Our introduction to Carters Lake started with a stop at its “scenic overlook” along the Georgia Mountain Parkway. We pulled alongside the road and, with cameras in hand, stood atop the gravelly stage above the lake.
“I only see trees,” said 7-year-old Noelle.
We drove on, moving closer to the alleged lake. From the third-story porch wrapping around our cabin, we still could not see Carters Lake. There are thousands of these $149 per night cabins in Gilmer County (think of hot tubs, space for three families, and man rooms, not outdoor plumbing), and from each of them the lake is just a rumor. Somewhere, just beyond the forest, is water, lots of it.
“The lake is smaller in size than Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier,” Carters Lake park manager Lu Ann Lackey says of North Georgia’s most frequented lakes, “but we have as much or more volume because of our depth.”
At a maximum depth of 450 feet with an average of 200 feet, Carters Lake is the deepest lake in the state and one of the deepest in the entire Southeast. It’s so deep that walleye thrive, making this the southernmost water where you can find that coldwater species.
Being half-buried in the foothills of the southern Blue Ridge Mountains makes the lake a challenging find during an informal pass. But, as we found out, getting to its face with a boat in tow is actually easy. The question then, for such a stress-free drive off I-75, is why aren’t there more people on the water?
Until 2005, the extra hour from Allatoona, Lanier and Lake Hartwell kept suburban boaters from trekking this far. Then three years of summer droughts forced restrictions and closed ramps on those lakes. Carters Lake, deep as it is, had no such problems.
“We started to see a little more action because of that, but it’s still quieter than the other lakes,” says Denise Kiely who, with her husband Dermott, operates Carters’ only marina and resort. Aside from the neighboring visitor center, the 180-slip marina is the only structure visible from the water because of a narrower setback. The 10 cabins for rent are also the only living quarters with views of the lake.
We cruised out of sight one afternoon, and then sat adrift in a calm cove, lunching. We were not alone. Maybe five boat lengths from us, a doe onshore sipped from the water, refreshing itself with cold, clear liquid.
First Impression: The jagged shoreline creates dozens of deep coves shaped like Italy and makes the concept of a main channel practically moot.
Something You've Got To Try: Apple doughnuts, apple bread, apple cider, fried apple pie or just an apple. This is the apple and mountain-bike capital of Georgia.
Local Flavor: Well, apples. Also, walleye. Carters is the only Corps of Engineers lake in the region without fish-eating restrictions because it’s so deep and clean.
Distance From Atlanta: 75 miles