Each Georgia Lake has a personality all its own. Ellijay’s Carters Lake, in the North Georgia mountains, is like a fine cotton t-shirt – comfortable, casual, with an understated elegance that never goes out of style.
Why Such Pristine Shoreline?
Carters Lake has 62 miles of shoreline and no private docks or development along the edge. There is no pretentiousness here, the star is the breathtaking environment, left pretty much the way it was intended.
To understand why that is, you need to know a bit about the history of the lake. Carters is a man-made lake designed to mitigate annual flooding in the area. It was created when the Coosawattee River was dammed in 1977.
The dam transformed what was considered by some to be the best whitewater east of the Mississippi, into a gorgeous meandering lake that at over 450 feet, is the deepest of Georgia reservoir lakes.
Today Carters Lake is a little more than 3,200 acres. It is named for Farrish Carter, a wealthy landowner who lived in the area in the mid-1800s.
Fun Ways to Explore Carters Lake
There are plenty of ways to take in its unspoiled landscape, both from the water and from the shore. Here are a few of our favorite recreational opportunities.
Get Out on the Water
Head to the Beach. The best place to swim in the lake from shore is at Harris Branch Beach. This family-friendly sandy beach is open from May through Labor Day. There is also a small, lesser-known beach at the Woodring Branch Campground.
Take a Slow Boat. Carter’s Lake is a perfect place to paddle, whether in a canoe, kayak or via paddleboard. Bring your own craft to explore the peaceful lake with its many hidden coves.
Insider Tip: Put it at the Boat Ramp at Ridgeway Recreation Area and paddle North to Tumbling Waters. This is an easy paddle and good for kids too. At the end you’ll be rewarded with a stunning waterfall.
Wear water shoes so you can go ashore, climb the falls and get some really spectacular photos.
Rent a Pontoon Boat. Carter’s Lake is the deepest lake in Georgia, making it easy boating for experienced and novice captains. Carter’s Lake Marina & Resort is the place to go to rent a pontoon boat for a day on the lake. If you plan to stay overnight, ask about their pontoon/cabin packages.
Access the Lake. Boaters who bring their own craft can access the lake via boat ramps located in the Damsite, Doll Mountain, Ridgeway and Woodring Recreation Areas.
Did you Know? Carters Dam is the tallest earthen dam east of the Mississippi.
Grab Lunch on the Lake. Carters Lake Marina & Resort has a restaurant that is open in the summer. You can call in the order and they will bring it to the dock for you, or you can come to eat and hang at the marina and take in the views. They have burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, and beer and wine.
Catch the Big One. Carter’s Lake has 3,200 surface acres of deep clear water and rocky shoreline that create diverse opportunities in fishing locations and fish species.
Fish on Carters Lake. Fish species found in Carters Lake include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, striped bass, spotted bass, crappie, walleye, bream, and catfish.
More Fishing Opportunities. In addition to Carters Lake, anglers can fish the re-regulation pool or Coosawattee River. The re-regulation pool can be accessed from a boat ramp near the Carters Lake Powerhouse, while swift water fishing in the Coosawattee River can be found below the re-regulation dam.
Insider Tip: The re-regulation lake is great for kayak fishing too.
REMEMBER – ALWAYS wear lifejackets and be safe.
Campgrounds In Ellijay, Ga To Set Up Your Rustic Retreat
One of the best ways to commune with nature is to visit the many campgrounds in Ellijay, Ga. Here are a few popular options.
Harris Branch Beach & Camp Ground. The Corp of Engineers manages this campground. There are 10 primitive camping sites available on a first-come, first served basis. This is also the site of the public swimming beach, and hiking and biking trails.
Doll Mountain Campground. This is one of the most popular camping sites. There are 68 heavily wooded sites in all, 41 with electrical and water, 4 also have sewer. There are flush toilets, drinking water, showers and laundry facilities on site, as well as all the lake amenities.
Woodring Branch Campground. This lakeside campground has 43 sites in all, 31 with electrical and water, plus 11 tent-only sites and one group campsite. There are flush toilets, showers, as well as laundry facilities. You’ll also find a marina, boat launch, and swimming area.
Insider Tip: Pick Campsite #26 to take in beautiful sunsets over the dam.
Boat In Hike In Campground. The Woodring Branch Campground also has 12 primitive campsites along Carter’s Lake, as well as 12 boat-in access only sites. How cool is that! I found this article that gives a great overview of what to expect.
Glamp at Elatse Yi. You don’t have to rough it. Not to far from the lake is the very unique Elatse Yi where you can stay in a geodesic dome or a vintage Airstream trailer. Owners Fabrizio and Jeffrey are impeccable hosts and can even arrange for a kayak excursion while you are there.
Fun off the Water at Carters Lake
Track the Wildlife. Near Carter’s Lake, you’ll find the Coosawattee Wildlife Management Area. The property is 5,626-acres and offers several different types of hunting in season. When it’s not hunting season, this is a great area to view wildlife.
Take a Hike. Whatever type of hiker you are, there are plenty of choices in Ellijay. Around Carter’s Lake, there are several great family-friendly hiking trails, several are mentioned in this article “Favorite Family Hiking Trails the Locals Love.”
Here are our favorite hikes around the lake:
- Amadahy Trail. At 4 miles, this is the longest of the Carter’s Lake trails and the best lake views. You can pick it up at the Woodring Branch Recreation Area. In addition to hiking, this is a great bike trail.
- Big Acorn Trail. This is the shortest and easiest. Meander up from a lake cove to a picturesque overlook.
- Talking Rock Nature Trail. For those who want something beyond nature to see along the way. This two-mile trail includes 20 sites of interest, including interpretive signs. It begins near Northbank Park.
- Oak Ridge Nature Trail. This is another moderate option and runs a little over 1.5 miles. There are places to swim here too.
- Tumbling Waters Nature Trail. Another easy trail, there is a towering bridge and interesting forestry. Keen hikers can spot the remains of a sawmill with the unusual undershot wheel, but the big draw is the cascading waters of Tails Creek, one of the few remaining waterfalls in the area
- Hidden Pond Songbird Trail. An exceptionally peaceful and easy one-mile trail with opportunities to see great wildlife. It begins at the Carters Lake South Reregulation Park.
Take a Natural Roller Coaster Ride via Mountain Bike. Ellijay is known as Georgia’s mountain biking capital, and one of the best routes is a lung-busting 5.6-mile roller coaster ride around Carter’s Lake.
Looking for something a little less intimidating? Cartecay Bicycle Shop has the low down on the best trails from beginner to advanced.
Here are two of our favorites (commentary via Cartecay Bicycle Shop).
- Amadahy Trail / Woodring Trail. Amadahy/Woodring is a 3.7 easy to moderate mile loop that is fun in both directions.
- Ridgeway Mountain Bike Trails. Whether you are a beginner or looking for black diamond trails, you’ll find them at the Ridgeway Recreation Area of Carters Lake. For beginners, this is a perfect location to develop your trail descending skills and become a “Smooth Operator.” If you’ve been riding for a while, you’ll appreciate the black and double black diamond trails.
Spread Your Blanket for a Picnic. There are more than 100 picnic sites around Carters Lake and any of the recreation areas are a perfect place to spread your blanket. If you have a group, book one of the six group picnic shelters operated by the Army Corp of Engineers.
Insider Tip. NorthBank Recreation area is one of our favorite places to picnic, play and take the perfect Instagram shot.
The Recreation area is a drive across the dam, but you are rewarded with panoramic views of Carters Lake along with ample picnic sites, restrooms, a playground, volleyball court, basketball court, and horseshoe pits.
Bring a Group to Carters Lake. The park rangers at Carters Lake love to help groups plan a memorable outing on the water. They can arrange guided hikes focusing on the environment of the lake, as well as educate on water safety, lake history, and how the dam works.
Other Must Do Activities near Carters Lake
Plan to stick around Ellijay for a few extra days to take in all this fabulous North Georgia town has to offer. Here are a few must-do activities near Carters Lake