The Beautiful North Carolina Lake Getaway You've Probably Never Heard Of

How to spend the perfect weekend at Lake Chatuge in North Carolina.

Lake Chatuge in North Carolina
Photo:

Catherine Campbell

When I yearn for a weekend of Southern hospitality and relaxation, I do what many people wouldn’t: I head home. From Asheville, I drive along Highway 64, crossing the mountain ridgeline and leaving Nantahala National Forest behind as I emerge into a long valley. Here, Lake Chatuge awaits. It’s a little-known getaway near my hometown of Hayesville, and I come to soak up some sun and enjoy the fresh air.    

Lake Chatuge, constructed by the TVA in 1942, is uniquely positioned in the middle of the Georgia-North Carolina state line, so you can technically swim in two states in one day. With 132 miles of shoreline, it’s a destination that doesn't require an expensive lodge, private beach rental, or long lines to park and enter. For me, it’s a place to gather with family, catch up with old friends, or — in this weekend’s case — relax on a solo trip.     

Aerial view of Lake Chatuge, North Carolina

Catherine Campbell

On my way to the lake, I stop to fill my cooler with provisions from Pick-a-Nick Basket Deli, which sells sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and even ice and firewood.

Since I don’t have my nieces or friends’ kids in tow this time, I avoid the bustling, family-friendly beach at Clay County Park Campground and drive to the “Circle,” a lesser-known, unmarked boat access point. To get there, head down Hinton Center Road off Highway 64, and look for two large yellow gates on the roadside. Follow them to the end. While there isn’t a sandy beach, there's plenty of soft, open grass. I claim a picnic table for my lunch and gear and enjoy a couple of hours of swimming.  

A dock during sunset at Lake Chatuge, North Carolina

Catherine Campbell

After a swim and lunch, I stroll along the top of Chatuge Dam and take in the beautiful views of the lake over the course of the three-mile paved path. Here, there are plenty of locals who give me a friendly wave: runners, kids on bikes, and retirees walking their dogs. I overhear a pair of women talking about going to the tiki bar that evening, which sounds like the perfect next stop.  

Sand Bar & Grille, which we lovingly call the “tiki bar” for its bright, tropical vibes, is located in Hiawassee, Georgia, on the other side of the lake. It’s a teal-splashed bar and sandy “beach” with lake views, oversized Adirondack chairs, fire pits, and cornhole. On this Saturday night, there’s live music and the cocktails are flowing. Tip: Be sure to order drinks quickly upon arrival when it’s busy. For dinner, I drive back to Hayesville’s charming town square, where I enjoy a four-course prix-fixe meal at The Copper Door. The menu, which features traditional French cuisine with Louisiana flavors by chef Dennis Barber, changes slightly every evening. Tonight, there’s grilled peaches and halloumi, a fresh fennel salad, lamb, and poached pears with maize gateau. For a nightcap, I cross the street to Nocturnal Brewing Company, then take a walk around the little square before settling down for the night. 

Peaches Halloumi from The Copper Door

Andria Alger/Courtesy of The Copper Door

When in Hayesville, I recommend camping along the shore at one of many public spots available (Jackrabbit and Gibson Cove campgrounds are the most popular). For a little more R&R, book a private cottage or cabin, or head to The Ridges Resort.

The next morning, I rent a stand-up paddleboard from Chatuge Paddle and head out on the calm waters to explore the islands. If you’re traveling with a larger group, head to Lake Chatuge Marine to rent a pontoon and anchor in one of several coves.

Lake Chatuge in North Carolina

Catherine Campbell

After a morning on the water, I make my way to Rib Country for lunch. It’s a family-owned joint with low and slow Lexington-style barbecue. I order a can't-go-wrong meal: a pulled pork sandwich and fries. The beautiful weather calls for an afternoon at Crane Creek Vineyards, which is approximately 20 minutes from the lake. Tucked away in Young Harris, Georgia, the winery offers rolling hill views of the vines and little cozy spaces around the property to uncork and unwind. Thanks to husband-and-wife winemakers Peter and Jess Seifarth, I sip the seyval blanc, a dry white that conveys the Appalachian terroir, followed by the Mountain Harvest red. As the afternoon stretches into evening, it’s time to pack up and drive back to Asheville. I feel restored. There really is no place like home. 

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