If you live in the upstate of South Carolina, you know of the three main lakes that dominate the summer activities: Hartwell, Keowee, and Jocassee. I had once heard that Jocassee was “too cold” or that the waves were “too big.” But while the water may be chilly, Lake Jocassee is also beautiful, clear, serene, and empty (comparatively) of other lake-goers. In fact I would say that Lake Jocassee is now my favorite lake to visit in South Carolina.
And though I find myself in its waters at least once a month during the summer months, there’s one annual activity I never miss – camping at its boat-in campsites. And after 3 visits and counting…here are my tips to make your weekend amazing.
Updated for 2018!
What are boat-in campsites?
Okay the lowdown. Devils Fork State Park is located on Lake Jocassee and will be most people’s entrance to the lake. And while the park does have normal campsites (that are usually always booked up well in advance), it does have 13 boat-in campsites. And you’ll need to reserve these as well.
Now what are boat-in campsites? Well, they are what they sound like. They are literally campsites you can only get to by going across the lake. There are no roads. So you have to have some kind of water vessel. (Think boat, canoe, kayak, etc.)
But warning! This makes these sites extremely awesome but also extremely rustic. These are primitive campsites.
Be prepared! There is no electricity or water. And the only “facility” near the campsites is a creepy, isolated, spider-infested outhouse (yes…outhouse – it had a moon on the door and everything). The first time I saw the outhouse…it was a big hell no. Instead, I all but mastered my squatting technique during the weekend. During my latest visit they weren’t so bad, and during a desperate moment, I used it.
There are bathrooms though at the main park office. Just boat over to the main dock and landing, and then walk across the parking lot to the bathroom. It may not make sense to do this for every bathroom visit…but for certain activities I can definitely hold it.
Whatever your technique…please, please, please don’t just poop by the campsite and (even worse) leave your toilet paper strewn about. If you use toilet paper, pack it out with you!! It’s your toilet paper, do you think other campers will want to see your waste and toilet paper 15 feet from their campsite? Are you expecting a ranger to pick it up? Just so gross. This happened last time. At the campsite close to the water (next to ours), the group of about 10 people made their bathroom like 10 feet from their campsite. Waste and toilet paper was strewn about everywhere after they left.
If you don’t know how to poop in the woods or pack out your toilet paper (since women seem to be the biggest violator of this with just peeing), see this article on how to do this properly.
Okay back to the campsites.
The campsites are across the water so you will need some sort of watercraft to get there. If you don’t have a boat, you can also kayak or canoe to the sites. But you will need to bring all of your supplies with you and it’s 2 miles across open water. The campsite next to ours the first year had about 4 canoes among them and they were able to fit all of the gear in the canoes with them. So it is doable.
The campsites themselves are all fairly close together. And the whole park-your-boat-against-a-rocky-shore thing is treacherous. Cause BTW, the shoreline around Jocassee is mostly rocky. There was one true sandy beach in the campsite area and unfortunately it was already taken when we got there. You will need to tie up your boat and be careful of the rocks.
I have pictures of each campsite below and a brief description of each one as well. But most of them have rocks you’ll have to navigate. Be prepared for this!
Another consideration to keep in mind is the walk from the shoreline to your campsite. Sometimes it’s real short. Sometimes it’s real long. The higher the number of the campsite (like 12 & 13) means a longer walk .
The only times this was really annoying was when we were bringing up and down our stuff and gear. Climbing a steep hillside while carrying a heavy cooler packed with ice was difficult to say the least.
Which campsite should you reserve?
We’ve visited these boat-in sites each year for the past 3 years. Here are my notes, video, and photos about each site. These are all primitive sites, they are mostly close together (you will always see another site), and most have rocky boat tie-up spots.
Now something else to consider, depending on the time of year, the trails may be covered in leaves. It looks like they come out and rake the trails (the ones from the water to the campsites) each year. But I’m not sure when. The first year we went they hadn’t done this yet and the trails were covered in leaves and hard to see (especially for our site #12). But this year they were all quite visible. So it just really depends.
The video briefly shows each site. For a longer description of each, just check below!
Site 1. As long as the weather is good, this site would be pretty sweet. It’s big and private. You are right out on the point so keep that mind with docking, but you do have a little nook to park in. There is a big step up out of the water, but there is a mix of sand and big rocks here where you’ll park. This site is also pretty secluded (you only have people on one side of you). It’s also big – 3 tent pad areas. Oh and the walk from the tent pad to the water is a very gentle slope (compared to some other sites).
Site 2. I don’t like this site. Though it’s close to the water, there isn’t a distinct entry/exit. It’s very steep up to the campsite. And though you could probably get away with it, we saw a group switch from Site 2 to Site 11 because they weren’t sure where to park their boat. Also in 2018 a tree had fallen across the campsite. Just one single tent pad here too.
Site 3. This site has a nice little (albeit rocky) beach area. And steps to take you up from where you dock to your campsite. Be careful of the big rock right off the shore, but then it looks to get relatively deep. This is also a single site. I liked this one.
Site 4. This site actually has a plaque by the water letting you know where you should park. It’s pretty close to site #5 but has a nice overall walk from where you’ll park up to the campsite. Just be careful of the rocks in the water when parking your boat. Also it’s a single tent pad site.
Site 5. Sits close to 4 but has a short walk to the water. Again big rocks here by the shore which does make for a nice ledge to unload, but can make parking treacherous (though that’s the name of the game here).
Site 6. This is the only other triple site. It’s also relatively secluded and has a decent walk to the water with steps on the steep bits.
Site 7. Located right next to the water, this is an excellent site. It sits close to site #8 (which is right behind it) so keep that in mind. It has its own little nook like area to park in and it has great views out over the lake. This is only a single tent pad site though.
Site 8. I would only book this site if I was booking campsite #7 as well. It’s literally right behind #7 but since you aren’t on the water, you’ll have to park your boat like right next to their beach. Not preferable especially if site 7 has more than one boat or a huge one. It’s also not very secluded (close to 7 & 9) and is only a single tent pad site. I wouldn’t reserve this one.
Site 9. We stayed here the last time and it is not a good site. I wouldn’t stay at this one again. It’s very close to #8 but there isn’t a clear “docking” area. Getting the stuff in and out of the boat was a struggle and we never found a good place to do this (our “trail” to the water wasn’t very distinct). We ended up using two different spots and then often swam to and from the boat during other times. This is also the start of the long walks to the water. I definitely broke into a sweat carrying the stuff up and down the hill.
Site 10. A double site that’s pretty secluded. The trail to the water is long-ish but is relatively easy. It’s a good slope but it has less leaves in the path. The waterfront is fairly rocky so be careful. There are steps up the bank which is nice though.
Site 11. On our first trip to the lake there had been no trail maintenance for this site and the slope looked intense. On my latest trip it looked pretty decent. But this is a very long walk to the water and it’s quite steep. You’ll also be parking right next to some rocks. And there’s a sign here too letting you know where to park (right next to the beach at the back of the cove).
Site 12. Also a very long walk to the water, and you’ll need to share a parking spot with either the people at 11 or 13. Both have paths to 12. We stayed here the first year and this was a tough climb (especially when carrying a large cooler filled with ice). It’s close to 13 and is right below one of the outhouses up on the ridge. This is one of the few double sites though.
Site 13. My favorite campsite! Located at that back of the cove, this is the nicest parking spot. The bank and beach area is mostly sand (instead of rock). Just be careful because Lake Jocassee’s water level rises and drops (by several feet) throughout the day and night. It’s only a double and though it’s close to 12, I still think it’s relatively secluded. This is because there’s no one on the other side of you which is very nice. Be prepared though! This is a tough walk to the water though there are steps up the last steep bit. Definitely worth it though!
What can you do at Lake Jocassee?
Besides camping, Lake Jocassee has lots to do: swimming, tubing, skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking (the park rents them), hiking, fishing, and (my favorite) search for the waterfalls that dot the shoreline.
On the nights we arrive, we don’t do much other than set up camp and make dinner. But Saturday we get out on the water early. Take some time to explore the lake.
Sometimes we head to the far back of the lake (into North Carolina) to see the Foothills hiking bridge. Then we usually head over to the Devils Hole Creek Falls.
This waterfall is on the eastern side of the lake and is small and can be hard to miss. We might have passed it had it not been for the kayakers gathered around it the first year. You have to get really close to see more of the waterfall among the brush. Kayakers definitely have the better view here.
The next waterfall you need to visit is the Laurel Fork Falls. This is one of the larger ones and is located down the northernmost eastern channel. You have to wind your way there but after you pop out from around the last bend, you get your first glimpse.
The waterfall starts farther up from where you can’t see and tumbles down some rock faces before seemingly disappearing behind a large boulder. Make your way into the small cove to the right to see the final run of the falls. You may have to wait your turn to get a peek in the cove, but it’s definitely worth it.
Though there are plenty of other falls to find, don’t forget to just take time to enjoy the lake! We spend our afternoons wakeboarding, tubing, swimming, and fishing. There are plenty of fish in the lake, if you can catch them. And if you decide to spend time in the water, just know that it is cold. But the cold water is the tradeoff for the beautiful waterfalls. And I’d take waterfalls over a little cold water any day.
The lake has always behaved for us and we’ve had perfect weekends of calm waters and blue skies. And though I know that’s not always the case – mountain weather can be finicky – I can’t help but wait for my next adventure out on its water. Lake Jocassee is my favorite. There is no competition.
Accessibility. Boat-in sites are only accessible by boat (and canoe, kayak, etc.) and are primitive sites.
Amenities. None. There is no water, electric, or restrooms at the sites. There are fire rings though and this is the only place you should build a fire.
Check-in & car parking. After reserving, you need to check in at the park office before heading to the campsites. They’ll tell you where to park (Day-Use parking lots…which I felt counter-intuitive since they say day-use). They’ll also give you up to 2 parking passes per campsite. Additional parking passes will need to be purchased at check-in.
Trash. This is a leave-no-trace campsite. If you bring it, prepare to bring it out. And this includes toilet paper!
Location. The campsites are located on the northern shore of Lake Jocassee at the base of Musterground Mountain.
Cost. Prices typically range as follows: single pad $25-$35/night, double pad $50-$60/night, and triple pad $75-$85/night. These rates vary with the season. You can reserve here.