Columbia’s location in the center of the state means it’s convenient to 9 reservoirs and lakes. These lakes are perfect for water activities or a relaxing time out with family or friends, especially during the warmer months of the year! Plus, many of them are located near state parks and recreation areas.
Today, I’ll look at 5 of the best lakes near Columbia, SC for fun and recreation! Lakes Murray, Greenwood, Marion, Wateree, and Monticello are 5 popular lakes near Columbia, SC that average a 40.6-mile drive.
|Distance from Columbia, SC
Make a weekend out of your time here that the entire family will enjoy. Or check out some of the most popular vacation rentals for each (linked below).
1. Lake Murray
Lake Murray is the closest lake to downtown Columbia, SC at 12 miles, which is a 20-minute drive. It’s located in the Midlands region of South Carolina.
It is also one of the biggest lakes in the state! This is a 48,000-acre lake with over 600 square miles of shoreline, owned by the South Carolina Electric company.
There are both public and private parks and marinas here.
Lake Murray is the perfect spot for water sports! There’s plenty of open space to take out your boat or go jet skiing and enjoy waterskiing or wakeboarding.
For other options, try renting a kayak, pedal boat or stand-up paddleboard. Better Boating Paddle Sports offers lots of rental options with hourly rates!
And if you need a kayak, here are three great picks from Amazon:
- Top inflatable kayak for 1-person: Intex Excursion Pro Kayak Series
- Top inflatable 2-person kayak: Intex Explorer K2 Kayak
- Best Budget & Sit-on-Top Kayak: Pelican Sentinel Sit-on-Top Kayak
There are also plenty of options for relaxation on Lake Murray at the public parks.
One of the best parks on Lake Murray is the Dreher Island State Recreation Area.
They have nature trails, picnic facilities, and even campgrounds and cabin rentals available. Check out our blog on RV Parks Near Lake Murray for more info about Dreher Island State Park.
Pro tip: take your boat out during summer evenings for rare sightings of the purple martins!
Purple martins are a swallow bird. During summer evenings, they fly in swarms over the lake. It’s a beautiful sight!
2. Lake Greenwood
Lake Greenwood is in the Midlands of South Carolina about an hour outside of Columbia. This 11,400-acre lake is a great place for bass fishing!
Lake Greenwood is easy to access, with plenty of public ramps along the 200+ mile shoreline. There are also many private ramps and RV parks near Lake Greenwood.
If it’s your first time visiting, I recommend you check out Lake Greenwood State Park.
The park has:
- 2 boat ramps
- a fishing pier
- picnic shelters
- even nature trails along the water
Plus, there are 125 sites for RV or tent camping. It’s the perfect way to enjoy Lake Greenwood!
Lake Greenwood is another great spot for water sports and outdoor recreation. The large, open water is perfect for boating, swimming, jet skiing and wakeboarding.
There are also stand-up paddleboard, kayak and canoe rentals available. Check out Aqua Fun Paddle rentals for rates.
3. Lake Marion
Lake Marion is 53 miles from Columbia, SC, which is about about a 1-hour drive. Lake Marion is in central South Carolina and is the largest reservoir in the state at over 110,000 acres!
Lake Marion is a top spot for fishing (especially catfishing!) and spotting wildlife.
Fun fact: this lake has 2 state records for the largest white perch and large-mouth bass. So, definitely pack the fishing poles!
There are a few public boat ramps around Lake Marion. But, the best way to access the water is through Santee State Park.
- has 2 boat ramps
- 10+ hiking and biking trails
- offers camping and cabin rentals
Fishing is the number one activity here, but the large open water makes this a great spot for boating as well. You can even find pontoon boat rentals nearby.
The 300+ miles of shoreline are also worth exploring! You’ll enjoy a beautiful river valley landscape.
Check out this video for an insider tour of Lake Marion:
4. Lake Wateree
Lake Wateree is 40 miles from downtown Columbia, SC, which is a 45-minute drive.
Lake Wateree is in the Midlands region of South Carolina. It is a 13,000-acre reservoir surrounded by Kershaw, Lancaster and Fairfield counties.
Fun fact: Lake Wateree is one of South Carolina’s oldest man-made lakes!
Fishing is big at Lake Wateree, and there are many fishing tournaments here every year. Lake Wateree is also great for your typical boating and watersport activities.
The best way to enjoy Lake Wateree is at Lake Wateree State Park.
This park sits on over 200 acres of shoreline and has a public boat ramp for easy access to the water. There are 100 paved tent or RV campsites, and even some waterfront sites!
While you’re near Lake Wateree, check out the lively town of Camden, SC.
Camden is rich in history and Southern charm. It’s worth checking out the restaurants, shops, museums, and national landmarks here!
5. Lake Monticello
Lake Monticello is a smaller reservoir that is 31 miles from downtown Columbia, which is roughly a 30-minute drive.
Lake Monticello is a 7,000-acre lake used primarily for fishing.
Along with fishing and boating, there is a large recreation area around this reservoir. Here are some of the features and facilities you’ll find in the recreation area:
- Large wooden fishing pier
- Softball, basketball and tennis courts
- Paved walking paths
- A playground
- Picnic tables
- Swimming area
- Public restrooms
The best part? Parking and admission to this area are free!
Wakeboarding and jet skiing are not allowed on Lake Monticello. But, this lake is great for smaller boats or kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.
The short drive to Columbia means you can spend the day here, and then explore the city or stay downtown if you wish! After a long day in the sun, it’s easy to work up an appetite. During your stay, you can visit one of these seafood restaurants in Columbia.
In short, there are many beautiful lakes and reservoirs near Columbia, SC.
Here are a few other honorable mentions: