More than a lake, Jocassee is an adventure paradise!

Oconee County, SC is blessed with four lakes. The most famous being Lake Jocassee, which was featured in a National Geographic special publication titled “50 of the World’s Last Great Places: Destinations of a Lifetime“. The lake is popular for motorboat cruises, fishing, camping, standup paddle boarding, and kayak expeditions. For people looking for active pursuits, there are countless places to drop anchor and explore!

Fast Facts:

  • There are less than three dozen homes along the shoreline
  • Only two full-time residents live on Lake Jocassee.
  • In the fall, the Department of Natural Resources stocks the lake with 40,000-50,000 trout!
  • Bald Eagles nest for life in tall trees next to the lake; ideal locations to swoop down to snatch fish.
  • Scenes for the beginning and end of the movie “Deliverance” were filmed on Lake Jocassee.

History

Jocassee is a Cherokee name that means “Place of the Lost One” and comes from a legend where a maiden walked across the water to meet the ghost of her lover.

Prior to flooding the area to create the lake, the river valleys (near the Toxaway River) were home to the Lower Towns of the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee tribes lived in an area for more than 600 years. They built small communities of 50 to 100 homes, farmed the land, hunted game, and fished the rivers. In 1785, General Andrew Pickens signed a treaty with the Cherokee that forced them to cede their land to the United States government. The Cherokee managed to keep territory in northern Oconee County until the 1830s when they were forced to give up rights to lands they had cultivated for hundreds of years. The Cherokee Nation’s Jocassee Town is now 300 feet under the surface of Lake Jocassee. Many important artifacts were unearthed prior to flooding the valley and have been donated to The Museum of the Cherokee in South Carolina, which is located in Walhalla, SC.

History buff? This article outlines the fascinating history of Lake Jocassee.

Lake creation

view of Lake Jocassee from Jumping Off Rock

The lake was created in 1973 for the purpose of generating hydroelectric power. Duke Power and the state of South Carolina own the vast majority of property bordering Lake Jocassee. These entities partnered to create the 7,500-acre lake and developed Devils Fork State Park at the south end of the lake.

Four rivers flow into Lake Jocassee: Whitewater River, Thompson River, Horsepasture River, and Toxaway River. The dam is 385 feet tall and 1,750 feet wide. The full pond elevation on the lake is 1,100 feet and the average depth is 158 feet deep.

The Oconee Bell (Shortia galacifolia) is a rare wildflower native to a few places. The flower grows along the shore of Lake Jocassee and is believed to have been more prevalent in the valley before the lake was created and flooded the growing region.


Spend the day exploring!

Boating

From the lake, you can motorboat (or jet ski) to islands, coves, and sites where rivers, creeks, and streams flow into Jocassee. Drop anchor, disembark, and explore! Active folks can scamper over huge boulders and rock outcroppings to get up close and personal with an amazing landscape unique to the Jocassee Gorges region.

A few weeks ago, Visit Oconee SC enjoyed a day away from the office. We borrowed a boat and took a field trip with Ken Sloan (our boss and experienced Jocassee guide) to explore the lake for ourselves. You can expect pop-up rainstorms on summer afternoons which actually adds to the sense of adventure. We experienced heavy rain for about 20 minutes.  Fortunately, we were comfortable and fairly dry under the bimini top. Many people see a storm and get the urge to beeline for the shore. But we suggest staying put and waiting it out.  Summer rains usually only last a few minutes. When the rain subsides, cruise the shoreline near the rivers to view even more spectacular post-rain-gushing waterfalls!

Here’s a glimpse of places we ventured to…

Don’t have a boat?

No worries! Take a pontoon boat tour with one of the companies operating on the lake and have them show you around (Jocassee Lake Tours, Jocassee Adventures, Southern Outlaw Adventures).

Or if you prefer to get an arm workout, bring a kayak or paddle board. Need to rent one?  Eclectic Sun offers rental kayaks, paddleboards, and necessary gear for a fun-filled day tooling around Jocassee. You can also check with Jocassee Lake Tours for rental kayaks. Stick close to the shore or book a shuttle service with Jocassee Lake Tours and they’ll tie your craft to the motorboat and drive you and from cool places to play around.

Fishing

Bass and trout fishing are popular on the lake. Lake Jocassee holds state records for trophy fish caught on the lake. Go it alone, or book a fishing guide (Jocassee Lake Tours, Jocassee Adventures) to take you to good fishing holes.

Scuba Diving

pic of the Scuba Zone on lake jocassee
Buoys near the dame mark the “Scuba Zone” on Lake Jocassee

There’s a scuba zone on the lake close to the dam. The area is marked with buoys. Divers can swim down to an underwater playground with a basketball court, an old sunken boat, and a motorcycle.

An old hotel, Attakulla Lodge, remains standing under 300 feet of water at the bottom of Lake Jocassee. Deepwater scuba divers can view the lodge as well as the Mount Carmel Cemetery on the bottom of the lake. This cemetery was filmed prior to the lake flooding and can be seen in the movie “Deliverance.”

Here’s an article with more details about scuba diving and offerings from Jocassee Adventures.


Pic of bad creek hydro station on Lake Jocassee
Bad Creek Hydro Station view from the lake

Wow! Hydro Power

When you’re on Lake Jocassee you’re surrounded by lush green forest and nature.  It’s easy to overlook the fact that this wonderful lake exists for the purpose of generating power, specifically hydroelectricity.

The Bad Creek Hydro Station was built on Lake Jocassee near the Whitewater River.  For more about this amazing facility, go here.

Sometimes boats on Lake Jocassee get a thrill spinning in whirlpools that form near the hydro station. But if you’re in the cove when an extremely LOUD alarm sounds, that means you have just a few minutes to turn the boat around and leave before massive amounts of water shoot out of the Bad Creek Reservoir back into the lake.


Lodging

If you want to stay at the lake, the options are limited. And you’ll most likely need to book far in advance. There are few vacation rentals including Jocassee Hideaway, The Lost Treehouse on Lake Jocassee and additional places are listed here.

Devils Fork State Park offers twenty rental villas (cabins) as well as a campground along the shore near Eclectic Sun’s business. There are two landings near the villas for launching boats into the lake.  And another landing serves the campground area.


Getting there

Lake Jocassee is off the beaten path. From SC Hwy. 11, you turn on a windy road that will take you to Devils Fork State Park. This is the only place where the public can access the lake.  A parking fee is required and the parking lot fills to capacity early on summer weekends.

A new parking lot was built in 2021 that can accommodate more vehicles and boat trailers.  Even so, the park gets full on weekends and has to turn people away–so arrive early!

There are two new landings for public use. One landing is used for scuba diving boats and kayaks.  The other landing is for launching small boats.


Come Visit Oconee SC for yourself!

photo of chanda morrison on the lake
Article by Chanda Morrison
Blog author & website wiz for Visit Oconee SC

 

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