An Enchanted Gem
Envision a mountain lake with islands and coves surrounded by national forests and wilderness, and you can imagine some of the charm of Lake James, located just east of Marion. The lake, fed by the Catawba River as it meanders to eastern McDowell County, is the centerpiece of Lake James State Park.
The 6,500-acre lake and dams were created between 1916 and 1923 by Duke Power Company (now Duke Energy) to supply electricity to homes and businesses. The lake is named for one of the company’s founders, James B. Duke. About 150 miles of forested shoreline frame the lake, in McDowell and Burke counties, and visitors can catch enchanting views of Linville Gorge to the north.
Lake James State Park, developed in the 1980s on nearly 600 acres, is open year-round. The park offers camping, nature programs, beach areas, skiing, boating, canoe rentals and other amenities. Among the lake’s jewels are the fish it provides for anglers: largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, catfish and record-setting muskellunge. Enjoy the lake’s trails beside azaleas, rhododendrons and dogwoods, and you may spy some creatures who call the lake home—mink, flying squirrels, red and gray foxes and muskrats.
In addition to the state park, Lake James contains a residential community of year-round and vacation homes and vacation rentals. Bear Creek Marina on the McDowell side has a restaurant and bar open seasonally and live music on weekends. Nearby, the South Creek Vineyards & Winery has tastings and tours.
Also nearby is a portion of the National Park Service’s Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, which commemorates Revolutionary War history.
In addition to residents and park visitors, Lake James has lured filmmakers. Parts of “The Hunt for Red October” and “The Last of the Mohicans” were filmed at the lake.