Jocassee Lake Tours: Where nature writes the script
Nature writes each day’s script at Jocassee Lake Tours.
From springtime’s explosion of growth and summertime’s swims, to fall leaf peeping and winter bird watching, there is always something new to experience.
“We get out in the middle of the lake and begin a discussion of the area, then nature pretty much tells us what we’re going to talk about for the rest of the day and it’s never the same,” says Brooks Wade, who owns Jocassee Lake Tours with his wife, Kay.
Jocassee’s fame comes from its waterfalls, which are accessible only by boat. But the Wades have a mission to expand visitors’ appreciation of the lake beyond its waterfalls.
“Waterfalls are the primary reason people come here, but when they leave here, they know that there is a whole lot more to come here for,” Brooks says.
Lake Jocassee sits at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a province of the southern Appalachian Mountains. At 7,500 acres and 300 feet deep, the reservoir was created by the state of South Carolina in partnership with Duke Energy in 1973. The lake serves as the watershed for 935 square miles and is the start of the Savannah River.
The lake is known for the clean, cold Appalachian mountain rivers that feed it and keep the water cool and clear all year.
“One of the beauties of this area is that we’re smack dab in the middle of region known as the Jocassee Gorges,” said Kay Wade. “That’s important because when these mountains were formed, they took a little bit more of a bend to the east and west along the ridges instead of the southwest, northeast trajectory of the Appalachians. That makes the area a rainmaker.”
A relatively small geographic area at about 50 miles across four rivers, Jocassee Gorges is considered by environmental organizations as one of the hotspots of biological diversity on the planet. In 2012, National Geographic named it one of the 50 last, great, wild places on earth.
“It’s just this small world, but it has incredible plant and animal diversity, and a sense of wildness that is unique. It’s just an extraordinary place,” Brooks says.
And with 84 of the lake’s 90 miles of shoreline in public hands, Lake Jocassee does not have housing developments dotting the landscape like many Upstate lakes. The lake’s only access point is Devil’s Fork State Park, where limited parking limits lake activity.
A history lesson
While nature dictates how the day will unfold, each Lake Jocassee tour begins with a history lesson of the area and its early occupation by the Cherokee.
The valley that lies 300 feet below the lake’s surface was known as the Jocassee Valley and was part of the Cherokee lower towns prior to the mid-1700s. Kay explains. On early maps of the area, Jocassee is the name identifying the rivers now known as the Whitewater and the Thompson. And on some maps, Jocassee is the point below the confluence of those two rivers.
And while local lore translates the word Jocassee into ‘Land of the Lost One’, linguists from Cherokee tradition say that the word has no meaning in their language.
“But if you want to call Jocassee the Land of the Lost One, we’ll go with that,” Kay says, “because people really do get lost up here. Lost in the sense of just losing themselves in this place.”
Nearby but a world away
Located an hour from Greenville SC, one-and-a-half hours from Asheville NC and less than an hour from Anderson SC, Jocassee Lake Tours primarily draws visitors from two to three hours away. But the local population of users has expanded significantly since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, especially kayaking, which is the most affordable way to experience the lake, Brooks said.
“People are flocking to these outdoor areas in a way that they never have, taking advantage of our parks and trails to the point that we realize that we need more of this, not less of this,” Kay said.
Adds Brooks, “We hope that people remember the experience of what the Jocassee Gorges offers you when life gets back to pre-COVID normal because this is such an enriching place to be. When people get back into the frenzy of modern life, I want them to remember what this place did for them.”
Want to experience Lake Jocassee?
Jocassee Lake Tours offers pontoon and kayak tours, fishing and river adventure tours and hiking tours. For more information, visit JocasseeLakeTours.com.
For information on more great Upstate destinations, visit Upcountry South Carolina at upcountrysc.com.