Ten years ago, if you had strapped a paddleboard onto your roof and driven through downtown Asheville, people would probably have thought you were from Florida and had forgotten to unload your surfboard.
Today, however, standup padding has exploded in Asheville to the point where it’s just as common to see a paddleboard as it is a kayak or canoe. We frequently get calls from people researching what type of board to buy, and the rapid growth of paddleboarding in Asheville can also be attributed to the wealth of beautiful places we have to go paddling. If you're planning on hitting the water this summer, here are 12 of the best places to stand up paddle near Asheville.
1. French Broad River — Town Section
Asheville’s most popular stretch of river, this is the classic 4-mile paddle from Hominy Creek in West Asheville to the River Arts District in town. Here’s where we offer our 4-mile rentals and 4-mile guided tours, though weekends can also get very crowded with groups of boozy-breathed tubers. To beat the crowds on the town section, consider paddling earlier in the day between 8am and Noon, and expect the paddle to last about 1.5-2 hours, depending on the height of the river.
2. French Broad River — Biltmore Section
Much less crowded than the river through town, the Biltmore section of the French Broad River begins at Bent Creek and goes 7 miles through the famous Biltmore Estate. Note, however, that the Biltmore is private, and Biltmore strictly forbids anyone from stopping along the banks. You’re free to paddle the river, however, which offers views of the Biltmore House, the farm, and Antler Village, and even features a Class I rapid beneath the I-26 bridge. You’ll also find lots of wildlife here, from blue herons fishing on the banks to otters plying the shallows. Expect this section to take 2.5 hours, and we offer rentals and guided tours at 8am, 10:30am and 2:30pm daily, and 4:30pm in mid-summer.
3. Lake Julian
The jury is out on the overall health of standup paddling in Lake Julian, as some people think that the power plant has something to do with the reason why swimming isn’t allowed. Rumors aside, there’s no denying it’s a convenient place for standup paddling in Asheville, as the lake features small, tucked away coves and a protected area that’s shallow, calm, and perfect for first-time paddlers. The wind here can sometimes be strong—so try to paddle in the morning—and paddlers must purchase a $5 day pass or $45 pass for the whole year.
4. Lake Lure
Covering 720 acres and set one hour from Asheville, Lake Lure is arguably the most famous lake in North Carolina. Aside from being the scenic location where Dirty Dancing was filmed. Lake Lure is by Chimney Rock and home to hundreds of lakefront homes where you can paddle out right from the house. If you plan to rent a house at Lake Lure—but don’t want to transport boards—Wai Mauna Asheville SUP Tours offers delivery service where we’ll bring the paddleboards right to your house and collect them a few days later.
If you just want to paddle Lake Lure for the day, you’ll need to buy a $25 day pass or an annual pass for $50, and launch from Washburn Marina.
5. Lake James
An hour from Asheville heading east towards Hickory, Lake James is one of North Carolina's largest lakes. Covering an area of over ten square miles, the lake is lined with vacation homes where you can paddle right from the house, although one of the best places to paddle on Lake James is the Paddy's Creek section of Lake James State Park, where you can paddle across to the Long Arm Peninsula to find isolated, boat-in campgrounds. Strap your camping gear onto your board and paddle across to your campsite! You can either rent paddleboards from us in Asheville (and then transport them yourself), or arrange a Lake James board delivery where we bring the boards to you.
6. French Broad River — Ledges or Section 9
Believe it or not, there’s a pretty dedicated crew of paddlers who standup paddle in whitewater, fearlessly charging down Class III rapids while standing up on a board. While this definitely isn’t for everyone, experienced paddlers who know how to read water can paddle from Ledges Park in in Woodfin and take out by Walnut Island. If you're really experienced and with a knowledgeable group, you can even tackle the Class III rapids along famous "Section 9." These are places where it’s best to go with a local Asheville paddler, and is a service we’ve considered adding as part of paddleboard offerings in Asheville (what do you think?)
7. Lake Jocassee
Lake Jocassee is in South Carolina, but it’s only 90 minutes from Asheville and incomparably scenic. Here’s where you can paddle up to 4 different waterfalls—although you’ll need to rent a pontoon boat to get close enough to paddle to them. You could, technically, paddle to the waterfalls if you left from the lake’s main boat launch, but it would take you the better part of the day and you’re in for a grueling paddle. You can also paddle to boat-in campgrounds and strap your gear to your board, and the clear water and slabs of granite have led some people to label Jocassee the “Lake Tahoe of the South.”
8. Lake Fontana
90 minutes west of Asheville by Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fontana Lake and its serpentine shoreline are the stuff of Appalachian legend. Spend a weekend camping near Almond and then wake up early to paddle the lake when the hills are still shrouded in fog. Most of this lake is undeveloped and protected as National Forest, and is the perfect spot for flatwater race training or a long, scenic cruise.
9. Lake Santeetlah
Scenic, secret, and out of the way, Lake Santeetlah in Graham County is far enough away from Asheville that not many people have been there. There’s no quick way of getting here, and it requires a winding, 2.5 hour drive to reach the lake from Asheville. It isn’t really close to anywhere in fact (it's 50 minutes from Bryson City and 15 minutes from Robbinsiville), and it’s this sense of seclusion and forgotten calm that give Santeetlah a mystic allure that only a handful experience. If you want to take boards to Lake Santeetah, give us a call and we’ll work out a special multi-day rental package.
10. Beaver Lake
Located right in the heart of North Asheville, Beaver Lake is a private lake that’s popular with fishermen, morning joggers, and now the occasional paddleboarder. In 2016, Beaver Lake made international headlines when a paddleboarder was attacked by a rabid beaver and had to be rescued by a fisherman. The woman would live, the beaver was caught, and it was an exceptionally isolated affair, and considering it’s the state’s only recorded case of a rabid beaver attack, we wouldn’t say it’s enough of a threat to keep us out of the water.
To standup paddle on Beaver Lake, you’ll need to pay an annual fee of $50/board, which you can get by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
11. Swannanoa River
More of a narrow, novelty paddle when compared to the French Broad River, the Swannanoa River is a great place to paddle after a period of heavy rain. Usually the river is too rocky and shallow for any sort of long paddle, but occasionally there’s enough water in the river where you can go from the town of Swannanoa all the way to Azalea Park. Most people, however, just attain upstream where the Swannanoa meets the French Broad, and paddle for a bit through the Biltmore Estate before it gets too shallow. The narrow tree tunnel is a great place for spotting great blue herons and skittish, sunbathing turtles.
12. Lake Glenville
Finally, if you want to go on a bit of a road trip and pack a board to the mountains, Lake Glenville is the highest lake found east of the Mississippi River. At an elevation of 3,500 feet, the air is noticeably cooler up here—which is nice on those hot summer days—and the autumn leaves are ablaze in color about two weeks earlier than in Asheville.
Lake Glenville is about 2.5 hours from Asheville, and you can launch from the Pines Recreation Area or the Powerhouse Boat Launch before getting a room in nearby Cashiers for the night.
Did we miss any of your favorite spots? Drop us a note about your favorite places to go paddleboarding in Asheville, and give us a call if you need boards or help with planning a trip!