Formed from the bed of the Coosawattee River between Ellijay and Carters, Georgia, 3,200+ acres Carters Lake offers recreational opportunities for fishermen, hunters, campers, boatsmen, bikers, and hikers. Long before the creation of Carters Lake, this portion of the Coosawattee was known as one of the best whitewater rapids in the eastern United States.
About the Lake
Since the completion of the original dam in 1977, Carter's Lake has become popular with fishermen, hikers, mountain bikers, and campers. Today the lake, deepest of all lakes in the state of Georgia, boasts good lake fishing, a remote nature and rich cultural and natural history.
The lake is a watershed, designed to help control the annual flooding of the Etowah River Valley. The secondary purpose of the lake is power generation. In the center of the lake, the main channel is a thin strip with long fingers running deep into the mountains making this an excellent place to go canoeing.
The lake is named for Farish Carter, a wealthy Georgia during the first half of the 1800's. Cartersville, Georgia is also named for him
The earliest written description of the area is probably 1731. A Virginian describes the junction of two roads in Cherokee county including the unmistakable descent along the Coosawattee River. In 1735 a second letter about the same road mentions the Cherokee town of Ellijay.
In 1838 the Cherokee were rounded up in the Ellijay area and detained in Fort Hetzel in East Ellijay. From the fort they were marched in groups to an area not far from the present-day dam to head north to the Cherokee Agency in Tennessee. Cherokee from Dahlonega's Fort Embry (or Fort Dahlonega) would follow the same route. From Tennessee they would be forced west on a route known today as The Trail of Tears
In spite of the excellent power source created by the rapid descent of the Coosawattee, industrial development along the river was almost non-existent because the surrounding land was too rugged. Only occasional farms occupied the area with a saw mill and two grist mills near the river. Keen hikers can spot the remains of the sawmill with the unusual undershot wheel along the Tumbling Waters Trail that begins at the Ridgeway Day Use Area.
The area in the southeast corner of the lake was home to Hoyt Kelly, a moonshiner of note. Hoyt, unlike his more famous brethren in Dawsonville and beyond, did not drive fast cars to deliver his product to market. Instead he would sell the "likker" from a large cauldron to guests who visited from Atlanta.
When approval for the dam was attained by the Corps of Engineers the outdoor world mourned the loss of what many enthusiasts considered the best whitewater run east of the Mississippi. Atlanta Writer James Dickey, one such enthusiast, journeyed to the river to make a final run. A friend, who was to pick him up on the Carters end of the lake stumbled across a moonshine operation. After the intruder explained what he was doing in the area, the owner of the still told his son to take the man to the pickup site and if the canoeists didn't show up at the appointed time, kill him. Luckily, Dickey and his friend came into sight within a couple of hours, but the idea for Deliverance was born.
Recreation at Carters Lake
Because of its remote nature, the lake and surrounding land offer more outdoor activities than Allatoona or Lanier. A large wildlife management area gives hunters a spectacular array of medium to large animals. Fishing is also a popular pastime.
Four hiking trails of varying difficulty make the lake a hiking destination. The Oak Ridge Nature Trail follows a high ridge to the lakeside, then returns along a creek. In just over a mile there are four distinct ecosystems. Tumbling Waters Trail (Ridgeway) takes you to one of the few remaining waterfalls in the area (many are beneath the level of the lake}. Here Tails Creek twists and turns down a fifty-foot cascade. The Hidden Pond Songbird Trail is an easy hike that allows you to visit the wetlands of a gentrified beaver pond, and the beaver pond itself, rich in waterfowl. Finally, the Carters Lake Nature Trail takes you through some of the most scenic areas near the Visitors Center, with multiple scenic views of the lake.
Take a day to visit one of these national, state or local parks in the state of Georgia
Carters Lake Nature Trail
Hidden Pond Songbird Trail
Oak Ridge Nature Trail
Tumbling Waters Trail