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Though I’ve lived literally an hour and fifteen minutes away from the place for the majority of my life, the fact that I’d only recently heard of Carter’s Lake made ME wonder what particular rock I’d been living under.  Oh, wait…  That’s right: I was climbing the rocks, not living under them.  HA!  OK, anyway, as I was saying…

Despite the fact that I grew up on and around all types of water, I’d never had the pleasure of exploring Carters Lake until now.   A week before I donned my Teacher Hat for the school year, one of my fellow educators – and long time friend, Robin – and I loaded up and hit the water for some chillaxin’ while her husband stayed home to critter sit.

Take two... We left the map in the car on the first attempt.


It was eerie being this close to the dam and spillways...

Managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, Carters Lake holds the distinction of being the deepest lake in Georgia, with Carters Dam itself being the tallest earthen dam east of the Mississippi.  Situated at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Ellijay and Resaca, GA, it is quite the young lake.  Sixty two miles of undeveloped shoreline and crystal clear waters make it one of the most scenic lakes in the Southeast, and there are likely many of you whitewater aficionados who may remember well the demise of one of the best whitewater runs in the world when the Coosawattee River was dammed in the 1970s to create this body of water.  It was with this in mind, as well as other pieces of knowledge from this history rich area, that I paddled these waters, suspended above a world forever lost, guiltily reveling in the somber beauty surrounding me…  Lurking below the surface of the Lake, and skulking behind trees and under rocky outcroppings, vestiges of former times could still be glimpsed.  All the while, the solitude of the area spoke louder than a symphony, and certainly touched more deeply than such.


Yes, the clouds really did mirror the terrain...

Dusky dark on the water in the Mountains.

As with many parts of the Southeast, this part of Georgia is no exception in regards to it’s pivotal role in the Cherokee Forced Removal.  The area around Ellijay proper served as a holding camp of sorts for families of the Cherokee Nation prior to their being moved northwards to Tennessee along their forced march west along the Trail of Tears.

Other history for this area is much to the opposite extreme.  It is rumored that James Dickey, a whitewater enthusiast and the author of Deliverance, drew inspiration for his famed book (and later movie) from an experience near the take out of the Coosawattee while making one of the last runs on that river prior to it’s damming.

As to the paddling itself, it was eerily lonely, and breathtaking all the while.  And though there truly wasn’t much conversation the entire trip, between our gourmet suppers (peppers stuffed with quinoa, sweet potatoes and black beans or homemade fresh-from-the-garden veggie soup, anyone), and breakfasts of fresh fruits and cheeses coupled with coffee from the moka pot, Robin and I consistently marveled at the clarity of the water, the solitude of the locale, and the pristine conditions of EVERYTHING.

OK, so I made them ahead of time and we just heated them up; they were just as delicious!!

mmmmm... Sumatra...

The facilities were, hands down, among the best I’ve experienced; the Corps certainly do take pride in their land, and conversation with personnel only served to convey this well deserved pride even more.  I was blown away by the condition of the put-ins, the campgrounds, the visitor’s center, and the day-use areas; all were beyond pristine.  Even the primitive, boat-in (free) camping was the least primitive backcountry site I’ve ever camped in my entire life. Never ones to take the bare minimum – just ask Robin and her husband how much their packs weigh when they hit the trail for a week or so – and both of us having been guides in previous lifetimes, we didn’t skimp on anything (remember that piece I wrote on packing the kitchen sink in your Journey? Well, we proved yet again that it CAN be done); the serendipitous discovery of Carters Lake was made even more fantastic by the sheer fact that, while we certainly had room to do so, we did not need to bring along every single piece of camping paraphernalia known to mankind to lux out our campsite! Primitive camping with a picnic table, raised tent pad, and a clean, TP stocked mouldering toilet; HA!!  Who’d a thunk it?!  In talking with facility personnel, the pride of ownership, and intimate knowledge and love of place was evident; all with whom we spoke were beyond hospitable and eager to share stories of their time there.

Just your standard, run-of-the-mill take out on Carters Lake...

Visitor's Center (super nice staff!)

In regards to wildlife sighting, there were the ever-present Great Blue Herons along with your typical Southern critter crowd, minus the mosquitoes – THAT was nice.  The best gifts of the week, though, were our sightings of the reportedly rare osprey and loon.  For me, it had been a full year since I was graced with their trilling, hollow, throaty call, and that sound took me back to Dickey Lake in Northwestern Montana.

Capping off our time there was one of the most fantastic sunsets I’ve personally had the pleasure of catching this side of the Mississippi.

Waking the final morning, packing the boats and heading home, we came to the conclusion that this lake is a hidden gem.  Just far enough away to feel as if you’ve escaped reality, yet close enough to Chattanooga and Atlanta for a day trip, Carters Lake is certainly worth your while to explore if ever you’re in the area.

Packing for the Journey home and into new school year!

For more information about this lake and it’s history, as well as a tasting of the legends and stories from from folks who were privileged to have run the Coosawattee prior to it’s damming, this may be of interest to you.


Other random shots…