The Lake Jocassee Gorges have been featured as National Geographic’s “50 of the World’s Last Great Places – Destinations of a Lifetime” and it’s only an hour from Greenville, SC. Devil’s Fork State Park and its Lake Jocassee are an easy and beautiful spot to explore this local wonder.
For more destinations within a couple hours of Greenville, see our popular day trip page.
I love the outdoors and grew up hiking, biking, camping, and doing all kinds of great activities outside. Hoping to instill that same love in my young children and searching around for outdoorsy things to do, I’m continually amazed at the Upstate and all that it offers for not only outdoor enthusiasts, but for those same outdoor lovers who have kids.
Lake Jocassee has been on my South Carolina bucket list since I heard of it last year. I then saw that the Lake Jocassee Gorges were featured as one of National Geographic’s “50 of the World’s Last Great Places – Destinations of a Lifetime.” Um – I live really close to this destination of a lifetime. I needed to go, like now.
About Lake Jocassee
Lake Jocassee was created in 1973 through a partnership with the state and Duke Power. The dam at the Jocassee Gorges is 385 feet high and 1,750 feet long. The lake itself fills 9,000 acres with water that reaches depths of over 385 feet deep. There are even companies that take scuba divers out on the lake!
Lake Jocassee is known for its crystal clear waters that are fed with cool Appalachian waters that fall from dozens of gorgeous waterfalls that are only accessible by boat. Areas of the lake are also part of the only temperate rain forest east of the Rockies. The shoreline is undeveloped, which makes you feel like you are deep in the wild.
The lake is incredible, breath-taking, and stunning. I had seen photos but really, they just don’t do it justice. Being there, breathing that mountain air, swimming in the water, listening to the silence of nature, and just being awed by the entire environment is a wonderful feeling.
What to do at Lake Jocassee with Kids: Kayaking
There’s plenty to do with kids at Lake Jocassee but the first time I ventured out to the lake, I chose to rent a tandem kayak and take my two kids out on a little boating adventure. A tandem kayak – specifically a sit on-top one like the one we had – normally fits two adults, each of whom are paddling. In my instance, I sat in the back seat, my nearly-three-year-old in the middle, and my six-year-old in the front seat. I did all the paddling (of course).
We rented the tandem for four hours, which included life vests for each of us plus a waterproof case for my phone and keys, an emergency whistle, and a map of the lake.
I really wanted to see at least one magical waterfall so we started out on our adventure. I also brought along a bag of snacks, water, and sunscreen, plus we all wore hats. Being out of the water can be brutally sunny and the last thing I wanted was for anyone to get sunburned (spoiler: I got some sunburn because apparently I failed to reapply the sunscreen when I should have).
It was really easy paddling in the kayak. I’ve kayaked before – not tandem with kids along though – but it is easy to learn if you have never done it. The water was so clear and we could see little fish and rocks. My girls loved the new experience.
Since the water level was low enough, we stopped a bunch of times in different coves, secluded beaches, and sandbars to jump into the water, take photos, and have snacks. I’ve since gone back to the lake several times and now have my own kayak so I can drop it in further up the shoreline from the rental place, which cuts down on the time to get to the waterfalls. I made it last time but it’s pretty far, especially in a kayak.
There is also a little island near one of the waterfalls to dock the kayak and swim around. That place was really fun.
For an awesome kid kayaking clinic, check out our review of doing one with Jocassee Wild Child.
If you have your own kayak or SUP
I’ve since gotten my own tandem kayak, pretty much for the purposes of kayaking at Lake Jocassee, and the best way to see the waterfalls is to drop the boat in the furthest parking lots at Devils Fork State Park. A handy map of the waterfalls is here. It’s a FAR paddle, about an hour to Wright’s Creek Falls. It’s worth it but be prepared, especially for the intense storms that pop up on the lake.
When you get into the park (go early, it gets crowded), make a left and pass the first parking lot on your right. Drive past the campgrounds and to the unmanned gate where you pay your entrance fee. Keep going down the curvy road until you come to a fork where there are two signs: “non-motorized boats/motorized boats” and “non-motorized boats only.” Go left to the non-motorized/motorized boats drive.
You’ll come to a parking lot and boat ramp where you can drop the boat in. Then head directly across the lake. Here is a map of the waterfall locations.
Devils Fork opened a new boat ramp in 2020 that is right past the campgrounds on the right. If you choose to drop in here, the paddle to the waterfalls will be even further. But you can just paddle around the area and still have a blast if you don’t want to go that far.
The lake is also an awesome place to go stand up paddleboarding. You can use your own off any boat ramp or rent them.
What to do at Lake Jocassee: The Beach
Really, there’s a beach. It’s surrounded by rocks that you need to climb down but it truly is a beach, albeit a small one. I wasn’t prepared with chairs and an umbrella so we used towels and rocks and it worked fine. I saw later that could have rented chairs, umbrellas and tubes from Eclectic Sun though, since they are set up right next to the beach.
There are no lifeguards, just a yellow flotation line in the water, which is probably more for the boats than swimmers. The water felt great and we ended up having our lunch there on the beach.
There is also a small playground near the back of the parking lot near the Pavilion, plus picnic benches and grills.
Be sure to note that the lake is inside of Devil’s State Park, which means you have to pay the entrance fee, which is $8/adults, $4/ages 6-15, free for kids six and under. It is also free entry every Tuesday all year round. During the busy summer months and holiday weekends, you need to get to the park early in order to park. Capacity is always reached during summer weekends early in the day.
If the lot fills up, you’ll have to wait to get in. Check the website and SC State Parks Facebook page or Devils Fork on Twitter since they will update it when the parking lot is full. You could choose to reserve a parking spot ($50, which includes admission for two guests and a paved parking spot).
What else to do at Lake Jocassee with Kids
Jocassee Wild Child
Take your kids on an awesome nature expedition around the lake with Jocassee Wild Child. The tour is around four hours and includes waterfalls, nature exploration, and really cool history lessons. Read our review here.
Since many of the waterfalls are only accessible by boat, enterprising companies offer boating tours. Jocassee Lake Tours was the one that I was leaning towards for this excursion. They have tours where they take you to the waterfalls and let you jump in the water and swim around before going to the next waterfall.
I don’t know anything about fishing. I do know that we saw some fish in the lake and that, according to Google, there are tons of great fish in the lake just asking to be hooked. We saw some people in canoes fishing so if you want to teach your kid the right way to do things, this could be the lake to do it in.
There are also fishing tours available to choose from.
Jocassee Outdoor Center features several different rental properties on their website for guests to browse through if they are looking for the right place to take their family for a vacation.
You can also look through the SC State Park website to find cabins and villas.
Camping at Lake Jocassee is awesome. Tent sites line the lake and there is a short path to a private beach behind tent site #1. There is a bath house on site and bathrooms. You need to reserve sites far enough in advance though, especially the ones that are right next to the lake.
You can also camp at an island at the lake that is accessible by boat only. I totally want to do this!
There are two campgrounds at Lake Jocassee and the rates per night start at $21 for the tent-only sites. They are run by South Carolina State Park and more info can be found here on camping at Devils Fork State Park.
You can hike an easy one-mile loop at Lake Jocassee named after the rare wildflower that blooms there in the spring: Oconee Bells Nature Trail. More info here on the trails at Devils Fork State Park.
But don’t forget…
- More sunscreen
- Bug spray
- Water shoes or shoes that you don’t mind getting soaked
- Food/lunch/snacks – the food options at the park are very limited. If you can bring your own, do it.
- Any personal tube or water toy you would want to relax with in the lake by the beach
- Beach chair and umbrella
- Change of clothes and extra diapers
Places to rent boats, kayaks, canoes
*Make sure to call ahead and reserve your boat. Some days, especially the weekends and holidays, are crowded.
Eclectic Sun LLC
This outfitter is located at the Pavilion right when you enter Devil’s Fork State Park. They will drop your kayak/canoe/paddleboard right in the water for you. They also have a small concession stand. This is what they have available to rent:
Stand up paddleboards
238 Buckeye Drive, Salem, SC
Jocassee Outdoor Center
They aren’t directly on the lake but only a few minutes away and will drop your rental at various points in the lake. This is what they have available:
Pontoon boat rentals
Four-hour Waterfall Tours by boat (call for pricing)
Tandem 3-person kayak
Stand Up Paddleboard
Jocassee Keowee Rentals
Stephanie, the owner, is consider the Jocassee Lake Lady. She knows her stuff and is a wealth of useful information. She rents out canoes and pontoon boats.
Jocassee Lake Tours
This company offers boat tours, kayak tours, full moon rising tours, senior tours, and adventure tours. They also have a kids kayak camp and rent kayaks by the day.
Jocassee Dive Shop
When the kids are big enough to SCUBA dive, this company will help make it happen. They offer charters to the lake and have lots of rentals available like masks, fins, snorkels, wetsuits, etc.
710 Dive Buddy Lane, Salem
These people are ones the go to for an awesome fishing experience at Lake Jocassee.
421 Jocassee Lake Rd, Salem
Has your family ever visited Lake Jocassee?
Where do you recommend staying when visiting there? We have 4 children.
They have a few cabins at the lake but almost the entire place is undeveloped. See the SC State Park website for Devils Fork State Park for cabins. You can also camp there at the park. Otherwise, perhaps find a close Airbnb or VRBO rental nearby.