Carters Lake near Ellijay, Georgia features 3,200 acres of snaking channels and 62 miles of pristine shoreline nestled in rugged north Georgia mountain terrain.
The watershed was formed from the bed of the Coosawattee River by an immense dam that was completed in 1977 and built by US Army Corps of Engineers to control annual flooding in the Etowah Valley. The work transformed a sloped section of the Coosawattee River, once acclaimed as best whitewater run east of the Mississippi, into a massive meandering lake with depths of more than 450 feet.
Carters Lake is the deepest lake in Georgia, surrounded by a pristine nature preserve with hiking trails of varying difficulty; day-parks; primitive camping; a rustic cabin resort and marina, and updated public boat ramps. Dramatic shifts in Appalachian terrain and varied ecosystems offer an equally fascinating and plentiful variance in wildlife.
Hikers along Carters Lake trails will pierce some of north Georgia’s more divinely exquisite and diverse habitats for fowl and natural beauty. During autumn, the spectacular changing of the season colorfully cascades down the peaks and ridges to the red clay banks only to be mirrored back from deep turquoise waters. Canoeing is a virtual Babbette’s Feast for the eyes as gentle, picturesque scenes of tall north Georgia oaks and elms, enormous rock cliffs, and occasional deer and hawk sightings kaleidoscope the soul to a naturally soothing place far from the blinding, grind and grit of city streets.
Tumbling Waters, one of the hiking trails along Carters Lake, takes you to one of the few remaining waterfalls not swallowed by rising waters after the dam’s construction. Tails Creek twists and turns down a fifty-foot tumble of rushing white waters surrounded by spiritually transforming scenes of cool Georgia woods.
Other trails lead you by beaver ponds that are home to diverse waterfowl, lakeside ridges featuring scenic views, and hikes through multiple and distinct ecosystems. Guides to trails in and around Carters Lake are listed and described in detail at the Corp’s visitor’s center.
Carters Lake is an area of historical significance and cultural interest. The dam is near a location of the infamous Trail of Tears where in 1838 Georgia Cherokee camped after being rounded up in preparation of being marched to the Cherokee Agency in Tennessee before being sent to reservations, many out west.
Hoyt Kelly (moonshiner extraordinaire) lived near the southeast corner of the lake. While most moonshiners from Jasper, Dawsonville and outlying areas drove fast, non-descript cars to transport their booze, Kelly sold his distillations of stupor to visiting Atlanta guests from a large kettle.
Carters Lake is home to many Appalachia legends. It is told that the concept for the blockbuster film Deliverance was born from the Coosawattee River whitewaters just before the dam was built. When the Corps of Engineers finalized plans to build the dam, Atlanta writer James Dickey, who loved to canoe the aforementioned Coosawattee whitewaters, decided to make one more run before the dammed waters swallowed the river. A friend who was to pick him up at the other end of the lake accidently walked into a moonshine operation.
After explaining to the still owner what he was doing there, the still owner told his son to take the man to the prearranged pick-up spot and wait for Dickey and another friend to show up. He told the son to kill him if Dickey did not show at the appointed time. After a couple of hours and to the delight of his friend, Dickey’s canoe rounded a turn. Dah-da-dum-dee-dum….
Carters Lake ranked high on my list of places in north Georgia to see. Having been there, I am just as sure that I will return. The opportunities for boating, fishing, hiking, biking and camping abound and will take more time to experience. This secluded haven is where tranquility asserts itself.