One of the good things to come out of the over-used practice of damming up rivers is we get some amazing lakes like this one: Lake Jocassee (pronounced: joe-KASS-ee), which was created when Duke Power dammed up the Whitewater River and flooded the surrounding valley.
On a warm weekend in May, Yukon and I, plus a couple of our friends, loaded up our kayaks for two nights of primitive camping at the Double Springs Campground, which is part of Devil’s Fork State Park in Salem, SC.
Using dry bags, we packed water, food, extra clothing, and sleeping gear. Adding in plenty of sunscreen, some toilet paper, and bug spray we stuff full our waterproof hatches.
Carrying the fully loaded boats to the water was the hard part. Gliding through the water, dipping our paddles in and out, was effortless.
Lake Jocassee, located in northwest South Carolina, is a 7,500 acre lake that’s 300 feet deep in places. Contained within 75 miles of shoreline, the water is beautifully clean and clear and is very popular with scuba divers. When the lake was created by Duke Power in 1973, a number 0f structures succumbed to the flooding. Scuba divers will find much to discover in the lake’s deep green depths.
The special thing about Lake Jocassee is how undeveloped the shoreline is. With maybe a dozen houses remaining on the western shorelines, the rest is wild and wonderful.
To the Cherokee, Jocassee means “Place of the Lost One.” There’s a love story about a warrior and a maiden from warring tribes meeting, falling in love, and being torn apart by her tribe. The brave was killed in a battle by the maiden’s brother. Legend has it she walked across the Whitewater River that separated the tribes to meet the ghost of the brave.
With 75 miles of shoreline, and a name like “Place of the Lost One” there’s tons to explore and discover about this lake.
Waterfalls on Lake Jocassee
- Wright Creek Falls
- Thompson River Falls
- Whitewater Falls
- Laurel Fork Falls
- Mills Creek Falls
- Devils Hole Creek Fall
On our list for the future, which will require a loooooong day of paddling, is visiting Laurel Fork, Mills Creek, and Devils Hole Creek Falls.
We’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Upper and Middle Whitewater Falls (the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi) by car, but paddling up to the bottom of Whitewater Falls is the most immersive way to go. While you only get to see a few of the steep cascades, the power of the water, the dramatic change in water temperature and the roar is worth the trip.
Wright Creek Falls in another awesome waterfall to visit. Several years ago, we visited in the heat of the summer. Our group had so much fun floating our kayaking into and out of the water pouring over the ledge. Paddling behind a kayak is SO COOL!
One area of the lake we haven’t explored yet is the extreme northern end, where the Toxaway and Horsepasture Rivers enter the lake. Those last three waterfalls sit up that way, as well as some primitive camping areas that are part of the Foothills Trail as is passed by Lake Jocassee. We’re exploring whether there’s a way to get down to the lake via the newly created Gorges State Park or if we need to suck it up and make the long paddle to that far end.
Yukon and I visited Lake Jocassee in 2013 and the lake levels were as low as I’d ever seen them. As we approached the area of Wright Creek Falls, we encountered several hundred yards of sandbars and shoreline. We beached the boats and hiked back toward the falls. I gasped – the whole are was unrecognizable! We could walk under the falls, behind the falls, and I showed Nelson how high the water had been the last time I was there.
Primitive Camping (boat-in only) on Lake Jocassee
On this most recent trip, each evening we returned to the primitive campground, sun drenched and tired and ready for some food. With only 13 sites available, there were enough people that we didn’t feel alone but there weren’t huge crowds. As the sun set, people got their campfires going. The guys next to us played guitar. A lively bunch down the hill shouted and joked and laughed.
We cooked dinner and settled into our camp chairs. It got really cool in the evenings, and we were grateful to snuggle into our sleeping bags.
Morning found us waking up without alarms. We enjoyed coffee and a leisurely breakfast before heading out for the day. One notable is the state park has replaced the very old, very worn out, and very gross metal pit toilets with double the number of newly constructed wooden outhouse-like pit toilets. This was an important step for the park to take for safety and sanitation purposes. We were grateful to discover upgraded facilities!!
It’s a BIG Lake!
Lake Jocassee is a BIG body of water. Based on my experience, paddling in the morning is safest because of the weather and boat traffic. I’ve been caught unaware by unexpected thunderstorms in the afternoon.
The middle of the lake is a dangerous place to be when the wind and waves really get rolling, which always seem to happen after mid-day. Our trip in May found us returning to significant winds and pretty big waves; turning the corner to reach the safety of the cove where our campsite was located was an exciting and wild ride!
That being said, the part I love most about the lake is exploring the shoreline and coves. With adequate rainfall, there are a number of smaller, unnamed waterfalls to discover. I’ve heard other paddlers get excited about seeing deer and bear up on the slopes. I’ve seen a number of snakes sunning themselves in the branches of the trees overhanging the water (thus, don’t kayak UNDER the trees, lest a frightened snake freak out and drop into your cockpit). If you’re lucky, you’ll also see Great Blue Heron, kingfishers, osprey, vultures, and if you’re really lucky – eagles.
I can also recommend making time to swim in this beautiful lake. At full pond, you’ll need to look awhile before you find a place that’s easy to beach the boats. At low water, you’ll have your choice of beaches to use. From May to September, the water is warm (or on our mid-May trip, warm enough) to be welcoming and very refreshing.
Visit Lake Jocassee
If you’re interested in kayak camping or simply paddling Lake Jocassee, visit the Devil’s Fork State Park website. You’ll have option of traditional car camping, tent-only camping, or paddle-in primitive camping (like we did). Lake Jocassee is an amazing place – we encourage you to visit and stay awhile!
If you have questions, fire away in the comments section or reach out to us!