15 Top Lakes Near Raleigh NC (for Adventure + Relaxation)

Ahh, lake life! We grew up on the beaches of Australia but have fallen in love with lake life here in North Carolina, and we’re grateful for the large number of beautiful lakes near Raleigh that offer us the chance to embrace the nature-based activities that we love.

Man paddling a paddle board on a lake surrounded by forest
Lake Johnson

As long as we are near water, we’re happy, and lakes just give off this sense of calmness, especially when surrounded by forest which is all too common here. We still love going to the beaches near Raleigh, but lakes offer a more peaceful energy than the ocean, and a somewhat safer experience for kids (no sharks, rip tides, big waves etc.)

No matter where you live in the Raleigh area there is a lake nearby where you can enjoy watersports such as stand-up paddle boarding in Raleigh, boating, fishing, camping, and nature trails.

Top Lakes near Raleigh NC

Lake Raleigh

Mom and two daughters walking on a jetty at a lake

If you’re looking for Raleigh lakes near downtown, then Lake Raleigh is your nearest lake to the city. But just because it’s close to the city doesn’t mean it’s loud and surrounded by high-rise buildings. The truth is it’s quite the opposite of that.

Just a 10-minute drive from downtown, Lake Raleigh is a hidden gem on NC State University’s Centennial Campus and is a nature lover’s paradise, surrounded by 96 acres of protected, lush green trees and vegetation – We love going stand up paddle boarding here!

Lady stand up paddle boarding on a lake with lily pads
One of our favorite paddling spots

The man-made lake was the former reservoir for the city used in the early 1900s but is now a recreation site where visitors can enjoy kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, non-motorized boating, and fishing from two jetty piers.

Interesting fact; all of the lakes in Raleigh are man-made lakes!

Around the lake, you’ll find a beautiful woodland trail, called the Walnut Creek Trail. This path takes you around half of the lake (about 1.5 miles) and it’s an easy, paved walkthrough that passes next to the lake.

Aerial view of a lake with a city skyline in the background
Located on NC State’s Centennial Campus

Note that dogs can walk around this lake but they must be kept on a six-foot lead. Swimming or wading is not allowed at Lake Raleigh but non-motorized water sports are allowed, you just need to bring your own equipment.

Lake Johnson

Two girls paddling on a paddle board on a lake

Lake Johnson is our favorite of the lakes in Raleigh because it offers so much to do, from walking trails to biking, to watersports and picnic spots. We love walking the loop trail and paddle boarding here!

Its serene natural beauty offers a quiet escape from the noises of downtown Raleigh, yet it’s only a 10-minute drive away. And what makes Lake Johnson the ideal outdoor adventure spot is that it’s great to visit all year round. 

While swimming is not permitted in the lake, there is a small sandy beach area to relax on, and there is a seasonal outdoor pool where you can cool off on a summer’s day. 

Aerial shot of a lake with a sandy beach and forest backdrop
The boatshed and beach

You can also still bring your own fishing gear, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, or non-motorized boats and pay a small launch fee. 

But, if you don’t have your own gear, you can rent a canoe, kayak, sunfish sailboat, SUP, paddle boat, or jon boats from the Waterfront Center or Thomas G. Crowder Woodland Center.

On a warm, sunny day, it offers ample shade from the scorching sun, and in the Fall the trees are awash with oranges and yellows. Its three-mile paved greenway loop means you can walk or bike around the lake in any season.

People walking across a bridge at a lake surrounded by forest
We love the 3-mile loop trail

Lake Johnson Park covers an area of 300 acres and has one of our favorite walking trails in Raleigh. You can walk or bike the East Loop (3 miles), a paved trail around the lake and across the boardwalk. As well as the West Loop (2 miles) which is unpaved and takes you through the woodlands.

  • Address: 4601 Avent Ferry Rd, Raleigh
  • Size: 150 acres
  • Opening Hours: 7.00 am – 8.00 pm daily
  • Parking: there are three parking lots; the Main Parking Lot is at 4601 Avent Ferry Rd, South Parking Lot is at 5041 Avent Ferry Rd, and Lake Dam Parking Lot is at 1320 Lake Dam Rd. Note that parking lot spaces are tight, so bear this in mind if you have a wider vehicle.

Shelley Lake

A person standing next to a body of water

Another one of our favorite small lakes in Raleigh NC is Shelley Lake, which is just a 15-minute drive north of downtown. Shelley Lake is one of the few lakes where watersports and boating are not allowed, but this does add to the peaceful ambiance!

There is a beautiful walk around the lake, which is roughly 2 miles long and is very easy. Since the path is mostly flat and paved, you can do this walk with strollers.

A person walking across a bridge
Nice boardwalk areas

Fishing is also permitted at Shelley Lake but only from designated fishing zones, and you need a permit.

a person walking on a board walk
So peaceful and serene!

There are also a couple of playgrounds and a paved basketball court for children to play on. You can also find the Sertoma Arts Center next to the lake, which offers painting, drawing, photography, and pottery classes, as well as studio space.

  • Address: 1400 W Millbrook Rd, Raleigh
  • Size: 53 acres
  • Opening Hours: Sunrise to sunset, daily
  • Parking: The main car park is just off W Millbrook Rd

Lake Wheeler

Kayaks sitting by the lakes edge
Image credit: Raleighnc.gov

Lake Wheeler is one of the larger Raleigh lakes at 650 acres and is surrounded by a further 150 acres of parkland. 

Located a 15-minute drive south of downtown, Lake Wheeler provides the perfect spot for watersports such as sailing or rowing where there is a little more space to explore. You can also bring motorized boats, as long as it’s not a jet ski and you stick to the 40mph speed limit.

You can also rent kayaks, canoes, and row boats, but due to how popular it is, you must travel in a counterclockwise rotation around the lake.

Fishing is also permitted but you need to have a Lake Wheeler fishing permit if you are fishing on foot, otherwise, you can fish from a boat without a permit.

One of the main draws to Lake Wheeler is the sand volleyball courts, which are open seasonally. The courts cost just $20 for 2 hours and operate on a first-come, first-serve basis so get there early if you want to ensure you get a court.

  • Address: 6404 Lake Wheeler Rd, Raleigh
  • Size: 650 acres
  • Opening Hours: 7.00 am – 6.00 pm from November and February, 7.00 am – 7.00 pm March and October. 7.00 am – 8.00 pm April and September, 6.00 am – 8.00 pm May-August. Closed Mondays
  • Parking: There is a parking lot above the waterfront center. There’s also parking near the Magnolia Shelter and a few spaces near the Fishing Dock and off the road leading to the boat ramps.

Lake Lynn


If you’re looking for somewhere to de-stress, then the scenic Lake Lynn Park is the perfect outdoor oasis. 

The park is around 75 acres and has a great 2.8-mile loop trail around the lake, which you can either walk or cycle. Lake Lynn is home to an abundance of wildlife, from Canadian geese, ducks, and even turtles who like to sun themselves near the wooden bridges! 

Great trail for kids

Lake Lynn is also a great spot for recreation since it also offers four tennis courts, two bocce courts, a baseball field, a batting cage, and a community center with an indoor gymnasium. 

Like most Raleigh lakes, swimming is not permitted, but you can bring a canoe or kayak if you have one. There are no boat rentals here, so you will have to bring your own from home. 

Lovely boardwalk section

While you technically can bring a non-motorized boat, there is also no boat launching site and you cannot drive on the grass, so if you bring a boat you have to carry it from the parking lot, which we wouldn’t recommend.

There are no toilet facilities on the trail, you will need to use the community center bathroom or the bathroom near the playground.

  • Address: Lynn Rd, Raleigh
  • Size: 55.7 acres 
  • Opening Hours: 7.00 am – 9.00pm Monday – Friday, 9.00 am – 3.00pm Saturday, 1.00 pm – 6.00pm on Sunday
  • Parking: The biggest car park is at the Lake Lynn Community Center entrance, and another is directly off Lynn Rd. 

Lake Crabtree

Lady walking a trail with lake views

Just outside the city center, you’ll find many great lakes near Raleigh NC and another of the popular ones a 20-minute drive from downtown, is Lake Crabtree.

Lake Crabtree is more than just a lake, it’s a huge nature park with more than 16-miles of trails you can walk and popular for biking.

It’s home to an abundance of wildlife, including several species of birds such as woodpeckers and kingfishers, as well as toads, skinks, and snakes. Walk along the Old Beech Nature Trail and see how many animals you can spot. It’s also one of the best spots to watch a sunset in Raleigh.

People sitting on a dock at a lake watching the sunset
Sunsets are pretty here!

Between May and September, the boat rental shop has canoes, kayaks, rowboats, pedal boats, and stand-up paddle boards for hire on a first-come, first-serve basis. We have taken our own paddle boards out here, it’s a bigger lake and can get windy though.

Mom and daughter on a stand up paddle board on a lake
Wide open lake for paddling

You can also rent fishing equipment from the boat rental shop, but you need to provide your own bait and have a valid fishing permit. There is a fishing pier you can use, or you can fish from a rowboat. I do not recommend swimming here!

  • Address: 1400 Aviation Pkwy, Morrisville
  • Size: 520 acres
  • Opening Hours: 8.00a.m – Sunset daily
  • Parking: There is a large parking lot near the aviation pkwy entrance in the north. Parking is free and there are lots of spaces, but it gets busy on the weekends. 

Bond Lake

Lady standing at edge of a lake taking photos of people on peddle boats

Another one of our favorite lakes close to Raleigh is Bond Lake, just a 25-minute drive away in the nearby town of Cary. The lake sits in the Fred G. Bond Metropolitan Park, the largest municipal park in Cary and one of the largest in Wake County.

The park has 4.2 miles of walking trails, as well as a small beach area where you can launch kayaks and canoes, and a 200-foot boardwalk offering lovely views of the lake.

There is also a boat house where you can rent canoes, kayaks, peddle boats, rowboats, and sailboats.

Lady standing at the edge of a lake
Never too busy here!

The Bond Lake trail is one of our favorite walks in Wake County, which is a beautiful and easy 2-mile walk through the woodlands around the lake and combines a mixture of paved and unpaved terrain. Because of the unpaved surface, only half the trail is good for strollers.

Lady walking a trail through the woods
Beautiful wooded trail

Bond Lake also has a community center where you’ll find an art gallery, as well as be able to rent Badminton, Basketball, Pickleball, and Volleyball courts. 

  • Address: 150 Metro Park Drive, Cary
  • Size: 42 acres
  • Opening Hours: 9.00 am – 9.00pm Monday to Friday, 9.00 am – 6.00pm Saturday, 1.00 pm – 6.00pm Sunday from November to March, closed on Sundays from April – October
  • Parking: There is a car park by the Boathouse

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

Sandy beach at a lake with people sitting under a sun shade
Ebenezer Beach at Jordan Lake

Located in Chatham County, just a 30-minute drive from Downtown is the massive and popular Jordan Lake State Recreation Area. At almost 14,000 acres, there is so much of this lake to see and explore, it would make for the perfect day trip from Raleigh.

There are seven access areas on the lake, each with a campsite and boat access point. You can also swim in Lake Jordan, and you’ll find plenty of small beaches where you can sunbathe between swims – we like Ebenezer Beach!

Stand up paddle board at the edge of a lake
Ebenezer Beach is a top spot for paddling!

If you want to go camping, there are more than 1,000 campsites around Jordan Lake, so you’ll never have trouble finding a spot to pitch a tent or set up an RV.

What’s special about this lake is that it’s also home to the bald eagle, which lives in the treetops around the lake in the summer. There is an observation platform that makes it easy to spot the U.S. National Bird in its nest.

As well as camping, swimming, and bird watching, you can also launch your own boat at the designated boat launch ramps or go fishing, as long as you have a NC fishing license, from either your own boat or from the fishing platforms.

  • Address: 280 State Park Rd, Apex
  • Size: 13,940 acres
  • Opening Hours: 8.00 am – 6.00pm
  • Parking: There is ample parking near many access points around the lake. The parking lot you choose will be determined by the direction you travel, but from Raleigh, the closest access point is Poplar Point or Parkers Creek. The other access points are New Hope Overlook, Seaforth, Vista Point, and White Oak. 

Falls Lake State Recreation Area

Boardwalk leading out to a lake
Image credit: Keenan Hairston/visitraleigh.com

Falls Lake State Recreation Area is home to another huge lake that’s popular for swimming, paddling, or boating. Located a 35-minute drive north of downtown Raleigh, in Durham and Wake counties, this huge man-made lake is the place to visit for a weekend camping trip. 

It has more than 300 campsites and 25 miles of hiking trails and a further 14 miles of biking trails, so you’ll never run out of places to explore here.

A small portion of the trails connects to the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail, one of the largest mountain bike trails in the Triangle area, which you will find near the Beaverdam access. And the Falls Lake loop trail is popular.

What’s special about Falls Lake is that it’s home to the migrating monarch butterfly, which appears here in the spring and fall seasons.

  • Address: 13300 Creedmoor Rd, Wake Forest
  • Size: 12,410 acres
  • Opening Hours: 8.00 am – 6.00pm daily
  • Parking: There is ample parking. The parking lot you choose will be determined by the direction you travel, but from Raleigh, the closest access point is on Creedmoor Road, off Highway 50. The other access points are Beaverdam, Rolling View, Sandling Beach, Shinleaf, B.W. Wells Campground, and Holly Point Campground. 

Apex Lake

Aerial photos of a lake surrounded by forest

Located less than a 20-minute drive from Raleigh is picturesque Apex Lake, which resides in a 160-acre park and just minutes from historic downtown Apex which you should explore.

The park features several recreation and athletic fields, from tennis, volleyball, and basketball courts, to hiking trails, and of course the lake!

One of our favorite things to do at Apex Lake is walk the 2-mile Lake Pine Loop, which is mostly flat and paved, so feel free to bring your bikes or strollers.

girl bike riding through a forest
So pretty during the Fall

Visitors are permitted to fish from the fishing dock, as long as you have a valid fishing permit. 

You can also launch canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, sailboats, rowing boats, and jon boats from the designated launch sites, but it’s not common to see people out on the water here. This is probably due to the fact there is no boat rental so you have to bring your own.

Boats are not allowed to be longer than 14 ft in length.

  • Address: 1808 Lake Pine Dr, Cary
  • Size: 50 acres
  • Opening Hours: 6.30 am – 10.00pm daily
  • Parking: There are two parking lots at both ends of the lake, but the parking lot near the main parking lot is off Lake Pine Drive (though the entrance is often quite busy). 

Lake Benson

Aerial view of a lake surrounded by forest
Image credit: visitraleigh.com

Lake Benson is a 20-minute drive south of Raleigh in Garner and offers the perfect spot to walk around the lake and enjoy being in nature.

Because no boats of any kind are allowed on the water (even kayaks and canoes), the lake remains quiet and peaceful all year round. Although boating is not allowed, fishing is, but you do need to have a fishing permit.

There is also a dog park, a good playground for kids, and 1.8 miles of walking trails. It’s one of those lakes you can visit for a quick afternoon stroll, so if you’re not looking to get out of the city for long, this is one of the lovely lakes near Raleigh to visit.

  • Address: 921 Buffaloe Rd, Garner
  • Size: 64 acres
  • Opening Hours: sunrise to sunset, daily
  • Parking: There is a gravel parking lot off Buffaloe Rd, and you can also park on the gravel road leading in and out of the park if the parking lot is full.

Bass Lake

A lake house by a lake with clouds and sunset colors
Image credit: www.hollyspringsnc.us

Located a 25-minute drive from Raleigh is the stunning and peaceful Bass Lake Park in Holly Springs. This is a great lake for fishing enthusiasts since the fishing bank is free to use (as long as you have a permit).

The lake is home to bass (hence the name), bream, crappie, and catfish, and you can borrow a pole from the Tackle Loaner Program.

You can also rent canoes, jon boats, and gheenoe boats with trolling motors seasonally from the boat house, which starts on Memorial Day on the 30th of May, until Labor Day on the 4th of September. You can also rent boats on weekends during Spring and Fall. Unfortunately, you cannot bring any personal watercraft to Bass Lake.

There’s also a wildlife observation platform where you can spot turtles and many species of birds. Learn more about the local wildlife from the Environmental Education Center, which has a nature library and educational programs for all ages.

  • Address: 900 Bass Lake Rd, Holly Springs
  • Size: 50 acres
  • Opening Hours: 8.00 am – sunset daily (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day)
  • Parking: There is a parking lot off Bass Lake Rd. It is sometimes difficult to find space, so you may need to wait for someone to leave.

Harris Lake

Two kayakers on a lake
Image credit: wake.gov

Harris Lake is a 30-minute drive southwest of Raleigh and is an ideal place to go fishing since it offers both a lake and a stocked fishing pond – though some might say that’s cheating!

There are five miles of hiking trails and a further 10 miles of mountain biking trails. And there’s also a disc golf course, volleyball court, bike skills area, picnic area, and playgrounds. 

If you want to explore the lake, you can launch a kayak, canoe, or SUP from one of the boat launch sites. If you are bringing your own boat, you must bring a car-top boat only, as you cannot launch a boat with trailers or motors from inside the park.

  • Address: 2112 County Park Dr, New Hill
  • Size: 4,151 acres (16.59 km²)
  • Opening Hours: 8.00 am – 6.30pm daily (Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day)
  • Parking: There is a nice shaded car park off 2112 County Park Drive.

Kerr Lake

A woman floating on a lake on a blow up swan

Kerr Lake is one of our favorite spots for a camping trip near Raleigh. The huge lake is located in the Vance and Warren counties, on the north-central border with Virginia. It takes about an hour to drive there from downtown Raleigh.

There are hundreds of campsites around the lake, making it easy to find a spot to pitch a tent. There are also seven access points with a boat ramp, so you can bring your own boat and whizz around on the largest lake in North Carolina. 

You can find two privately owned marinas at Satterwhite Point Marina and Steele Creek Marina, where you can fuel up or rent a boat if you don’t have your own. You can also rent kayaks and paddleboards here.

Two kids getting pulled on a tube behind a boat on a lake
We love tubing on Kerr Lake

It’s also a great spot for fishing and tubing, or if you want to stay dry on land, head out on one of the few trails, which are each less than a mile long so perfect for those traveling with kids. 

The Big Poplar Trail at Satterwhite Point; Kerr Lake Track Trail, and Plantation Trail at Hibernia access area are all great family-friendly trails.

A couple sitting in front of a tent in the woods
Hundreds of campsites here!

Fishing enthusiasts will love this lake, as it’s considered one of the best fishing lakes in the eastern U.S. and one of the best places to find crappie. You can fish from one of the beaches, or on a boat.

Read our full review of our Kerr Lake camping trip.

  • Address: 269 Glass House Rd, Henderson
  • Size: 50,000 acres
  • Opening Hours: 8.00 am – 6.00pm daily
  • Parking: There is a large parking lot near Satterwhite Point Access and the Visitor Center

Lake Gaston

Boats docked at a jetty on a lake
Popular boating spot

Saving the furthest away from Raleigh on this list for last, but worth the trek is Lake Gaston. This huge lake is a 1.5-hour drive from Raleigh and sits on the border between North Carolina and Virginia.

Like Kerr Lake, it makes for the ideal fishing trip away from Raleigh. It was originally built as a flood control lake and for hydroelectric power but is now used for recreation. 

Paddle board at the edge of a lake and people swimming
We enjoyed paddle boarding here

Visitors can enjoy fishing, boating, swimming and even waterskiing and wakeboarding. There is also a swimming area near the Day Use Area on 2369 Jack Brown Road.

Fishing enthusiasts will want to pack up their poles and tackle, as Lake Gaston has a huge largemouth bass population, which can be caught from the boat docks or out on a boat. 

Mom and daughter camping in the forest
Mostly RV sites here, but tent camping too!

You can also find striped bass, catfish, blue catfish, sunfish, bluegill, gamefish, rockfish, crappie, walleye, yellow perch, and chain pickerel. It is said the best time for fishing is in February and March when the lake has been “restocked” by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. 

There is also an RV Resort and tent sites here if you want to make a weekend or weeklong stay.

  • Address: 561 Fleming Dairy Rd, Littleton
  • Size: 20,000 acres
  • Opening Hours: day use areas are open from 11.00 am – 6.00 pm Wednesday to Sunday, and daily after Memorial Day on the 30th May 2023
  • Parking: There are some parking spaces near the Lake Gaston Day Use Area

Have you been to any of these lakes near Raleigh? Which one is your favorite? Or can you suggest other lakes we should check out next?

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