The Catawba River and its manmade reservoirs — including Lake Norman and Lake Wylie — run down the west side of Charlotte and its surrounding suburbs, providing a nearby outdoor escape from urban sprawl.
Unfortunately, if you’re not sure where to look, public access to the two big lakes can feel pretty limited due to private residences dominating the shoreline. But that will actually get better over time.
Duke’s Catawba-Wateree recreation management plan approved in late 2017 includes 89 public projects that will improve existing recreational facilities or build new ones along the Catawba River and its reservoirs, including projects on Lake Norman and Lake Wylie.
The 20-year plan includes proposals for new beaches, boat ramps, fishing piers and more. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of what the two biggest lakes closest to Charlotte have to offer now.
Map of Lake Norman and Lake Wylie public access points: Fishing, boating, swimming, lakeside restaurants
Red markers indicate boat ramps and/or fishing access (click for specifics). Blue markers indicate swimming access (click to see if boating and/or fishing access also applies in these locations). Yellow markers indicate lakeside restaurants and/or bars.
Lake Norman is the largest manmade body of fresh water in North Carolina, created in 1963 with the Cowans Ford Dam on the Catawba River. It’s named after former Duke Power president Norman Cocke and supports the McGuire Nuclear Station, Cowans Ford Hydro Station and Marshall Steam Station.
Lake Norman totals 32,475 acres (520 miles of shoreline) and is almost as big as the other 10 Catawba River lakes combined. Duke still manages or leases the lake’s access points today and you can download the official access map here.
Lake Norman beaches with swimming access
There are currently only two public swimming beaches on Lake Norman — Lake Norman State Park way up on the north side of the lake (about 40 miles from Uptown) and Ramsey Creek Park in Cornelius.
Lake Norman State Park – The 1,934-acre park features a 125-yard sand beach equipped with a concession stand, bathhouse, restrooms and lockers.
Address: 759 Park Road, Troutman NC 28166
Beach season: Year round with lifeguard service from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
Beach access price: $6/day age 13+ and $4/day age 3-12, only charged when lifeguard is on duty; the main park is free to access.
Ramsey Creek Park – A 43-acre lakeside park with a half-acre sandy beach.
Address: 18441 Nantz Road, Cornelius NC 28031
Beach season: Late May through Labor Day with lifeguard service from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Beach access price: Walk-ins are $5 age 14 and older; $3 age 3-13; and free under 3. Drive-ins are $5/car Monday-Thursday and $10/car Friday-Sunday.
Beach Shuttle: Free, available weekends and holidays at the Cornelius Park and Ride lot at 20300 Sefton Park Road.
Lake Norman waterside restaurants and bars
You’ll find a number of dining options on Lake Norman — from casual bars with boat slips where it’s OK to roll in straight off the water with a wet swimsuit and a sunburn to more sophisticated settings perfect for date night or a boozy brunch.
Apps & Taps – 155 Pinnacle Lane, Mooresville NC 28117 – Casual waterfront restaurant and bar with its own music venue (The Pontoon) hosting live music Fridays and Saturdays; boat slips available.
Blue Parrot Grill – 169 Pinnacle Lane, Mooresville NC 28117 – Laid-back restaurant and bar with a large lakefront deck; boat slips available.
Hello, Sailor – 20210 Henderson Road, Cornelius NC 28031 – Sophisticated, retro-inspired restaurant with a waterfront deck and tiki bar; boat slips available.
Prickly Pear – 637 Williamson Drive, Mooresville NC 28117 – Modern Mexican restaurant overlooking the lake with dinner entrees in the $16-$28 range.
Port City Club – 18665 Harborside Drive, Cornelius NC 28031 – Classy restaurant with dinner entrees in the $17-$29 range featuring a climate controlled deck, outdoor patio and sandy lounge area on the water.
King Canary Brewing – 562 Williamson Road, Mooresville NC 28117 – Located in a remodeled home, Lake Norman’s only waterfront brewery features bars on both levels, regular food truck lineups and a playroom for kids. Read about it.
Eddie’s Seafood & Raw Bar – 643 Williamson Road, Mooresville NC 28117 – Local favorite with an extensive menu featuring seafood, burgers, Italian specialties and Sunday brunch; strip of sand where you can beach your boat
Queen’s Landing – 1459 River Highway, Mooresville NC 28117 – Featuring unique on-the-water dining experiences with dinner cruises on a luxury yacht or a Mississippi riverboat.
Lake Norman Cottage – 200 N. Harbor Place, Davidson NC 28036 – Quirky little wine bar that feels like you’re in someone’s living room.
North Harbor Club – 100 N. Harbor Place, Davidson NC 28036 – Elegant restaurant and event venue known for waterside weekend brunch under bright yellow patio umbrellas; boat slips available.
Things to do on Lake Norman
Don’t have your own boat? No worries. You’ll still find plenty of things to do on Lake Norman from dinner cruises on a luxury yacht to moonlight tours on illuminated stand-up paddle boards.
Here are seven things to do on Lake Norman without owning a boat. Prefer to rent one? Here’s a directory of Lake Norman boat rental companies.
Related story: How to get on Lake Norman without a boat of your own
Take a dinner cruise on a luxury yacht – Lady of the Lake dinner cruises from Queens Landing include a four-course plated meal, 2.5-hour tour, on-board entertainment and a cash bar. Price: $74.99 adults, $68.99 seniors, $33.99 kids 5-12, $17.99 kids 2-4.
Try paddle board yoga – Aloha Flow Yoga kicks off its stand-up paddle board yoga classes for the 2019 season on May 5. Classes are hosted Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. Advance reservations are required. Price: $26 with equipment, $15 bring your own board.
Eat dinner on a Mississippi river boat – The Catawba Queen dinner cruise from Queens Landing includes a buffet dinner, 2-hour water tour and cash bar. Price: $64.99 adults, $58.99 seniors, $31.99 kids 5-12, $17.99 kids 2-4.
Navigate the dark on a night tour with an illuminated stand-up paddle board – Aloha Paddle Sports hosts stand-up paddle board tours after sunset with LED-lit glowing boards. (They also offer sunset tours and standard rentals.) Price: $50 with equipment, $35 with your own board.
Explore the lake on a sightseeing boat tour – If you’re looking for a daytime adventure without the elaborate meal, check out Queens Landing’s 90-minute sightseeing tours. They have boxed lunches available and an optional picnic upgrade. Price: $19.99 adults, $17.99 seniors, $14.99 kids 5-12, $7.99 kids 2-4.
Pedal on the water on North Carolina’s first cycleboat – Your personal floating bar is similar to the raucous trolley pub bikes you see on the streets around town except you’re floating on the water. BYO beer, wine and snacks (but no hard liquor allowed). Price: $39 for individual mixer tickets, $540 to reserve the whole boat for two hours.
Lake Norman Boating and/or Fishing Access Points
Here’s a brief directory of Lake Norman boating and fishing access points with quick notes on available amenities. You can you can view Duke’s official interactive access map here. Lake Norman is in the “Catawba-Wateree NC” section.
Long Island Access Area – 8628 Long Island Road, Catawba NC 28609. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking.
Stumpy Creek Access Area – Stumpy Creek Road, Davidson NC 28117. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking, restrooms, picnicking.
McCrary Creek Access Area – River Highway, Mooresville NC 28117. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking, restrooms.
Pinnacle Access Area – River Highway, Mooresville NC 28117. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking, restrooms.
Marshall Fishing Area – Near Marshall Steam Station, Sherrills Ford NC 28673. Fishing access, parking, restrooms.
Hager Creek Access Area – Mooresville NC 28117. I-77 north to exit 33. Go left on Williamson Road, left on Brawley School Road, right on McKendree Road. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking.
Little Creek Access Area – Trails End Road, Catawba Springs NC 28037. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking, restrooms.
Beatties Ford Access Area – Shipley Lane at Unity Road Church, Denver NC 28037. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking, restrooms, picnicking.
Jetton Road County Park – 1900 Jetton Road, Cornelius NC 28031. Fishing access, hiking, parking, restrooms, picnicking. Managed by Mecklenburg County.
Ramsey Creek Access – 18441 Nantz Road, Cornelius NC 28031. Boat ramp, fishing access, hiking, parking, swimming, restrooms, picnicking.
McGuire Fishing Area – Near McGuire Nuclear Station at 12700 Hagers Ferry Road, Huntersville NC 28078. Fishing access, parking, restrooms.
Blythe Landing – Off N.C. 73, Huntersville NC 28078. Map to nearby Lake Norman Community Sailing at 15901 N.C. 73. Boat ramp, fishing access, parking, picnicking, Dockside cafe, restrooms. Managed by Mecklenburg County.
Lake Wylie was originally built in 1904 when the Catawba Power Company built the Catawba Dam and power plant. The man-made lake was later expanded to 13,443 acres (325 miles of shoreline) in 1924 and the company merged with Duke Power Company in 1927. Duke still manages or leases the lake’s access points today.
The reservoir supports the Lake Wylie Hydro Station, Allen Steam Station and Catawba Nuclear Station. You can download Duke Energy’s official access map here. Lake Wylie is in the “Catawba-Wateree SC” section.
Lake Wylie beaches with swimming access
There are two public swimming areas on Lake Wylie — one at Ebenezer Park in Rock Hill and one at Windjammer Park in Tega Cay.
Ebenezer Park – A 26-acre park and campsite a public swimming beach, which includes restrooms, concession stand, playground, boat ramps and picnic shelters. Water shoes are recommended for the rocky terrain.
Address: 4490 Boatshore Road, Rock Hill SC 29732
Beach season: Memorial Day through Labor Day with lifeguard service from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Beach access price: $5/car York County residents; $8/car non-residents; season pass $30 York County residents, $35 non-residents; senior discounts available 60+.
Address: 8999 Windjammer Drive, Tega Cay, SC 29708
Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Access price: Parking is by permit only and is free for residents and $100/year for non-residents.
Lake Wylie waterfront restaurants and bars
Sadly, there is really only one, but I threw in a bonus one down the river a couple miles south of the lake’s southern dam (because it’s cool).
Papa Doc’s Shore Club – 3390 Charlotte Highway, Lake Wylie SC 29710 – Lake Wylie’s only waterfront restaurant is the place to be with a massive deck, outdoor bar and 38 boat slips.
The Pump House – 575 Herrons Ferry Road, Rock Hill SC 29730 – Striking riverfront restaurant and rooftop bar in an old pump house on the Catawba River just south of Lake Wylie’s southern dam.
Things to do on Lake Wylie
Throw a party for up to 35 friends on a houseboat – Pier 88 Yacht Club offers a day cruise 60-foot houseboat rental with a shower and washer/dryer on board. Price: $425/hour with three hour minimum, includes captain and gas.
Take a Moonlight Madness stand-up paddle boat tour in the dark – The Goat Boater offers monthly 90-minute nighttime stand-up paddle board excursions on glowing boards. The first one in the 2019 season is May 18. Price: $75 with equipment included.
Rent a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddle board – They’re $20-$30 per hour at Pier 88 Yacht Club.
Lake Wylie boating and/or fishing access points
Here’s a brief directory of Lake Norman boating and fishing access points with quick notes on available amenities. You can download Duke Energy’s official access map here. Lake Wylie is in the “Catawba-Wateree SC” section.
Mountain Island Trailrace Fishing Area – Fishing access, parking, restrooms.
Allen Fishing Access Area – The Hot Hole Road. Fishing access, parking, restrooms.
South Point Access Area – Boat Launch Road. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking.
Copperhead Island Boat Launch – 15200 Solider Road. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, fishing access, camping, parking, restrooms, picnicking.
McDowell Nature Preserve – 15222 York Road. Fishing access, camping, parking. Managed by Mecklenburg County.
Buster Boyd Access Area – next to T Bones at 3990 Charlotte Highway, Lake Wylie SC 29710. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking.
Allison Creek Access – Viesta Road. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, fishing access, parking.
Nivens Creek Landing – Nivens Landing Drive. Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking.
Ebenezer Access Area – Boat ramp, courtesy dock, parking, restrooms, picnicking.
Catawba River Access Fort Mill Dam – Boat ramp, fishing, parking.