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.
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. Boat rentals and marinas are available. You will definitely avoid the crowds here.
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 and bluegill.
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.
Nantahala Lake, formed by Nantahala Dam constructed in 1942, is just a short drive from Graham County. 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 and bass.
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. Snowbird Creek is stocked with rainbow, brown and brook trout. Native brook trout can be found in the higher elevations. 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.
Whitewater rafters can find class 5 falls in both the Cheoah and Nantahala Rivers. Many companies offer equipment and guided trips.
The adventurous hiker can find many waterfalls tucked away deep in the mountains of Graham County.