During the early 1970’s, I discovered a dam being built in the mountains above Lake Keowee and just below where the Toxaway and Whitewater Rivers meet to form the Keowee River. It was to be called Lake Jocassee in honor of the maiden from the Cherokee legend who drowned herself in grief over her lover who had been murdered.
At the time, the news saddened me because as a young man, and an avid trout fisherman, these wild rivers and their tributaries had given me many days of total fulfillment. I still get goose bumps when I remember the wild, high-jumping antics of the Toxaway’s native rainbow trout, or the shear power of the Whitewater’s big browns. It was hard for me to imagine that the many beautiful waterfalls of the Horsepasture River and Laurel Fork Creek would soon be underwater. Days spent alone carefully scaling those beautiful wilderness canyons had taught me many of the lessons that molded my life. In spite of my unhappiness that these breathtaking rivers and streams would soon be under hundreds of feet of water, I vowed to visit this new impoundment.
For one reason or another, however, many years passed before I returned to fulfill the promise I had made to myself. Having fished those scenic river gorges as a youngster, I fully expected Lake Jocassee to be beautiful, but what I saw from the steep Devil’s Fork boat ramp was much more! Stretched out before me was nearly five miles of open, crystal-blue water surrounded by mountains. The lake was as calm as a mirror except for a ring on the water from an occasional rising fish, and was so clear that you could follow your eyes down the trunk of a standing tree near the bank into thirty feet of water. I was completely mesmerized by the raw, wild beauty of Jocassee. It was easy to understand why my ancestors, the Cherokee Indians, had called this area, “The Great Blue Hills of God”.
In the back of the Whitewater River arm, one could drive a boat up to where the water was still white from its wild cascade out of the North Carolina Mountains. The beauty of that falls is impossible to describe. Probably the prettiest falls coming into Lake Jocassee, however, is at Laurel Fork Creek. It comes straight down nearly a hundred feet into a deep pool hidden by a huge boulder. Here also, one can ease a boat around the boulder and into a deep pool, then look up into the thundering water. The sunlight filtering through the millions of water droplets acts as tiny prisms giving off all the colors of the rainbow.
Though the passing years have brought changes to this mountain paradise, and the beautiful shorelines are often muddied on weekends by too many visiting boaters, the breathtaking majesty of the mountains combined with Jocassee’s clear waters, is still a wonder to behold.
A trip to Lake Jocassee takes less than two hours from the Gainesville area via I-85 towards Greenville, South Carolina. After crossing the South Carolina line into beautiful Oconee County at Lake Hartwell, depart the freeway at the exit for the South Carolina Welcome Center. Just beyond the Welcome Center is S.C. Highway 11, which takes the scenic route north past the old towns of Westminster and Walhalla. Look for a green sign on the right side of the road pointing toward Lake Jocassee. Turn left and follow the road to the lake and the Devil’s Fork State Park, which includes a boat ramp, camping and RV sites, 20 cottages, and a trading post. For more information, call (864) 944-2639.
Even without a boat, any trip to Lake Jocassee would be worth the drive through historic Oconee County, South Carolina just to experience the magnificent beauty of this hidden treasure with its gorgeous lakes and many breathtaking waterfalls. One would surely have to travel to the Rockies or Alaska to find beauty comparable to this Blue Ridge Mountain paradise!