The Casual Kayaker   -    Location reports of my flatwater kayaking

Paddling in the Great Smoky Mountains, Jackson County, NC

I had not considered kayaking in the high lakes of the Smoky Mountains until the wife suggested it as a trip we could take as an anniversary vacation. We hadn't spent much time in the mountains for many years, and had only been into kayaking for a little over a month, but my thoughts of the kind of scenery we might encounter were intriguing to say the least. After researching the options on the internet for this first foray to mountain lakes, we soon narrowed our selections to Bear Creek Lake as a first choice, and Lake Glenville as a second. We made no plans for any of the other lakes, thinking paddling two of them would be all we could handle. However, a recommendation from someone we met on the first day at Bear Creek Lake led me to consider Wolf Creek Lake as a possibility in the event we had time to paddle a third lake on the trip. Indeed, we later found we had time to try out Wolf Creek Lake as well.

With our itinerary set, we headed off on the first day for the long drive to Dillsboro where we checked into our room. With a good four hours of daylight still left, we ate supper at the Jarrett House in Dillsboro (highly recommended), then went scouting the way to the boat access ramps at Bear Creek Lake and Lake Glenville. By doing so, I hoped to avoid any confusion and delays the next day in finding the boat ramps at either lake. It was a wise decision, as I found I had misread the map on how to get to the Glenville ramp and we ended up far out of our way in Cashiers. I backtracked and headed for Bear Creek Lake, which I found much more easily. After talking to a local fisherman at the Bear Creek Lake ramp I realized my error, and subsequently had no trouble finding the Glenville ramp later on.

The next morning we left for Bear Creek Lake to begin our adventures. A display panel at the boat access ramp gave information about some of the other lakes (see photos below), and I found out where to look for the boat ramp at Wolf Creek Lake. The following day we drove to Lake Glenville to paddle. The third day we checked out of the motel and braved the long winding drive to Wolf Creek Lake on 281. In all honesty it was not as long a drive as I had feared, but I was dead on as far as how wickedly twisted the road was. I've been on some of these back mountain roads in years past, and this one was right up there with the most twisted. I don't mean to complain, but it's the sort of road that's fun in my Firebird, but not so much fun in a full size crew cab pickup with a boat trailer tied to the back. Getting there was only half the "fun", because at the end of the day, we continued on down the rest of the full length of 281 to reach Lake Toxaway and US 64 on our way home. I can honestly say I got my full dose of winding mountain driving on that one road in one day.

This map from the display panels found at the boat access ramps gives good information about the area. Click the image to view a very large and easy to read version.

This shows a closer view of Bear Creek Lake and Wolf Creek Lake from the first map image above. Click it for a larger easy to read version.

This photo from the same display panels gives some background about the lakes. Again, click the image for a much larger and very easy to read version.

There are just two last thoughts I'd like to add. We stayed in Dillsboro on this trip, as it was the closest practical spot to the lakes we chose to paddle. We had also been to Dillsboro some years ago to take a ride on the "Great Smoky Mountains Railroad". Now that was a trip I won't forget, and won't ever waste my time or money to do again. The GSMR actually stands for the Great Smoky Mountain Ripoff. I must admit I am not a train officionado, though I do enjoy a nice train ride, especially with a REAL steam locomotive. However, the GSMR was a dismal disappointment. I was NOT impressed with the engine, the train poked along at MAYBE five miles per hour at best, and the scenery was as much junk yards and trailer parks as anything else. I've been on little kiddie train rides at city parks that were infinitely more fun and exciting than this so-called GSMR. So, if you want a fun and pleasurable ride with a real steam locomotive train, go to Tweetsie Railroad, don't waste your time and money on the Great Smoky Mountain Ripoff.

To end on a more pleasurable note, my second final thought is on the Jarrett House, right on the corner of Main St. and US 441 in Dillsboro. While we haven't stayed in their rooms, we did eat there after that dismal train ride trip those years ago, so we already knew where we were going to eat on this trip. In fact, it was the high point and saving grace from that disappointing trip. The food at the Jarrett House is as good as it gets. I know everybody has their own tastes when it comes to food, but for a NC country boy like me I found their food to be the REAL THING. This is good home cooking (not "home style" cooking, which means its some foo-foo chef's idea of what home cooking is supposed to be). I mean this is real southern home cooking, NOT the greasy, tasteless Yankee version of what they THINK southern food is supposed to be, like you find at Cracker Barrell (and I can say that and get by with it because my dad was a Connecticutt yankee, and my mom was NC farm born and raised, so I can straddle the fence and say anything I want about Yankees and Rednecks). But to get back to my real point, the Jarret House food is simple, excellent home cooking. It's served "home style" in the fact that your plates are already on the table when you sit down. You order the meal you want from a short list of choices, say fried chicken, or roast beef, or trout or catfish, or whatever, and whatever "sides" come with it is what comes with it. Everything is brought out in serving bowls, and you pass them around and help your plates just as you would at home. If you want more, just ask. I found the servers very pleasant, courteous and helpful, just like real folks. I guess it's the southern courtesy bred into us that comes out here, and you feel it. So, if you like that kind of food and home atmosphere, I have to honestly recommend the Jarrett House (and believe me, folks, it's a very RARE occasion when I make any sort of glowing recommendation like this).

Please go on to read my full location reports of Bear Creek Lake, Lake Glenville, and Wolf Creek Lake.

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

Next article ›››    Bear Creek Lake, Jackson County, NC, June 29, 2011

   Article Listing

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

Kayaking Links - More Locations - Launch Sites Map

   Download Google Earth (free)

My Other Web Sites-