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Definitely One of ‘The World’s Last Great Places’
By Tom Adkinson

lake jacossee
South Carolina’s Lake Jocassee is a jewel at the base of the Blue Wall of the southern Appalachians. Image by Tom Adkinson.

wrights creek
A waterfall takes on new meaning when seen from this perspective. Image by Tom Adkinson.


SALEM, S.C. – When Stephanie Couch was a teenager, she left the rugged Rocky Mountains of Montana for the very different mountains in the South Carolina Upcountry – and she never looked back.

That’s because she got 7,500-acre Lake Jocassee in the deal. This pristine lake that splashes up against the “Blue Wall” of the southern Appalachian Mountains became the basis of her livelihood.

Couch’s business, Jocassee Keowee Rentals, rents pontoon boats, kayaks and canoes to visitors to this thinly populated corner of the state. It showcases Lake Jocassee and Lake Keowee, the next in a chain of man-made lakes built initially for power generation.

Couch sometimes occupies the captain’s seat herself for tours to special places you might not find yourself, such as a rock outcropping next to Wright’s Creek Falls that practically begs you to climb to the top and plunge into the chilly water.

A guaranteed tour stop is at the bottom of Whitewater Falls. It starts more than 700 feet above lake level in North Carolina.

Couch is in her third decade as a South Carolinian, and she has become an ardent ambassador for an area the National Geographic put on its list of “50 of the World’s Last Great Places: Destinations of a Lifetime.” That’s high praise for an area only about three hours from Knoxville.

jocassee sunset
The sun sets behind the Blue Wall at the end of a summer day on Lake Jocassee. Image by Tom Adkinson.

The “Blue Wall” that is one edge of Lake Jocassee is the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the forested slopes that start in Georgia and then run northeast through the Carolinas and Virginia. They mark the end of the Piedmont and the start of the mountains. Stand at the bottom of the wall, and the top can be 2,000 higher – but only a mile or two away.

In Couch’s world, powerful and persistent mountain rivers and streams with names such as Whitewater, Horsepasture, Toxaway, Laurel Fork, Devils Fork and Chattooga carved rugged gorges in the escarpment. Taken together, they are the Jocassee Gorges.

Steep inclines, thick forests and abundant rainfall (75 inches a year, making the area one of only two North American rainforests) create habitat for black bears, bald eagles, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, peregrine falcons and brook trout, and Lake Jocassee in particular provides you a vantage point to take in the entire spectacle.

Much of the land around Lake Jocassee has been owned by commercial timber interests, and recent decades have seen major conservation and land preservation work.

devils fork state park
Devils Fork State Park has 20 villas next to Lake Jocassee. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Players such as the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Duke Energy, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the Conservation Fund have worked to protect the huge watershed, and the Jocassee Gorges tract now contains about 43,500 acres of land with state and federal protection.

Lake Jocassee – a favorite of scuba divers and trout fishermen – is remote, and lakeside residential development is sparse. The only public access is at Devils Fork State Park (20 villas, two campgrounds, two loop hiking trails, boat ramps), itself accessible by a single road.

Devils Fork State Park is where you’ll rendezvous with Couch. She will hand you a canoe or kayak paddle or give you keys to a pontoon boat so you can explore “one of the world’s last great places” for yourself

Trip-planning resources: and

Published March 31, 2017

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