This article and video were produced in partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
Tucked up in the northwestern corner of South Carolina, along the North Carolina border, is one of the Southeast's most beloved bodies of water: the 7,565-acre Lake Jocassee. Four pristine rivers feed into the man-made lake — the Whitewater, Thompson, Horsepasture, and Toxaway — and because Jocassee is located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, these rivers all cascade into the lake via spectacular waterfalls. It's surrounded by more than 43,000 acres of most undeveloped forest, making it a peaceful and easily accessible adventure for paddlers of all ability levels.
Lake Jocassee is an easy day trip from Asheville, N.C., or Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C., and an excellent weekend getaway from larger local cities like Charlotte or Raleigh, N.C. Wherever you're coming from, you'll need to get on SC 11 to reach Devil's Fork State Park in order to access the boat launch.
- As you'd expect, early spring and late fall are the least crowded times for paddling the lake (unless you want to brave the dead of winter), but these seasons can be accompanied by stiffer headwinds, too. Summer weekends will increase the traffic, but Jocassee has so many miles of shoreline that it's easy to escape the masses.
- Be prepared to pay a $5 fee to park at Devil's Fork State Park.
- There are three public boat launches, but you're looking for the one farthest east, a few hundred yards down Hickory Hill Road from the main parking area. This will help you avoid heavy powerboat traffic.
Jocassee is famous for waterfalls, but you're heading to two of its best: Thompson River and Wright Creek Falls. Plan to spend six hours on the lake, and the earlier you set out, the less likely it is that you'll have to deal with late afternoon winds, which can slow your progress back to the boat launch.
- From above, Jocassee looks a bit like an abstract hand, and the remote boat launch is at the base of the palm.
- Once you're on the water, cut across the lake at an 11 o'clock angle to the third "finger" (if you're counting clockwise from the farthest finger west).
- Paddle as far as you can into that third finger, until you reach the waterfall where Thompson River cascades into the lake.
- This is a great place to get of your boat and hike upstream to see a few smaller waterfalls, and also look for the Oconee Bell, a rare white flower that's prevalent around Jocassee.
- To get to Wright Creek Falls, paddle back the way you came until you almost reach where the second and third fingers meet. Directly across from that spit of land, to your left, is where the Falls enter the lake.
- When lake levels are high, you can paddle directly behind this magnificent, three-tiered waterfall. If water levels are low, you can hike behind the falls on foot.
- On your way back to the boat launch, there are a number of little islands and sandy beaches that are perfect for a picnic. One particularly nice one, with great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and north, will be on your left-hand side just as you're about to cross open water back toward the boat ramp.
What to Bring
As with any day on the water, you need to dress for immersion, be prepared for sudden changes in weather, and have all your gear properly stowed to survive the elements. Be sure to bring …
- The basics: a PFD, quick-drying layers, sunscreen, hat, rain gear, and dry storage bags.
- Six hours requires a lot of trail mix, so maybe pack a proper lunch to enjoy on the aforementioned island. Pro tip: Island lunches tend to go better with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
- Closed-toe water shoes — flip-flops won't work for the hiking around Thompson River.
- A waterproof map of the lake, which will run you $12 from Kingfisher Maps.