Encompassing over 3,000 acres in Chatsworth and Ellijay GA, with 62 miles of shoreline, Carters Lake is a popular destination for boating, camping, fishing, hiking, and myriad other forms of outdoor recreation.
There are no private docks allowed along its shore, and all residential homes near the lake must follow strict guidelines in order to maintain the area’s natural beauty and tranquility.
As a result, Carters Lake typically ranks among the best lakes in the North Georgia Mountains. The shoreline is mostly steep and undeveloped, so the lake offers lots of quiet, serene area to explore.
The lake was formed by the creation of the Carters Dam on the Coosawattee River, which was completed in 1977 and is one of the largest dams east of the Mississippi River.
Reaching depths of up to 450 feet, Carters Lake is the deepest reservoir in the state of Georgia. It’s accessible from US highways 411 and 76, and Georgia highways 136, 282, and 382.
The weather at Carters Lake is typically moderate, with the highest average temperature being 90 degrees in July. But the wind chill over the water keeps the area cool throughout the rest of the year.
Read on for our in-depth guide to things to do at Carters Lake, including an overview of all the best Carters Lake campgrounds, cabins, marinas with boat rentals, and more.
Carters Lake Camping
Established Carters Lake campgrounds are available at Woodring Branch, Doll Mountain, and Harris Branch. The season starts between April 15 and May 23, depending on the campground, and closes between September 5 and October 23.
All campsites are limited to no more than 8 people and 3 vehicles, including trailers and boats. Carters Lake camping reservations can be made via recreation.gov for $18-$28 a night, up to 6 months in advance.
The Harris Branch Beach & Campground is located on the Southern side of the lake. The online reservation website is currently unavailable, but the site offers 10 primitive group camping tent pads on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Woodring Branch Campground also has a separate area for primitive camping. The primitive sites are flat and well-maintained, but some require a short, steep set of stairs to get to the tent pads and picnic tables.
Walk-in or boat-in camping is available all year-round off of the Amadahy Trail, which is close to the Woodring Branch Campground. The Woodring Branch Day Use Area is also the closest boat ramp for boat-in campers to use.
The boat-in campground has sites with tent pads, lantern poles, fire rings, and picnic tables. The privy bathrooms were surrounded by litter when we visited, but still preferable to being spotted by fisherman boating past the peninsula.
Despite these Carters Lake campgrounds being close to the water, trees surrounding them discouraged cold winds blowing in from the lake. Temperatures drop at night, but stay warm enough in summer to leave heavy sleeping gear at home.
Some reviews of the campgrounds mention break-ins and unlawful activities, but my recent visit was uneventful. The parks were mostly clean and well maintained, and the lake felt far enough away from main roads to discourage anything illegal.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Campgrounds in North Georgia
Carters Lake Cabins
Luxury cabins, lakeside cabins, and lakeview cabins are all available. The luxury cabins are newer lakeside cabins, but the older lakeview log cabins are perfect for families.
Each of these rental cabins comes with a fully equipped kitchen, charcoal grill, fresh linens, and a free uncovered boat slip at the marina.
There are also package prices available if you want both a cabin stay and a boat rental. Though not available on holidays, these package deals include unlimited day use of a 20-ft pontoon boat.
According to the marina’s website, these package deals are limited and must be mentioned when booking a reservation.
Because private homes in the area are limited, many of the more affordable cabins are located farther away from the lake.
Brown’s Cabin (sleeps 8, family & pet-friendly), Eagle Creek Hideaway (sleeps 8, creekside, family & pet-friendly, with access to pool), and Carter’s Lookout Lodge (sleeps 8, luxury, hot tub, dog-friendly), are all good VRBO options nearby.
Carters Lake Boat Rentals
Boat rentals are also available at the Carter’s Lake Marina & Resort, which is conveniently located off Georgia Hwy 136.
Visitors can rent fishing boats, pontoon boats of varying sizes, and tritoons, with prices starting at $385. Most Carters Lake boat rentals are for a full day, but half-day rentals are sometimes available (except on holidays).
They provide lifejackets and other required equipment, but not gas, which can be purchased at the marina for around $10-$25 per day.
Towing is not allowed on rental boats, and anchoring to land, boats, or other docks is prohibited by the marina.
Carters Lake boat rentals are also available from nearby companies, including Young Harris Watersports. Their price (which includes delivery) is a bit higher, but they also offer jet skis, ski and wake boats, and options for adding tubing to your day.
Licensed drivers only need to watch a 10-minute safety video and sign a vessel safety checklist to rent a boat in Georgia. A 6-hour safety course and test are required for any boaters driving a personal vehicle, such as a jet ski.
There are no Carters Lake kayak or canoe rentals available, but there are many ramps available if you want to launch your own canoe or kayak. Read on to learn more about the boat ramps and day use areas on Carters Lake.
Carters Lake Fishing
Carters Lake is one of the most popular destinations for fishing in North Georgia.
The lake is regularly stocked with walleye, striped bass, and hybrid bass by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Crappie, bream, and catfish can also be found in the lake.
Because fishing from the shore is limited due to the inaccessible shoreline, most anglers choose to cast from their boats.
Carters Lake boat ramps are located at the Damsite, Doll Mountain Day Use Area, Doll Mountain Campground, Woodring Branch Day Use Area, Woodring Branch Campground, Ridgeway, and the Re-regulation Pool.
The Carter’s Lake Fish Attractor Program maintains man-made habitats that attract sport fish to specific areas of the lake. The Corps of Engineers offers maps of the fish attractors online, but they can also be found with handheld GPS devices.
There are many different Carters Lake fishing charter companies, which is a great option for those who are new to fishing or don’t have their own gear.
Most provide bait and tackle on 4- to 6-hour trips, with prices ranging from $75 to $150 per person, depending on group size. All fisherman are required to purchase a fishing license, regardless of whether they are fishing alone or with a charter.
The shorelines at the Woodring Branch, Northbank, and Doll Mountain Day Use Areas are also great options if you’re fishing for fun, rather than sport. Parking is $5 per day, and each area has picnic tables, restrooms, and beautiful lake views.
The Woodring Branch boat ramp at Carter’s Lake is also a great place for a family picnic. The boat ramp has many picnic tables extending out on a small peninsula, with covered tables, fire rings, and BBQ grills.
Two of the picnic tables at the boat ramp are accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. One is located right next to the bathrooms and handicapped parking, while the other is right next to the parking lot, with a paved path leading to the picnic table. –by Amy Lewis; lead photo of Sunset on Carters Lake by Amy Lewis