Click the links below to view information about activities for this park.
Hiking: Taking a hike on the extensive trail system at Lake James State Park is a great way to enjoy the outdoors at your own pace. A walk in the spring when the air is scented with sweet wild azalea and rhododendron blossoms or a stroll in the fall when the leaves are ablaze in colors is tonic for the soul. There are hiking trails at both Catawba River and Paddy's Creek areas to satisfy all ages and thirsts for adventure; from the 0.75-mile Holly Discovery Trail with its hands-on interpretive activities that are perfect for young naturalists, to the historically significant, 1-mile section of the Overmountain Victory Trail, to the scenic vista at the end of the Lake Channel Overlook Trail, there's something for everyone here.
Biking: Lake James has 15 miles of multi-use mountain biking trails with terrain suitable for riders of all skill levels. Cyclists are permitted on these trails specifically—not on hiking trails.
The four-mile Tindo loop (blazed with blue circles) is an easy beginner's trail. The 11-mile West Wimba Loop (orange circle) and East Wimba Loop (red circle) are for intermediate riders.
Boating: Two boat ramps, Hidden Cove and Canal Bridge, offer access to Lake James where power boats, sailboats and smaller craft have ample room to enjoy the water. Both boat ramps are located along NC 126 within two miles east of the park entrance. Hidden Cove operates according to park hours and must be vacated by closing time. Canal Bridge is open 24 hours.
Canoes and kayaks are available for rent from the park. Canoes will hold 2-3 people and the kayaks are for 1 person. See the "Facilities and Fees" page for more information.
Nearby, a number of other launching sites and marinas offer boats and motors for rent. Fishing tackle, bait, ice and snacks are also available.
Camping: Twenty backpack campsites are located along or near the lake shoreline. Each site is approximately 150 to 300 yards from the parking lot. The trail to the campground includes an elevation change of approximately 100 feet. Campers are encouraged to pack lightly. Two of these sites are reserved for persons with disabilities. Each campsite provides a firepit, picnic table and tent space. Approximately every five sites apart, a water faucet is located, and a washhouse with hot showers is accessible near the parking lot. Campsites are available from March 1 through November 30. Boat-in camping on the Long Arm Peninsula is expected to be available in 2015. Reservations are strongly recommended for camping.
Education and Events: Rangers hold regularly scheduled educational and interpretive programs about Lake James State Park.
To arrange a special exploration of Lake James State Park for your group or class, contact the park office.
Educational materials about Lake James State Park have been developed for grades 2-4 and are correlated to North Carolina's competency-based curriculum in science, social studies, mathematics and English/language arts. The Lake James program, Aquatic Critters (an Environmental Educational Learning Experience) introduces students to the lakeshore environment, focusing on the plants and animals that live there. Accompanying the program is a teacher's booklet and workshop, free of charge to educators. To learn more about environmental education or to search our database of upcoming workshops, please click the Education tab, above.
Fishing: The cool mountain waters of the Linville and Catawba rivers flow into hilly terrain to form a deep lake with enough points and coves to challenge any fisherman. Water level fluctuation, due to hydroelectric power production, keeps aquatic vegetation at a minimum and concentrates fish populations, especially in winter. Cool, deep waters, reaching as much as 120 feet, and warm surface climes provide a variety of sport fishing options.
The Largemouth bass is arguably the most sought-after fish in the lake. Early morning and late afternoon hours from April through October are the best times to seek this tackle-buster and its bronzy relative, the smallmouth bass. Quiet coves with submerged stumps and logs, rocky points and steep, overhanging banks are ideal places to try your luck. Walleye, first introduced to the lake in 1951, is another prized gamefish. Normally associated with coldwater lakes of the upper Midwest and Canada, this tasty fish is most readily caught in deep waters during the same season as bass. Walleye can also be successfully pursued in shallower waters at night.
White bass spawn in May, and the best fishing for this species is typically from 6-7 a.m. along the banks or from anchored boats along the ancient river channels. During the summer, schooling whites are often seen corralling shad at the surface and become susceptible to topwater lures. Crappie fishing is best during May through July, in the early morning and at night. Bluegill and redbreast sunfish are available year-round and are most active during the morning hours in shallow coves with lots of submerged stumps and logs. The cleanest, tastiest catfish anywhere are found in the lake all year long. Fish for them in the evening along gently sloping underwater shelves and the mouths of slow-moving streams as they enter the lake. The North Carolina state record white catfish—13 pounds—was caught at Lake James in 1990.
Another popular gamefish is the mighty muskellunge. Record specimens have been caught in Lake James, including the state record tiger muskie—a whopping 33-pound, 8-ounce brute that took a buzzbait in 1988. Other fish you might catch include carp and perch. A fishing license is required. All Wildlife Resources Commission regulations apply.
Picnicking: You bring the food and we'll supply the atmosphere. There are picnic areas available on a first-come, first-served basis at both the Catawba River and Paddy's Creek areas of Lake James State Park. Picnic sites include tables, outdoor grills and trash and recycling receptacles. Drinking water and restrooms are located within a short walk of all picnic sites. Three large picnic shelters with 10-12 tables each are available for groups. The shelters are available by reservation.
Swimming: Swimming is permitted in the Paddy's Creek Area only within the designated swimming area. Swimmers must remain inside the swim line. The swimming area is open May 1 through September 30, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., every day. A fee is in effect when lifeguards are on duty. Swimming is free of charge when there are no lifeguards on duty. See the "Facilities and Fees" page for more information.