Cliffside Lake, North Carolina, USA

Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Cliffside Lake.

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Cliffside Lake visitor and community guide

Lake Locations: USA - South - North Carolina - Mountains -

Surrounded by the breathtaking Nantahala National Forest in the Highlands District of North Carolina, Cliffside Lake is sparkling eight-acre lake in the heart of the Cliffside Lake Recreation Area. The Recreation Area offers fishing, swimming, camping, and in conjunction with the National Forest, numerous water sports and incredible scenic beauty for hiking and exploring.

Although one of the smaller camping facilities in the area, the Cliffside Lake Recreation Area is a favorite vacation spot with RV and tent campers. In addition to beautiful Cliffside Lake, the area offers picnic areas, fire rings, several hiking trails and two spectacular waterfalls. Swimming and fishing are the only activities allowed on the lake. A sandy beach and designated swimming area are open to the public. Campsites near the lake are spacious and set back in the densely forested area surrounding the lake. Facilities for campers include flush toilets, water, and showers. There are no lakeside homes or businesses which makes Cliffside Lake the perfect retreat for those seeking peace and tranquility.

One of the main attractions of Cliffside Lake is its fish population. The lake is an impoundment on Skitty Creek which flows through the lake on its way to the Cullasaja River. The water flowing through the lake helps keep the lake clean and also provides the perfect habitat for trout which are the desired catch for anglers. The lake is stocked by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission with rainbow, brook and brown trout. Crappie and pumpkinseed bluegill can also be found in the lake. Because boats are not allowed, fishing is limited to bank casting. Trout stocked in the lake usually measure between 8 and ten inches in length, but the state also stocks a number of trophy-size fish, weighing anywhere from two to five pounds.

Known as the land of Granite Walls and Waterfalls, the area surrounding Cliffside Lake is a hiker’s paradise. Two spectacular waterfalls can be found within a short walk of the lake. Bridal Veil Falls cascades from a height of 120 feet; Dry Falls, a 75-foot waterfall, is named for the fact that you can walk under it for a beautiful view of the Cullasaja gorge without getting too wet. Much of the southwestern portion of North Carolina is encompassed by the Nantahala National Forest. Some of the National Forest lands are fragmented by private holdings such as resorts, tourist towns and summer homes, but plenty of public hiking trails wind their way through the forest, and the Highlands District contains some of the most scenic. High plateaus, numerous waterfalls cascading over massive rock cliffs up to 400 feet high, and round granite domes with cliffs approaching 1,000 feet provide for some incredible views. The cliffs are also excellent places to see peregrine falcons, ravens, and wintering golden eagles.

Most people come to the Cliffside Lake area to set up camp and experience the great outdoors. For those looking for something a little less primitive, there are several cozy cabins for rent in the area. Additional vacation rentals, real estate, and modern accommodations can be found in the towns of Franklin and Highlands, just a short drive from the lake.

Visitors looking for water-related activity will find several larger lakes southeast of Cliffside Lake towards the town of Highlands. Most of the lakes offer lake access for boats and waterskiing. Fishing for bass, pike, catfish, and perch is also good in local lakes. Whitewater rafting and tubing on the Cullasaja River is great way to spend the day. The Highlands District contains two National and Wild Scenic Rivers, the Chattooga and the Horsepasture. The Chattooga, on which the movie “Deliverance” was filmed, is very popular with whitewater rafters, but only after it passes the South Carolina/Georgia border. Canoeing is not permitted on either river within the Highlands District.

For the outdoor enthusiast, the Cliffside Lake area offers unlimited opportunity for adventure. The Highland District covers nearly 105,000 acres in Macon, Jackson, and Transylvania Counties. One of the most famous mountains in the Nantahala Forest is Whiteside Mountain, between Highlands and Cashier on the eastern Continental Divide. With claims of being one of the oldest mountains on earth, it rises more than 2,100 feet from the valley floor to an elevation of 4,930 feet. Its spectacular north and south faces contain sheer cliffs ranging from 400 to 750 feet in height. A two mile loop trail, designated as a National Recreation Trail, circles the top of the mountain and offers unparalleled views to the east, south, and west.

The town of Highlands is just over four miles northwest of Cliffside Lake and is a wonderful growing community which sees a large numbers of tourists in the summer months due to its cool mountain air, fine dining, and hometown Main Street area. Many antique dealers, auction houses, restaurants, specialty shops, inns, and several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places line Main Street. For the performing arts, there are several theaters and for the visual arts, a new Center for the Visual Arts can be found downtown. Highlands is also the start of the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. The Byway covers 61 miles through southern Appalachian hardwood forests, passed numerous waterfalls and lakes, and through two river gorges. The last few miles of this adventure travels through the Nantahala National Forest ending at beautiful Fontana Lake near Bryson City. Stops along the way offer picnic areas, trails for hiking and biking, and lakes, rivers and streams for canoeing, rafting, fishing, and swimming. Be sure to bring your boat and your picnic basket if you are considering this scenic drive.

“Nantahala” is the Cherokee word for “Land of the Noonday Sun,” and some areas of forest surrounding Cliffside Lake are so dense that only the most powerful rays of the noonday sun can penetrate them. With its incredible scenery, beautiful sunsets, and quiet waters, Cliffside Lake offers visitors a peaceful retreat for a weekend of camping or a starting point for an exciting family adventure.

Custom Cliffside Lake house decor

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Things to do at Cliffside Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Forest
  • Antiquing

Fish species found at Cliffside Lake

  • Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Brown Trout
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

Best hotels and vacation rentals at Cliffside Lake

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Cliffside Lake photo gallery

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Cliffside Lake statistics & helpful links


Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Highlands Ranger District

Surface Area: 8 acres

Shoreline Length: 1 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3,396 feet

Average Depth: 7 feet

Water Volume: 55 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1936

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