Lake Jocassee: South Carolina's Hidden Treasure

Tucked away in the Cherokee Foothills of South Carolina's northwest "Golden Corner," Lake Jocassee sits just beneath the Blue Ridge Escarpment, providing a pristine view of mountains carpeted by the Sumter National Forest. Even better, the shoreline is undisturbed by development, making the lake a great spot to see Fall color without the crowds and traffic that plague the mountains of north Georgia and western North Carolina each October. If you see slightly more than a few boats on the water, it is a crowded day on Lake Jocassee.

Finding a secluded cove isn't difficult, some of them accentuated by splashing waterfalls where you can drop anchor in range of the mist. At the northeastern end of the lake, near the North Carolina line, you'll find the spectacular 80-foot cascading Laurel Fork Falls. Pull the boat into the lower section of the falls and scramble up to see the middle and upper sections, complete with a swimming hole. You'll probably have the swimming hole to yourself because it's out of sight from the lake and no trail leads to the middle section -- you must scramble straight up the waterfall to get there.

If such scrambling isn't for you, tie the boat off at the trail head at the mouth of the cove and take the Foothills Trail about a mile to the Upper Falls overlook. Keep exploring and you'll find other coves with falls big and small, some cascading, and some classic plunge waterfalls. Don't forget your fishing gear, as some of the best trout-fishing in South Carolina can be had on this lake.

The only public boat launch is at Devils Fork State Park at the south end of the lake. They limit the number of boats per day to keep the water from getting too crowded. Jocassee is so deep and the water so clear that it's a popular spot with SCUBA divers, who come to explore the underwater playground and obstacle course, as well as the ruins of a small town at the bottom of the man-made reservoir.

The state park has two campgrounds that can accommodate tent campers and RVs, and fully-furnished villas with full kitchens, bathrooms and heat/AC. Villas require a two-night minimum stay. Rent boats and personal watercraft from Jocassee-Keowee Rentals, Jocassee Outdoor Center or Ultimate Action Sports, all located nearby.

While the rest of the leaf hounds are stuck in traffic jams on winding two lane mountain roads in Georgia and North Carolina, consider heading to this lesser-known gem of a lake in Oconee County, South Carolina, and take in the blazing colors of autumn from a boat on Jocassee.

Photos by Blake Guthrie