Lake James State Park is located in the North Carolina foothills, not far off I-40, roughly midway between the towns of Hickory and Asheville. At 3,515-acres in size it is a medium sized park but its centerpiece is its namesake, 6,510-acre Lake James. The park is actually split into two units. On the south shore of the lake is the smaller Catawba River Area while along the north shore is the much larger Paddy's Creek Area. Many, many miles of trails loop through both sections of the park and many are designated multi-use meaning that Lake James State Park is becoming increasingly popular with mountain bikers. Lake James itself was formed when Duke Power built a series of dams across the Catawba River forming the reservoir. Today the lake is a wildly popular destination for boaters, swimmers, fisherman, and other. It's also fairly scenic (as far as fake-lakes go) as its tucked right up beneath the rugged ridgelines of Linville Gorge just to the north. Much of the lake has seen some sort of development but the State Park does protect a good chunk of its shoreline along with the adjacent Pisgah National Forest.
Driving Interstate 40 as much as I do I've certainly had plenty of chances to stop by Lake James State Park in the past. It has never really jumped out at me as an attractive hiking destination, though, so I've pretty much just ignored it. In the last year or so it has moved ever so slightly onto my radar as I slowly try to collect visits to North Carolina's State Parks and Lake James is one of the few mountain parks I had yet to visit. After pouring over a couple maps to try to decide what trail would be most worth my while I was drawn to two paths which lead to overlooks on the lakes south shore; the Sandy Ridge and River Channel Overlooks. I didn't have a whole lot of time on this trip but I figured the relatively flat landscape would allow me to cover the 4-miles necessary in the couple hours I had. So off I went to visit a park that I wouldn't consider a natural gem, but it did provide me with a good stretch of the legs and some nice views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Come on along with me and see what I found...
Hike Length: 4.0 miles Hike Duration: 1:15
Trailhead Temp: 85'F
Min. Elevation: 1,200' Max. Elevation: 1,280'
Total Vertical Gain: 80' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 20'