Kerr Lake Camping Trip: Serenity only an hour from Raleigh!

I’ve been surprised at how many Raleigh locals have not heard of Kerr Lake State Recreation Area in North Carolina.

How can an Aussie family regularly escape Raleigh for a Kerr Lake camping trip and most natives not even know about it?

woman in a blue floatie floating on the lake

We love introducing you to new and exciting things to do in North Carolina and the Raleigh area, and Kerr Lake NC is one of those hidden treasures.

So far, it’s our favorite lake in the surrounding Triangle area for camping, swimming and boating fun. It’s cleaner and typically less busier than Falls Lake and Jordan Lake!

A group of people in a boat

Now, don’t worry about it suddenly becoming overcrowded. Kerr Lake is the largest lake in North Carolina so you have boundless opportunities to find your own space of serenity.

Where Is Kerr Lake?

A body of water surrounded by trees

Kerr Lake State Recreation Area is located in the Henderson area of North Carolina (in Vance County and Warren Counties) and is just over an hours drive from Raleigh, 45-minutes from Durham, two hours from Richmond, and under 3 hours from Roanoke VA.

It includes 3,376 acres of woodlands along the shores of the 50,000-acre man-made Kerr Lake, and is so big it extends over the border into Virginia where it sometimes goes incognito with a name change to Buggs Island Lake, which is its original name.

In 1952, the John H. Kerr Reservoir was built primarily to provide flood control and hydro-power generation to surrounding communities. While the natural ebb and flow of the Roanoke River produced rich farmland in this area, but made it prone to periodic flooding.

a large body of water

Before the dam was built, this area was occupied by the Occoneechee Indians until they were dispersed by Nathanial Bacon in 1676. The Roanoke River was the main transportation and supply route for both Native Americans and early settlers.

At its maximum capacity, Kerr Lake, or Bugg Island Lake, is one of the largest reservoirs in the Southeastern United States.

This man-made reservoir lake has over 850 miles of shoreline and covers approximately 50,000 acres, and is 300 feet above sea level (max depth of 100ft).

In 1975, the Kerr Reservoir Area was then transformed into a North Carolina State Park, which means certain rules – like no alcohol – apply!

people sitting on a boat

Can you believe it? No alcohol while camping. That’s like having s’mores with no chocolate!

Just get creative. Coffee tumblers work well. You did not hear it from me! No, I’m not promoting going to the lake for a big party and getting drunk, especially not drinking out on the water, but c’mon, can’t we have a few quiet drinks around the campfire?

Be aware, if discovered, you could lose your alcohol or get kicked out WITH a fine. The rangers do regular spot checks!

We were introduced to Kerr Lake by friends from Durham way back in 2009 when Kalyra was just a two-year-old toddler.

“Of course we’ll join you on your pontoon boat and go tubing on the lake! We’ll throw the tent in the car and be there soon.”

That’s how easy it is to visit here, even just for the day if you wanted to cool off from the humid summer heat.

Watch our video of our Kerr Lake camping getaway:

Things to do at Kerr Lake

Enjoy the water of course, and your campsite and being in touch with nature! What else would you want to do on your Kerr Lake camping trip?

Paddle, kayak, float

people swimming in the lake

Pack all your water equipment: fishing gear, stand up paddle boards, kayaks, pink flamingo floats – or what about this party pontoon float?

Be careful of currents, and don’t forget life jackets for your kiddies, as our group of youngsters drifted away and could not swim themselves back so Craig and I had to swim out on our floats to rescue them and then push the giant float back to the pier!

Not quite the relaxing part to the trip you had in mind.

Swimming in Kerr Lake NC

A group of people swimming in a body of water

With nine separate recreation areas, the Kerr Lake State Recreation Area maintains many popular swimming locations along the lake shore.

For an Australian, swimming here is a dream. The water is still and calm, and lurking underneath the waters are ZERO monsters (no great white sharks or crocs or dangerous jelly fish!!)

To dive off the edge of the pontoon boat with 100 feet of water underneath you and not have to worry about getting your legs bitten off is so liberating!

Explore by boat, tube, knee boards

a raft being pulled along by a boat in the lake

If someone in your group has a boat, you have scored the ultimate Kerr Lake treat. Boaters find conditions here ideal, thanks to prevailing winds and expansive bodies of water. 

Head out on the boat for the day and explore the shoreline, blanketed in sweet smelling pine forests.

Jump out into the cooler depths of the lake whenever it gets to hot, and hopefully, you can have some fun tubing or knee boarding.

Our girls love doing this although the last time we went, Kalyra had a nasty fall from the tube which hurt her back and freaked her out a little. So be careful and take it slow!

tube being pulled along in the water by a boat

And knee boarding! Have you tried that before? It’s not as easy as many people make it look. In a word, I was useless and quickly retreated back to my coffee mug in the sun watching everyone else nail it.

Each recreation area on the reservoir has one or more concrete boat launching ramps – there are five Kerr Lake boat ramps located within Kerr Lake State Park that offer 24-hour access.

And boaters enjoy access to two private marinas that are open during park hours – Satterwhite Point Marina and Steele Creek Marina.

While there grab some ice cream treats for the kids.

Kerr Lake Fishing

people fishing in a lake

Kerr Lake is said to offer some of the best fishing in the eastern U.S., with largemouth bass, white perch, and catfish.

Kalyra and Savannah have enjoyed short stints of fishing without any luck but improving the art of patience.

Our friends often enjoy moonlight fishing for catfish from the beach and from the back of the boat in the beach shallows.

Buggs Island Lake is also one of Virginia’s best places to catch crappie.

Kerr Lake Trails

a pathway surrounded by trees

There are a few hiking trails to choose from at the park. The trails allow guests to explore the serene views of the lake shore, as well as wander through the hardwood forests of the park.

A few trails less than a mile long that come recommended are Big Poplar Trail at Satterwhite Point; Kerr Lake Track Trail, and Plantation Trail at Hibernia access area.

We hike so often when we are traveling, we like to just relax when we are camping at Kerr Lake.

Sunset and sunrise at Kerr Lake

a tube in the lake

Sunsets at Kerr Lake are magical – best enjoyed from a boat while tubing. But if you can’t do that enjoy it from the shoreline.

Get yourself up early and you’ll also have a sunrise treat!

Kerr Lake is our opportunity for slow morning starts under the shade of the campsite trees, with a lingering coffee and the sounds of the birds.

Kerr Lake, North Carolina

Then we potter about, mixing up the day with swimming, paddling and tubing before wrapping it up with sunset glory and campfire s’mores. It’s blissful.

These are the getaways from Raleigh that forces us to slow down, appreciate nature and refocus on what really matters. Simple moments spent swimming, laughing, and devouring campfire s’mores (and a glass of red wine) with those you love.

Kerr Lake Campgrounds

empty campsites
Nutbush campsite

Because of the vastness of this recreation area, Kerr Lake offers hundreds of wooded tent and trailer campsites, many of them on the water’s edge.

You can find a wide range of camping experiences from RV hookups to group camping. There’s space for RVs up to 123 feet in length.

Kerr Lake camping
Nutbush campsite

Both electric hookups and non-electrical sites are offered. Many of the electrical sites have hookups for water directly on the site, but some require up to 100 feet of hose to reach the water hookup.

The majority of the Kerr lake campsites have a picnic table, fire pit/ring or grill, and tent pad.

We have stayed at two of the eight campsites on Kerr Lake, Nutbush and J.C. Cooper campground at Satterwhite Point, both of which are open year round.

Four campgrounds are operated by the Corps of Engineers, seven by the North Carolina State Parks and two by the Virginia State Parks .

J. C. Cooper Campground, Satterwhite Point

Kerr Lake camping

Our favorite camping spot so far has been Satterwhite Point.

Satterwhite Point campground had campsites in wooded areas right on the lake that were really large and quite private. We only had neighbors on one side and they were a little behind us so it felt like we had the lake to ourselves.

Kerr Lake Camping Trip: Serenity only an hour from Raleigh!

Not only did we have the space for our friend’s RV but we had all the open area in front of us right down to our private beach where we could pitch our tent.

Site number 38 at Satterwhite point is where we had our tent set up right by the lake!

Kerr Lake camping

The only problem was that the amenities were a little further away.

I loved the serenity of the campsite and the wilderness feel while still providing us with camping luxuries like water and electricity.

Nutbush Campground

Kerr Lake camping, North Carolina

Nutbush was also a great campsite on the lake. We had wonderful views from our site on our last visit as the campground was empty.

There is a small pier here the kids enjoyed jumping off and swimming near. It was also good for fishing.

There are two separate campgrounds at Nutbush, on the lower end of the lake.

We were camped on the side of the bridge where boats can’t get through due to the low bridge.

You can bring your boat in via car to the Nutbush campsite and load into the lake from there. But, our friend’s boat was moored at Satterwhite Point Marina so couldn’t get through.

Reservations and Maps:

Essential Camping Equipment

Here’s what we take for our Kerr Lake camping trips:

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