Lake James State Park offers a full menu of activities. Along with boating, swimming and fishing in the beautiful, clear waters of the 6,812-acre lake, there are 25 miles of trails, 15 of which are open to mountain biking. Trails vary from the short, educational Holly Discovery Trail with child-friendly activities, to the more adventurous, historic section of the Overmountain Victory Trail. There are three campgrounds. The Catawba River Area has 20 walk-in campsites, many of which offer lake views. The Paddy’s Creek Area has 33 drive-to, family-friendly campsites. The remote boat-in campground on the Long Arm Peninsula offers a true outdoor adventure for those willing to paddle or steer their canoes, kayaks or powerboats to their own slice of heaven. Boat ramps at Hidden Cove and Canal Bridge on NC 126 are located between the park’s two day-use areas. And, canoe, kayak and paddleboard rentals are available at the Paddy’s Creek Area concession stand from May through September.
Twenty walk-in campsites are located along or near the shoreline at the Catawba River Area. After parking in the centrally located lot, campers must hike 150 to 300 yards to their campsite. The trail to the campground includes an elevation change of about 100 feet. Campers are encouraged to pack lightly.
Two sites are wheelchair accessible and can be driven to if needed.
Each reservable campsite has a fire pit, picnic table and space for a modest, six-person tent. Potable water faucets are located throughout the campground and a washhouse with toilets and hot showers is open 24/7 near the parking area. Bundles of firewood are available for sale.
The Paddy’s Creek Area has 33 drive-in sites that are perfect for families with lots of camping gear.
Each reservable site has parking for two vehicles adjacent to the camping pad. Other amenities are identical to those found in the Catawba River Area campground.
Paddle-in camping is available on the Long Arm Peninsula. These 30 campsites are accessible only by boat; you cannot hike or drive to these sites.
Each site has a fire pit, picnic table and space for a modest, six-person tent. There is no running water at the boat-in camping area. Campers must bring their own water for drinking and washing dishes, etc. There are toilet facilities strategically located throughout the camping area.
Lake James State Park may have canoes and kayaks available to rent to access the boat-in campsites – call the park office before you arrive for availability.
Hiking and Biking
The park is a great place for a hike!
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. See Fees/FAQs/Rules 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.
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, 10am –6pm, every day. A fee is in effect when lifeguards are on duty. Swimming is free of charge when there are no lifeguards on duty.
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.
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.