak this lake as well and visit the old railroad tunnel (check water levels).
Nantahala Lake, formed by Nantahala Dam constructed in 1942, is just a short drive from Graham County (near Andrews, NC). At an elevation of 3,000 feet it is the second highest lake east of the Mississippi. There are two public boat ramps. Fish include walleye, Crappie, sunfish, trout , bass and yes, kokanee salmon.
There are many creeks and streams for the fly fisherman. Some are easily accessed while others require a hike. Slickrock Creek is home to big brown trout and native trout in the headwaters (for the angler with a high degree of fitness). Big Snowbird Creek is stocked with rainbow, brown and brook trout. Native brook trout can be found in the higher elevations (designated Delayed Harvest fishing from October to May). There are several creeks on Fontana Lake that are only accessible by boat. The nearby Nantahala River is also a popular fishing venue. Be sure to review the regulations for taking trout in these waters. You can purchase a NC fishing license and/or trout stamps at A-4 Home Center – 828.479.3341, Outland Gas & Grocery on the Cheoah River 828.479.2485, Santeetlah Marina 828.479.8180, The Boat & Auto Shop 828.479.9799, Fontana Village Marina 828.498.2211 and the Shell Gas Station in Robbinsville 828.479.8973. See our Fishing Trails map below.
Whitewater rafters can find class 4/4+ falls in both the Cheoah and Nantahala Rivers. Many companies offer equipment and guided trips – Outland Expeditions is located right on the Cheoah River for easy access and you can purchase river pass bracelets from them and at O’Henry’s.
If you need something a little tamer, head on over to Snowbird Tubing (located at Hunting Boy Wood Carving) for your family adventure. Float trips are $10 and last about 2 1/2 hours. (ages 6 and up, life vests provided). Located at 2698 Snowbird Rd – 828.479.9554. They also have Gem Mining onsite!
The adventurous hiker can find many waterfalls tucked away deep in the mountains of Graham County – two of our favorites are Yellow Creek Falls on Hwy 129 and The Cascades at Twenty Mile Ranger Station on Hwy 28.
Click on image for printable map: