The Casual Kayaker   -    Location reports of my flatwater kayaking

Wolf Creek Lake, Jackson County,NC, July 1, 2011

Wolf Creek Lake, Jackson County, NC,
July 30, 2011

Attribute Rating - (view rating system scale)
Scenic Quality 4.5
Wildlife 2
Water Quality 5
Quietude 4.5
Boating Traffic 4.5

Boat ramp/ kayak put-in location: N 35.22353 W 082.99870
Wildlife Resources Comm./Duke Energy Boating Access, on NC 281, approx. 13 miles south of the intersection of NC 107 and NC 281.

Destination point: all of Wolf Creek Lake

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Wolf 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, but it doesn't face the road. If you drive across the dam, you missed it. (N 35.22353 W 082.99870 ) I don't know why it says #8 Wolf Creek Road, as there is no such road on the maps, and the entrance is directly on NC 281.

This is what the whole entrance area looks like, situated in the middle of the curve on NC 281 just before the dam, which is visible in the background. The parking space is limited. More than 4 or 5 vehicles with boat trailers would begin to get pretty cramped. To the far left of the photo is the restroom, which is basically a high-class composting pottie. There was plenty of toilet paper, and the spacious interior, large enough for handicapped access, was reasonably clean. There was no running water or sink, etc.

Wolf Creek Lake was an accidental third choice on our mountain lakes trip. It was suggested by a fisherman we met at Bear Creek Lake on our first night there, as we were out scouting the ramp locations before heading out the next morning for our first day of kayaking. We were very glad we took his advice and checked out Wolf Creek Lake. In some ways it was the best of our three excursions.

Wolf Creek Lake, at 3080 feet according to my GPS (give or take a few), is easily the smallest of the three lakes we paddled on this trip. We headed out from the boat ramp, paddling northward, and crossed over to the eastern shoreline to take advantage of the shade, as the sun was getting intense because of our later-than-planned start. The first thing we noticed was the quiet. Once we got away from the ramp and sound of cars along the adjacent roadway, the utter silence often became almost deafening. There was no breeze early on, and not even the sound of air stirring broke the complete silence. Only our paddles and the trickling of our bow wakes made any sound as we floated along slowly, trying not to disturb the complete quiet.

The mountains surrounding us seemed not as high and imposing as Bear Creek Lake, but the scenery was fabulous nonetheless. You could count on one hand the number of homes visible by the lake shore, with a couple more high on the ridges, but overall it was almost devoid of the distraction of buildings and docks.

There was very little wildlife to be seen here, just as the other lakes. I saw one Kingfisher at a distance, and heard one Pileated Woodpecker hammering near the ramp as we were unloading. Once in awhile we could hear small birds singing in the trees, but nothing of note. Near the far end of the lake we came across a drake Woodduck in summer eclipse plummage that hung around long enough for me to get a passable identification shot with only a 2x telephoto. Although I'd brought along a 70-200mm zoom with a 1.4x teleconverter, I never managed to get it out. I stuck with my 24-105mm zoom on the full-frame body so I could get the landscape photos, as there seemed very little opportunity for any birds or wildlife on these lakes. I suppose I'll have to start carrying two bodies along, one with a long telephoto and the other for wide angle shots just so I can be prepared for such instances as this Woodduck presented.

We paddled along the eastern shoreline until the wife heard the trickling of water and followed it to the western shore at coordinates N 35.23681 W 082.99042. There we found a tiny waterfall dribblling over rocks, well hidden behind foliage. I had to paddle right up to it to get a shot.

Yeah, I know, this is not a "waterfall", but it made a pleasing sound that attracted us to investigate. We couldn't help but hope to find more of the magical cascades like we discovered at Bear Creek Lake.

We paddled on northward along the east shoreline, passing two families camping. One had landed in a pontoon boat, while farther north another family had driven in. We could see two 4WD vehicles and the end of a dirt road a short distance above and behind the camp. The only other folks we came across were two couples fishing from their small fishing boats, and a lone kayaker who caught up to us and asked if I was the photographer with the trailer back at the ramp. He wanted to ask a question about some geese he'd seen earlier in the day. We talked awhile and eventually he went on his way. It wasn't long after that when we reached the narrow north end of the lake, where a rocky creek spilled into a shaded cove and marked the terminus of our paddling at coordinates N 35.24226 W 082.98429.

This rocky stream spilled in at the northern terminus of Wolf Creek Lake.

We thought this would be a cool spot to stop for lunch but we could not find a suitable spot by the creek, so we turned around and paddled south to explore the western shore and look for a place to haul out. Like Bear Creek Lake, finding anywhere to haul out was a considerable challenge. The lakeshore was for the most part very steep and either undercut or sheer rock. We finally found a very small and narrow sandy "beach" on the eastern shoreline where we could climb out in a shallow and sit with our backs to the bank to have our sandwiches and stretch our legs a bit. The sandstone here was completely infused with "fools gold", and the sand sparkled like gold dust. Our water shoes twinkled with golden glitter for the rest of the day.

It was no easy task to find a spot to haul out on Wolf Creek Lake.

Our views from the lake were certainly worthwhile.

After our lunch and a break we continued on south and west along the western shoreline. I was looking for a hooked cove on my satellite map I had with me, hoping we might find a waterfall of the caliber we had come across at Bear Creek Lake. Finally I found it, which also told me we were nearing our starting point. We paddled around the bend and up the narrow cove as what had once been a creek narrowed down. We could hear water trickling ahead, but had to negotiate a fallen tree to get closer.

We paddled right up to the end where another trickling fall spilled over a rock slab hidden behind foliage at coordinates N 35.23081 W 082.99790 . But alas, it was just as small as the first one we found on the lakeshore.

That was the last spot where we had any hope of finding a waterfall, so we paddled out again and continued on southward toward the boat ramp. Clouds had moved in, occasionally blocking the sun, which cooled the air. That in turn brought a light breeze that turned the water a bit choppy after having been mostly smooth as glass for much of the day.

All too soon the boat ramp was in sight, bringing an end to our day of paddling, and indeed, to our three days of exploring the waters of three high lakes in the Great Smoky Mountains. One thing these lakes all had in common was the near crystal clarity of the water, as evidenced by the photo below of the roots of an old stump.

One peculiar thing I noticed about Wolf Creek Lake that I did not see at the other two lakes was the presence of bubbles all about the lake, as if fish were disturbing the water's surface. I thought for much of the time it was fish, but eventually realized it was just clusters of bubbles coming from below. I am curious to find out what causes this.

I will leave you with one last parting shot of Wolf Creek Lake. Though we didn't find our magical waterfalls, Wolf Creek Lake ranks right up there with the best. In fact, I believe it received the highest overall rating of the places we've been so far, and that is no small feat.

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

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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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