Waterfall tracking is one of my favorite pastimes so, in the heat of summer, my family and I head off to Lake Jocassee waterfalls.
Located in the middle of the Jocassee Gorges, the cool, clear waters of the lake attract bolder-hoppers and water sport enthusiasts from miles around.
National Geographic named this one of “50 of the World’s Last Great Places” in 2012 for good reason.
The gorgeous lake is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains which is why so many waterfalls tumble, cascade, and tinkle down the Rocky Gorges leading into the lake.
Come with me on a journey to one of the world’s last great places and let’s explore what all the Lake Jocassee waterfalls have to offer.
Lake Jocassee – One of the World’s Last Great Places
Lake Jocassee, a reservoir lake covers an area of 7,565 acres. It gathers water from four rivers that spring from the Appalachians. The result is cool and clear throughout the year.
The lake has 75 miles of shoreline, all of it wild, forested, and protected. Altogether 43,000 acres of undeveloped forest land surround the lake and contain a huge diversity of plants and wildlife. This area boasts the only temperate rain forests to the east of the Rockies.
The rivers that feed into Lake Jocassee also have their charm, offering hikers and kayakers more exciting territory to explore beyond the lake. The rivers include:
- The Whitewater River
- The Thompson River
- The Horsepasture River
- The Toxaway River
The lake is surprisingly deep, reaching depths of 350 feet. The steep Rocky Gorges leading into the lake help to carry the cool, clear water from the upper levels of the mountains into the lake.
The steep valleys and cliffs make for rugged terrain so you’ll need a boat to get to most of the Lake Jocassee Waterfalls. Your adventure starts and ends at the Devil’s Fork State Park since this is the only access point to the lake.
Recommended Read – More Fun Things To Do In South Carolina
Lake Jocassee History
In the early 1700s, Cherokee lower towns filled the Jocassee Valley. The names of many of the rivers and reserves around Jocassee Lake reflect this history.
Europeans and the Cherokees traded for years until they fell out and trading ceased. There was a war in 1759 and the land was annexed by US decree in 1785.
Over time, the Jocassee Valley became a favored family holiday destination and was settled by colonial farmers. In the 1960s the Duke Energy Company started buying the land and demolished the buildings.
They built the dam in partnership with the State of South Carolina and flooded the valley in 1973.
The remains of what used to be the Atakapa Lodge bear testimony to the people who once lived in the valley. The lodge was left there after the area was dammed and stands still intact beneath 300 feet of icy water.
Divers sometimes visit it and the Mount Carmel Baptist Church cemetery which is located on the south end of the lake beneath around 130 feet of water. This cemetery was made famous in the movie, Deliverance which was produced before the dam construction.
The Legend of Jocassee
A Cherokee legend lies behind the name of the valley and later the lake. Legend has it that the Jocassee valley was once home to rival tribes. Nagoochee, a young warrior would sometimes hunt in the land occupied by the enemy tribe.
One day he broke his leg. The beautiful Jocassee came across him and nursed him back to health, during which time they fell in love.
During a battle between the tribes, Jocassee’s brother killed Nagoochee, bringing his head back on his belt. When Jocassee saw this, it is said that though she tried to drown herself in the river, she floated upon the water to meet with the soul of Nagoochee. Jocassee means “Place of the Lost One”.
Recommended Read – Nearby Activities
Lake Jocassee Waterfalls
The beauty of Lake Jocassee Waterfalls ensures that there are almost always several boats and kayaks on the lake. Expect company in the vicinity of the falls since it’s unlikely that you’ll spend much alone time with the waterfalls. Though parking restrictions limit visitor numbers.
Make sure to look up all the Lake Jocassee waterfalls locations before you go or you’ll see a lot more of the lake than you’d planned to. Lake Jocassee has loads of nooks and crannies and unless you know where to look for the falls, it’s unlikely that you’ll find them all.
Hikers take to parts of the seventy-six-mile Foothills Trail to enjoy the waterfalls from a different vantage point. The trail traverses’ steep gorges via suspension bridges and then meanders along the shores of the Jocassee Lake.
If you’re at the lake from mid-March to April lookout for the rare and beautiful Oconee Bell. The lake forests host 90% of the world’s Oconee Bells.
Though unnamed waterfalls exist around the lake, the bigger falls have been named.
Laurel Fork Falls
View this post on Instagram
Laurel Fork Falls is acknowledged as the crown jewel of Lake Jocassee. You’ll need a boat to get to the falls to the north of the lake. The water from the falls tumbles down 80 feet of rock and has three distinct sections.
Climb to the top for the great views. The round trip is about a mile. If you decide to hike to the falls (no boat trip) be prepared for a hike of 9.6 miles from Laurel Fork Road. This is not an easy hike as you will climb 1,112 feet over the distance.
If you’re a seasoned rower, you might attempt the trip by kayak. It is a long pull and unless you’re fit you might not make it across the lake. Laurel Fork Falls is on the northern shores of the lake.
Many visitors make use of the kayak shuttle service. The shuttle service will transfer you and your kayak via boat to the area, and return later to fetch you.
Swimmers enjoy the cool water in the mid-section of the fall, taking advantage of the hole at the base. Though it’s quite a climb to get there.
It is the bottom of Laurel Fork Falls that is the most spectacular since this is where the water tumbles into the lake. When there is enough water in the lake you can get to the falls by boat. You can even get your boat in behind the rock tower that hides the base of the falls.
When the water recedes, you’ll have to park your boat and take a walk.
The air temperature drops by up to 10 degrees in the vicinity of the waterfall, so take a jacket.
Recommended Read – Nearby Activities
Wright Creek Falls
Wright Creek Falls lies to the west of the lake. When the water is high, you can get to the waterfall by boat. Though it will take you a couple of hours to get there.
When the lake water is low, you may have to take a little walk to the falls. It’s a lovely fall, so it’s well worth the effort. The water tumbles down around 30-feet of slightly terraced rock.
It’s a two-tier waterfall surrounded by lush vegetation. When the water Is low the softy sandy beach is a great place to share a picnic. You can also walk behind the falls when the water level drops.
There is a large crevice behind the falls So, if you’re in a canoe or kayak take a view of the lake from behind the falls, a cool and unusual experience.
White Water Falls
You’ll find the White Water Falls where the White River flows into the northwest corner of the lake. The highest falls east of the Mississippi, it is impossible to see the full length of the falls from your boat.
Upper White-Water Falls starts in North Carolina on top of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Lower White-Water Falls finish the journey in South Carolina. If you’d like to get a good look at these impressive falls you will have to take a drive and then a hike to one of two lookouts.
One of them is just off the Foothills Trail. The hike to the Lower White Waterfalls is a relatively easy 2-mile walk. The trail starts at Duke Energy’s Hydroelectric station.
The Lower White Water Falls cascade down a 400-foot drop, quite a spectacular sight so it is well worth the walk.
Devil’s Hole Creek Falls
One of the smaller Lake Jocassee waterfalls located on the east side of the lake, Devil’s Hole Creek Falls is best seen after a fair amount of rain. If you don’t know where it is you may miss it. In the drier months, it dwindles to a slow trickle.
Mills Creek Falls
Mills Creek Falls come off a steep rock wall so you won’t get your boat to the fall, but if you’re a good swimmer you can park your boat and swim into the sparkling water as it tumbles into Lake Jocassee.
Kayak or Jocassee Waterfall Tours?
Since you’ll need a boat to get to most of the waterfalls on the lake, you have choices to make. Do you bring your own kayak or take a guided tour?
You can also rent a kayak or a SUP and get to the Jocassee waterfalls on your own steam. You’ll find everything you need for hire at the Jocassee Outdoor Center. The center is close to the entrance to the Devil’s Fork State Park.
A guided tour will take you to all the best waterfalls, so you won’t miss out. The expert tour guide will offer you interesting insights into the history of the area. They will also point out items of interest like the wildlife and some of the extraordinary plant life in the beautiful park.
Book day, sunset, and night tours of the lake. Private and public tours are both on offer. You’ll pay $55 per adult and $50 for children between the ages of 4 and 15. A Sunday afternoon trip is $45.
Tours leave at 10 am Tuesday to Sunday and return at 2 pm or you can take the Sunday afternoon option between 2.30 to 5.30 pm.
Enjoy the Tranquility of Jocassee Lake
Fishing tours of the lake are also popular. The lake and surrounding rivers have an abundance of fish, holding state records for brown and white trout and spotted bass, smallmouth bass, and redeye bass.
The lake and the unspoiled surroundings ensure that there is always a wide variety of birds for avid bird watchers to enjoy. Pack a picnic lunch, there are picnic spots throughout the park
Devil’s Fork State Park
Everyone enjoying Lake Jocassee facilities must enter through the Devil’s Fork State Park. The state park is open from 7 am to 9 pm daily from late spring to mid-fall. It closes earlier at 6 pm during the rest of the year.
You’ll have to pay an admission fee of $8 for adults and $4 for children from 6 to 15. Children under 5 enter for free. Senior citizens of 65 or more pay $5.
Parking is limited so arrive early to avoid disappointment.
The Devil’s Fork State Park has campsites for tents and RVs so you can book in and make a weekend of your trip.
If you prefer the comfort of a warm bed, two and three-bedroom fully furnished cabins easily accommodate families. The cabins boast shoreline views and screened porches. Some of the cabins are also pet-friendly.
You’ll have to take along provisions as there is no restaurant or take-out in the area. You can access wi-fi in the camping area.
Take Time Out at Lake Jocassee
Paddle through the tranquil Jocassee Gorges to the cry of bald eagles nesting on the shore and find those jaw-dropping Lake Jocassee waterfalls, you’ve come here to see.
Here emerald green forests touch azure skies. Here the cool, clear water of the mountain creeks and rivers come crashing or tinkling down rocky slopes. There aren’t many places as unspoiled as the park around the beautiful Jocassee Lake.
You may have traveled to this fairly remote lake to enjoy the falls, but you’ll leave knowing that the area is special. Here, you will have enjoyed nature at its very best.
Lake Jocassee waterfalls offer so much for you to see and do. I hope you enjoyed reading all there is to know about this beautiful part of the world.
If you are looking for amazing travel destinations be sure to check more of our articles right here on Travel Croc.