The Casual Kayaker   -    Location reports of my flatwater kayaking

Bear Creek Lake, Jackson County, NC, June 29, 2011

Bear Creek Lake, Jackson County, NC,
June 29, 2011

Attribute Rating - (view rating system scale)
Scenic Quality 5
Wildlife 1
Water Quality 5
Quietude 4
Boating Traffic 4

Boat ramp/ kayak put-in location: N 35.243767 W 083.064111
Wildlife Resources Comm./Duke Energy Boating Access, Bear Lake Road (State Road 1137) off NC 281, 4.2 miles south of the intersection of NC 107 and NC 281.

Destination point: most or all of Bear Creek Lake

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Bear Creek Lake is in Jackson County, NC. To reach it from Lake Toxaway, go north on NC 281. From Sylva/Dillsboro/Cullowhee take NC 107 south and turn left onto NC 281.

This is the sign at the entrance off NC 281. ( 35°14'45.51"N 83° 4'17.71"W )

This is what the whole entrance area looks like.

Once you turn in, take a left toward the yellow "No Outlet" sign. This is actually Bear Lake Road (SR 1137) that goes for 6/10 mile to the parking and ramp.

Bear Creek Lake is just about as good as it gets, I think. My only complaint is that there was more motorized boat traffic than I would have liked, though it was by no means a deal-breaker. It certainly was not the problem it was on Lake Glenville, which we paddled the day after Bear Creek Lake. The scenery was everything I had hoped for, with three small but pleasant waterfalls, one of which was especially captivating.

The boat ramp parking was spacious and well graveled, but there were no restroom or bathhouse facilities (which I had not expected to find anyway).

The first view of Bear Creek Lake as you paddle away from the boat ramp.

We started from the north end (the only boat ramp access) and paddled southeast, following the northeastern shoreline. I regret now that we did not explore the northeast finger or the southwest coves immediately from the ramp, but we'll do that on another trip. We struck out for the center of the lake, exploring the northeast shore and coves, and quickly discovered our first waterfall at N 35.241750 W 083.053761. It was not large by any means, but the shaded cove was refreshing, and the sound of the water trickling was beckoning. There was a profusion of Rhododendron growing out over the shoreline all along the lake (as we discovered was also the case with the other mountain lakes we visited). It made for a pleasant and shaded atmosphere where we could paddle under and through any time we wanted a cool break.

The first waterfall, nearly hidden behind the Rhododendron.

Continuing southeast along the northwestern shoreline we explored cove after cove. The scenery fully met my expectations, if not exceeding them, with a steep shoreline that went almost straight up all along the lake. There was precious little place to haul out for a break anywhere.

Eventually we came to the lone island on Bear Creek Lake and paddled once around it to check it out. There were no signs posted anywhere to be seen, but there also seemed to be no way to get onto the island itself. The bank was eroded all around it from boat wakes, and even the huge boulder on one side of the island didn't connect to the land in any fashion that you could get from one to the other.

The view of the island approaching from the west. You can see the floating dock and a boat tied up there.

The view of the island approaching from the north.

There was, however, a floating dock anchored to the island on the west side, so we decided to try the tricky maneuver of climbing out of a kayak onto the dock. Thankfully there was a ladder which made the task possible. We hauled the kayaks onto the dock and pondered the problem of getting onto the island itself to have a meager picnic lunch. We soon figured out it was possible to step onto a post on the dock just under a tree trunk which leaned out over the dock. With that little boost it was possible to climb onto the base of the trunk and from there scramble up onto the island. This option may or may not be possible at other times, depending on the water level. Higher water would certainly make it easier.

This is where we were able to climb onto the island while our kayaks cooled in the shade.

Once onto the island, we found a large clearing and campfire rings where many others had obviously preceeded us.

We ate our sandwiches and took in the view from the island while we stretched our legs and enjoyed the shade. I suppose it would even be possible to camp here, though I do not know what regulations might apply to this. There was no indication anyone owned the island, and absolutely no signs were present. It proved to be a good spot to take photos from all directions. Below are a few photos of the views from the island.

The view looking south-southwest.

The view to the southeast.

The view to the north-northeast.

The view looking west-northwest.

As we were packing to leave the island, another couple pulled up in a small fishing boat to take a break on the island, and told us to watch for a waterfall off to the north-northeast. When we were loaded and ready to paddle again we headed that way. Soon enough we came upon our second waterfall.

We could see the top of the second waterfall in the distance, but this cascade was back in the trees and the water flowed downhill for some way before it reached the lake level where a smaller waterfall greeted us at coordinates: N 35.23512 W 083.03762.

The second waterfall was in a cool shaded cove at coordinates N 35.23512 W 083.03762. There were a few limbs and a small log blocking our way to get close. I managed to poke and prod the floating limbs enough for them to become untangled and float out of our way. We were then able to paddle right up to it.

After allowing ourselves to be mesmerized for awhile by this pleasant diversion, we finally pulled ourselves away and paddled southeast for about a quarter mile along the narrowing end of the lake. However, a prudent check of the time made it clear that we should head back for the day, since we still wanted to explore the opposite shore of the lake as we made our return trip. We rounded the bend and paddled back toward the island, then on past it to explore a deep cove to the south-southwest of the island. Here we found a third waterfall at coordinates N 35.22384 W 083.04444, which was certainly the most magical of the three.

This waterfall was also accessible so that we could paddle right up to it, although there were some fallen trees farther out the cove that precluded anything larger than a canoe or kayak from reaching the fall. The atmosphere here was so peaceful, cool and . . . well, magical, for lack of a better word at the moment, we wanted to just float here the rest of the day.

All the rocks here were smothered in rich green moss. I half expected fairies or pixies to come darting out at any moment. We wanted to find a spot to climb out and explore on foot, but there wasn't anywhere we deemed safe enough to try it here. It appeared we could have made our way around the cascade and back up into the woods to see more of this, if we could only have found a good place to "park". We had to settle for just floating and enjoying this wonderfully calming scene for as long as we could, but finally we had to paddle off and leave the sound of rushing water behind us.

We paddled out of the cove and turned northwest, exploring the southwest shoreline and we headed back toward the boat access. The vistas along the lake were enough to take our minds off the disappointment of having to leave the waterfall behind as we paddled on.

I suppose before I close out this location report I should mention a few other details. One small disappointment on this otherwise wonderful trip, as I mentioned at the very beginning, was the amount of motorized boat traffic. While it was hardly anywhere near the problem we experienced on Lake Glenville, what there was did detract somewhat from a truly spectacular location. This trip was on a Wednesday of the week before the 4th of July holiday weekend. I suppose we were lucky there was not more traffic than there was, but it only takes one dipwad towing a tube in circles with an aluminum johnboat to detract from the otherwise peaceful solitude and outstanding scenery of Bear Creek Lake. Despite that, this trip was a truly rewarding experience, not to mention the magic of the waterfalls we found. We would both do this again without hesitation. I might consider coming here in late September or early October, after the summer yahoos give up as the water cools down. The other small disappointment was the utter lack of wildlife. I spotted one Kingfisher at a distance, and no mammals of any kind except humans. I was pleasantly surprised though, that we were not bothered by mosquitoes or other buzzing distractions, although there were, of course, dragonflies and butterflies and fish. I really thought there might be more bird life in particular, but that was not the case.

We still have parts of this scenic lake yet to explore, and I'm sure we will return.

"If you're not paddling, you're not getting anywhere."

Next article ›››    Lake Glenville, Jackson County, NC, June 30, 2011

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When I first began kayaking I found a most helpful blog by Tom Haynie that aided me greatly in finding and choosing new flatwater locations. His blog was infinitely more detailed and useful than anything I found on kayaking forums. I quickly resolved to share my own impressions of locations I've visited, including details I believe to be important and helpful, in hopes of providing practical information to others. I sincerely hope you find something useful and helpful here. (For more location reports visit Tom's blog at

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