For many years, I’ve been reading about the clear, cold water of Lake Jocassee located about one hour from Greenville, SC. I was intrigued by buzzword descriptions like “Lake Tahoe of the East” or “South Carolina’s Little Switzerland.” I love the clear water found in the glacial lakes out West and wanted to find a semblance of that in the Southeast.
This past week, my family finally found the time for a weekend camping trip and it did not disappoint. It’s the perfect place to spend a few days on the water either swimming, paddling, or just gazing at its beautiful emerald water. Here’s what you need to know about visiting Lake Jocassee.
Why You Should Visit
Lake Jocassee is a 7,565 acre man-made lake in the South Carolina mountains. Formed by the Whitewater, Thompson, and Toxaway Rivers, it is known for its mostly undeveloped shoreline, views of the Jocassee Gorges Wildlife Management Area and surrounding mountains, and waterfalls that cascade directly into the lake.
Mountain streams and several waterfalls feed into the lake making it a cool place to spend a hot summer afternoon. And to show how unusually clear the water is, it is also known for its excellent SCUBA diving and swimming.
Where To Stay
The only public access to the lake is by visiting Devil’s Fork State Park which resides on the southern end of Lake Jocassee. Fortunately, Devil’s Fork State Park is a wonderful place to visit and camp. Offering a boat-in campground, 25 lakeside walk-in tent sites, or 59 standard campsites for RV/tent camping, you’ll find plenty of quiet, shaded sites and access to the water. Remember to reserve in advance!
If you don’t want to camp, they also offer 20 lakeside villas with two and three bedroom units.
The Main Campground
The main lakeside campground at Devils Fork State Park features 59 paved sites with water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, tent pad, and fire ring. The sites are shaded and spacious but you will have no water view. You’ll find several trails throughout the campground that lead to the shoreline though.
The bath house is clean and offers flush toilets and two hot-water showers (a nice bonus!) And for convenience, you can purchase firewood, ice, and some basic provisions at the Visitor Center where you check-in upon arrival.
Walk-In Tent Camp Sites
We camped at walk-in campsite #10. The walk-in campsites are designated for tent camping only and are a short walk (albeit on a slight incline) from a central parking area. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring, but do not include electrical or water hook-ups. Water spigots and restrooms are located near the walk-in tent parking area (about a 3 minute walk.) It’s an ever further walk to dispose of your trash at the one trash area that serves the campground. They also recycle!
The waterfont tent sites offer amazing views of Lake Jocassee but the tradeoff is that the sites are located very close together. Perhaps too close. In addition, you have to cart all your gear to the site which unfortunately includes a few stairs so your handy camp wagon only works so well. It looked like you could launch your kayak directly from sites 12, 14, and 15. It’s a rocky shore though.
I found a helpful YouTube video by ClemsonCamper published in February 2019 that shows each walk-in site.
Boat-In Camp Sites
The park also provides boat-in backcountry campsites at their Double Springs campground located on the northern shore of Lake Jocassee at the base of Musterground Mountain. The area is accessible only by boat and the paddle across the lake takes between forty minutes to one hour, depending on your paddling speed and wind conditions. Combination fire rings/grill pits are provided but there’s no running water. The park has thoughtfully provided an outhouse for those brave enough to enter! See Musings of a Rover’s Blog Post Boat Camping at Lake Jocassee for tips and details.
Things To Do
Devil’s Fork State Park offers shoreside boat rentals that include canoe/kayak, pontoon and SUP provided by Eclectic Sun. They also offer a three hour Guided Pontoon Waterfall Tour of the lake (sing it with me: “a 3 hour tour!”)
A single kayak rental is $50 for 8 hours but you can rent for as few as 2 hours for $27.50. Tandem kayaks and paddleboards (starting $32.50 for 2 hours) and canoes (starting at $42 for 2 hours) are also available for rent. You’ll find plenty of sandy beaches to stop and picnic or swim.
Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine article Great Lake: Explore Lake Jocassee offers some good insight on paddling Lake Jocassee. Note that the lake tends to be windy which can make paddling long distances more difficult.
The waters of Lake Jocassee are some of the cleanest and clearest in the Southeast, providing excellent visibility. Standing atop Jump Rock, you can easily observe fish swimming through the shallow water. It’s so clear you can even go SCUBA diving at the park.
Jump Rock can be found at the end of a short trail along walk-in campsite 3. We saw several brave the 20+ feet jump, but we didn’t try it. It was, however, a great spot to swim with some shallow water near a sandy beach.
Hikes In Devil’s Fork State Park
You’ll find two hikes within Devil’s Fork State Park but only one, the Oconee Bell Nature Trail, is currently open. This 1.5 mile loop showcases a rare wildflower with gorgeous white blooms along the creek in the early spring. Starting in the parking lot near the rear of the Ranger Station, this trail is plainly marked with white blazes and winds through a predominantly hardwood forest.
The Bear Cove Trail, a 2 mile loop trail, is currently closed due to maintenance.
All in all, we had a great time camping at Devil’s Fork State Park and exploring Lake Jocassee. Lake Jocassee truly is a gem in the Southeast and we can’t wait to go back for a refreshing dip in its clear cool water.
With a family of four, it was admittedly difficult hauling all of our gear and accompanying “stuff” to the walk-in tent sites. For future visits, the way to go would be to rent several lakefront walk-in sites together with friends to make the close camping conditions more comfortable and thereby making the gear haul a bit more rewarding. If it’s just our family, I’ll likely reserve a standard car-camping site for our next visit unless I am lucky enough to reserve the elusive walk-in site #13!