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Lake James


Lake James

Town(s): Morganton NC, Nebo NC, Marion NC

Size: 6510 acres
Average Depth: 35 feet
Maximum Depth: 120 feet

Boating Allowed: Kayaks, Canoes, Sail Boats, Electric Motor Boats, Power Boats, Jet-skis, State & Local Rules & Regulations Apply
Swimming: Swimming Allowed, No Restrictions

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Lake James is a large reservoir in the mountains of Western North Carolina which straddles the border between Burke and McDowell Counties. It is named for tobacco tycoon and benefactor of Duke University, James Buchanan Duke. The lake, with surface elevation of 1200 ft, lies behind a series of 4 earthen dams. It was created by Duke Power between 1916-1923 as a hydro-electric project. It still generates power today and is the uppermost lake on the Catawba River system. 

Lake James contains 10.2 square miles of surface area and more than 150 miles of shoreline. Housing development on the lake has been considerable since the 1980s, and is concentrated on its southern and eastern shores. Most of the non-developed area around Lake James is owned by Crescent Resources, LLC. 

Lake James State Park is located on the lake's southern shore. Crescent Resources worked with the State of North Carolina and Foothills Conservancy of NC in 2004 to expand the state park, adding 3,000 acres to the park's original 605 acres. This now represents North Carolina's largest waterfront State Park. It's relatively new, opening in 2010, and features a bathhouse with nice changing rooms, concessions and protected swim area. Lake James is about 45 miles east of Asheville (between Marion and Morganton) and has two sections. The beach is located in the Paddy's Creek Area section.


Experience the rustic elegance of upscale lakefront communities in Western North Carolina. Ideally located at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, between Asheville and Charlotte, Lakes James offers a peaceful retreat with endless opportunities to enjoy nature. Nearby quaint small towns offer a variety of places to eat and shop, and with Asheville, NC just a short drive away, you have access to one of the premier cultural centers of the southeast with great food, arts, and entertainment.

Lake James is not just the deepest on the Catawba, it is the clearest and cleanest. Being at the top of the Catawba River Basin, lake levels remain relatively constant year round so the water can be enjoyed without interruption.

Water Quality: No Known Issues, Town/State Monitoring
Vegetation Growth: Minimal
Non-native Species: Unknown

Fishing Comments: Popular fish include large-mouth and small-mouth bass, walleye and crappie. Anyone age 16 and older must have a valid fishing license to fish at Lake James, but entry to the park, fishing and boat launching are free. Anywhere people can access the water, we allow them to fish - they can fish the entire shoreline except at the swim area and boat ramps.
Fish Species: Crappie, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Yellow Perch, Bluegill, Walleye

Boat Access: Access for Power and Non-power Boats
Ramp Comments: The state park is the only public access on the lake. They have many family friendly amenities including fishing piers, boat ramps, a picnic area, campground and swim area
Parking Spaces: 21-40

Directions: From I-40, take the Dysartsville/Lake James Exit 94 and go north for a half-mile to a stop sign. Turn left onto US Highway 70 for 1.5 miles
Shoreline Development: 25-50%