Enjoy the great lakes of Georgia this season

By Carol Badaracco Padgett

Think of a lake. Any lake. Odds are, blood pressure dips, lines soften on a furrowed brow, breathing changes to slow and steady.

Lakes flood our minds with easy memories of time off, sunshine, relaxation, family, friends, food and play. Even though Georgia has few natural lakes, our state is fortunately rich in excellent reservoirs, waiting for the weary to embark on a mini-vacation that requires no more than a one or two-hour drive.

Here are five top Atlanta-area lakes to check out, starting with three that don’t usually ripple across vacationers’ minds first.

Lake Oconee: Versatile and Appealing

Resting in Greene County, Georgia, near the town of Greensboro, Lake Oconee is a 19,000-acre Georgia Power Company reservoir shaped by the Wallace Dam on the Oconee River, which means the East Georgia lake offers a “consistently near full pool for power generation and recreational use,” according to Greene County, Georgia’s Economic Development organization.

Just envision, all year round, even when there’s a drought: stable water levels and a lake resort vibe. And as an added bonus, you will spot a historic plantation or two on the shoreline.

Driving distance from downtown Atlanta: One hour, 35 minutes (the halfway point between Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia).
Accommodations: Multiple campgrounds, lodges and hotels, even a luxury offering, The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee.
Sports and Specialties: All watersports; world-class golfing; boating—boat slips and kayak rentals at The Lodge on Lake Oconee.
Hiking: Oconee National Forest and Scull Shoals Experimental Forest.
Shopping/dining: Neighboring towns of Greensboro, Eatonton and Madison offer charming shops that sell everything under the sun.

Lake Sinclair: A Great Catch

Just a drone’s flight over Wallace Dam near Milledgeville, Georgia, is 15,000 additional acres of lake in an area with more of a residential, rural vibe. Man-made Lake Sinclair is also operated by Georgia Power and is another beneficiary of the ample Oconee River.

According to visitmilledgeville.org, fishing on Lake Sinclair is unrivaled by any other lake in the state. Its specialties: largemouth bass, crappie, catfish and bluegill. In addition, the lake offers fishing piers and marinas with easy water access for boats.

Driving distance from downtown Atlanta: Two hours southeast.
Accommodations: hotels, Campgrounds and RV parks, vacation rentals.
Sports and Specialties: Abundant coves for skiing and swimming; local properties include boathouses, oftentimes not allowed on other lakes. Be sure to bring a fishing license from the Georgia Department of National Resources.
Hiking: Antebellum Trail access.
Shopping/dining: Lots of shops, as well as locally owned and operated out-of-the-box boutiques, according to lakesinclairlife.com.

George H Sparks Reservoir: Gorgeous Forest Adventure

A short drive from downtown Atlanta on the perimeter of Sweetwater Creek State Park is a 215-acre lake with no beach, but who needs it? The paddle boarders, kayakers and anglers that visit the 2.5,000-acre park don’t mind. And those who’re looking for forests, trails, historic textile mill ruins—even yurts to sleep in—don’t either.

The 10 yurts, an offering of Sweetwater Creek State Park, rest in a shaded village next to the lake. Each furnished yurt features front and rear decks, accommodations for six people, a clear dome skylight, insulation, electricity, heat for chilly evenings and mornings, and finished pine floors.

Driving distance from downtown Atlanta: Only 20 minutes.
Accommodations: The simple setup includes five tent sites, seven picnic shelters, two fishing docks, two playgrounds and one boat ramp.
Sports and Specialties: Fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding.
Hiking: Natural forests and trails
Dining: Picnicking — and Waffle House, a Southern tradition.

Lake Allatoona: Depth and Distinction

Created by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam (Allatoona Dam) in the late 1940s, Lake Allatoona was built on the Etowah River. The lake covers what used to be the town of Etowah, as well as the Creekside township of Allatoona, both sacrificed to allow the hydroelectric dam to function and prosper other townships.

Today, a massive 25,000 acres of public land surrounds the 12,000-acre lake, which is 145 feet deep at its maximum and is adjacent to Red Top Mountain State Park.

Driving distance from downtown Atlanta:  Just 40 minutes north.
Accommodations: Campgrounds and RVs, lake cabin and houseboat rentals; close to downtown Acworth and Kennesaw.
Sports and Specialties: Beaches, boating, fishing, skiing and more.
Hiking: Numerous trails to choose from, plus Red Top Mountain
Dining/shopping: Restaurants and shops aplenty in the area.

Lake Lanier: Popular for a Reason

When Atlantans think of lakes, this one tends to come to mind first—because it’s huge 38,000 acres of water and almost 600 miles of shoreline) and has everything, even ziplining and an island water park. There’s so much to enjoy, the lake draws more than 10 million visitors each year, according to The Gainesville Times.

Lake Lanier also offers Lake Lanier Islands, a resort built on a small group of islands on the lake. The resort offers a hotel with lounging pools and a luxury boutique spa, the award-winning, classically designed Lanier Islands Legacy Golf Course, a water park, beaches, boat docks, and even a conference center.

Driving distance from downtown Atlanta: Just under an hour.
Accommodations: Extensive.
Sports and Specialties: Everything you can think of.
Hiking: Numerous short and long distance, lakeview, paved and natural trails.
Dining/shopping: Numerous options.

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