Lake Glenville is a Hidden Gem in Western NC

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Lake Glenville in Jackson County, NC is truly a hidden gem, perfect for families especially who love the outdoors, and a peaceful retreat away from our busy lives.

Thanks Jackson County, North Carolina for inviting us to spend a weekend at Lake Glenville.

The Cashiers area of Western North Carolina has held a special place in my heart since my family moved to South Carolina more than eight years ago because it was the first place we took a family vacation. And it was just amazing – we hiked, ate at delicious restaurants, went swimming in waterfalls, tried out paddle boarding, and had that relaxing family trip I had envisioned. Now, even years later and after many day trips to the area, I’m still in love with this piece of heaven and was delighted to explore a part of Jackson County that I had yet to check out: Lake Glenville.

My two daughters, ages 11 and 8, packed as much as we possibly could into the weekend and left reluctantly because we had such a great time together. I already have a list of things I want to do that we didn’t get to. But, for now, let me tell you about why Lake Glenville should be on your family’s list of places to go, especially if you’re searching for that hidden gem of a spot to relax and enjoy each other. And one of the best parts: we did our entire weekend trip on just one tank of gas.

If you need more ideas of places to go and things to do in the Cashiers area, see our big guide!

Pines Rec Lake Glenville
Pines Recreation Area at Lake Glenville

About Lake Glenville

Lake Glenville was created in 1941 and served as a power source to make B17 bombers under President Franklin Roosevelt’s direction. Not only that but it also served as the power source for our nuclear operations under the Manhattan Project. It also brought electricity to the Cashiers/Highlands area for the first time. When the lake was created, it flooded the local town of Hamburg and many structures still remain under the water except for the gravesites, which were moved to a hill overlooking the lake.

The lake sits at 3,494 feet above sea level and is clean and cool. It has 26-miles of shoreline, a couple of public boat ramps, and a pretty sandy beach accessible at the Pines Recreation Area. It’s also part of the only temperate rainforest in this part of the country. If you’ve been to Lake Jocassee, that is also part of this same temperate rainforest. Why is this so cool? Because it provides exceptional microclimates for thousands of species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. It’s a desired place of research for botanists, ecologists, geologists, and many other sciences. 

Sunset on Lake Glenville

Also, because of the diversity of flora and fauna, the fall colors on Lake Glenville are spectacular because there are so many different kinds of trees that change color.

What to do at Lake Glenville

Lake Glenville sits almost in the middle of Jackson County, between Sylva and Cashiers, and less than two hours from Greenville, SC. All that to say that it is right in the heart of hiking and waterfall country. There are also lots of great places to eat and you can swim in the lake during the warmer months.

The Pines Recreation Area

You all know how much we love our sandy mountain beaches, right? Well, we found a new one to add to our list! No sharks, no rip tides, no sting rays or jellyfish, no saltwater in the eyes at Lake Glenville. The beautiful lake has a big rec area right on the water at the Pines Recreation Area.

There are toilets, picnic benches, plenty of shaded areas under the large pine trees, a sandy beach, a swimming area, and fishing pier. I had brought our paddleboards and planned to go out on the lake but we just ran out of time, which obviously means we are going back. You can rent kayaks, paddleboards, or boats from these places at the lake.

There are also life jacket loaners at the Pines Recreation Area, which is really nice for those of us parents who forget to bring them. And it’s all free! There’s free parking both on the Pines Rec lot and across the street where you can access the trail to High Falls, which I’ll mention in a few moments.

The Pine Creek Recreation Area is at 1965 Pine Creek Road, Cullowhee, NC.

Take a Boat Tour

The only boat tour available on Lake Glenville is with Captain Mark Wise at Lake Glenville Scenic Waterfall Cruises. We took the two-hour boat cruise around Lake Glenville and it was fantastic! The boat is really comfortable and Captain Mark is an excellent tour guide. We got a crash course on the history of the lake, the town that is underwater, the local ecosystems, and the resident bald eagles.

There are three waterfalls that you’ll get to see plus you’ll get to enjoy a relaxing time on the beautiful lake. And it’s for any age and ability. The boat is handicap accessible and the kids will love feeding the ducks and geese that show up next to the boat. Read our entire review of the Lake Glenville Scenic Boat Cruise.

Grab Lunch or Dinner at Happs Barn & Grill

Not only did we learn all about Lake Glenville from Captain Mark but he also tipped us off to Happs, a restaurant just five minutes from the marina. What’s so great about this place? It has corn hole and mini-golf for kids (or adults) so they can play while you relax and drink a craft beer or chill out and have adult conversations without the distraction of constant questions from kids. The place has both indoor and outdoor dining, live music, a huge fireplace, and giant televisions so you don’t need to miss your favorite team while you’re on vacation.

Happs in Lake Glenville mini golf

The menu has burgers, salads, and sandwiches plus daily specials. I got a Southwestern Salad, which was really good, and my kids both got the chicken tenders kids meal, which was pretty big. Neither could finish it actually. It’s a casual restaurant where you order from a window and a server brings out the food. Expect to pay around $10+/person.

The address is 5914 State Route 107, Glenville, NC .

Take A Hike

While there is limitless hiking in Jackson County, if you go to the Pines Recreation Area and park across the street (or even right at the beach area and walk across the street), you’ll be at the trailhead for the beautiful High Falls. There are several High Falls throughout North Carolina and this one is located at Lake Glenville and has two trailheads. This trailhead is the shorter, but steeper, route to the falls.

I’ve hiked both trails to the waterfall and prefer the one at Pines Recreation because it’s shorter. It is steep and rocky but as long as you have proper shoes and water and know that you will need to go slow, you should be okay. We tracked it at about 1.4 miles round trip. The trail is dog-friendly as long as they are on a leash. And be sure to stay off the rocks around the waterfall as they are slippery and practice Leave No Trace principles, packing up your trash and taking it out with you.

High Falls Lake Glenville

High Falls is more than 100 feet up and is two-tiered. Water flows from the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River. Here’s what is really cool about this waterfall: the dam above the falls is opened on select dates in the spring and summer, turning the waterfall from a pretty flow to a powerful waterfall. You do not want to be anywhere near the bottom of this waterfall or on the sides when the dam is released. Extreme kayakers will go over the waterfall during this time for reasons unbeknownst to me!

Go Shopping

We loved shopping at the Cashiers Farmers Market, a standalone market with everything from bacon to local honey to fruit and produce to pottery and seasonal items. They also have wine, chocolate, and you can order lunch and eat at the picnic tables next door.

Cashiers Farmers Market
Cashier’s Farmers Market

We also really loved the Cashiers Candy Shoppe, which has an eclectic array of clothing, home goods, and an entire room dedicated to candy and chocolate. It was amazing. But the best part for my kids was petting the two Golden Retrievers that greeted guests. They were adorable and one rolled over immediately for tummy pets when one of my daughters was giving her some love. So, so cute.

Where to Stay at Lake Glenville

Your best bet is an AirBnB or VRBO in Lake Glenville. I stayed at a fantastic two-bedroom, two-bathroom AirBnB overlooking Lake Glenville. It was just perfection. The back balcony overlooked the lake and we got to enjoy the most perfect sunsets there. It had a full kitchen, coffee maker, toaster, and practically everything you needed to cook at home if you wanted to. I often stay at AirBnBs when I travel and this was one of my favorites. It did not have direct lake access but was only eight minutes from the Pines Recreation Area.

View of Lake Glenville
View from the ‘Almost Heaven’ AirBnB at Lake Glenville

The other option is the nearby Hampton Inn & Suites directly across the street from the Sapphire Valley Resort in Cashiers, about 10 minutes from Lake Glenville. This hotel has an indoor pool, free breakfast, and is a great option for budget-conscious families.

Ready to visit Lake Glenville yet? We honestly cannot wait to go back. It was such a great weekend full of wonderful memories!

About the Author
Kristina Hernandez is a mom of two girls, freelance writer and photographer. Originally from New Jersey, she is in love with the Upstate and could not imagine raising her kids anywhere else. She enjoys hiking to waterfalls, kayaking, camping, cooking, and exploring all that Greenville has to offer. And she really loves baby goats. Follow her on Instagram at @scadventurer.

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