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There’s really no bad time to visit the lake. And with a half-dozen or more within an easy morning’s drive from Atlanta, you can escape to one with ease. Whether you’re going for the thrill of the tube or for a colorful place to peep at changing leaves, you’re sure to make a splash with one of our six choices for lake life, below.

photo: S. Massey

Lake Rabun

Cradled in the hills of the North Georgia Mountains, Lake Rabun is an 835-acre stocked lake and a great place to spend time fishing, hiking—don't miss a trip to Angel Falls while you're here—and camping. For water activities, lake homes often have two-story boat houses, perfect for passing the time if you're able to VRBO one or are lucky enough to have a friend with one. If not, no worries. There are 80 tent and trailer campsites, and a developed recreation area that's perfect for a picnic and a splash. 

From Atlanta: Take I-85 to I-985, to Lakemont

Driving Distance: Just under 2 hours

Lake Lanier

Located just 45 minutes up Interstate 85 from Atlanta, Lake Lanier is one of the closest lakes to most people’s front doors. It is also one of the largest lakes near Atlanta, and the busiest. But busy isn’t always bad, as the powers-that-be saw the potential in all those visitors and created Lake Lanier Islands Resorts. Head there for a big time (and a big admission ticket, and big crowds) at the water park, amusement park, and restaurants, or skip the party and find a cove to claim as your own for the day. Boats are available to rent, or you could get your toes wet along the shore at the brand new Don Carter State Park, which has hiking trails, a swimming beach, and playgrounds.

From Atlanta: Take I-85 north

Driving Distance: About an hour

Lake Oconee

If you’re looking for a little lake getaway with some panache, Lake Oconee is your best bet. The Ritz-Carlton at Lake Oconee delivers the dream of an American lake vacation with precision. All you have to do is have your car valet parked, check in, then check out in one of the lakeside hammocks, swings, infinity pool, or spa. Don’t miss the nightly s’mores, curated by a s’more-fessional. Not ready to foot the bill of the Ritz? Lake Oconee is also accessible through any of these parks and marinas.

From Atlanta: Take I-20 east

Driving Distance: Just over an hour

photo: Kristina Moy

Lake Sinclair

Downstream from Oconee is the laid back Lake Sinclair. Perfect for a big-city jailbreak, this low-key lake is known for Dukes Lounge, offering curbside and lakeside service. Rent a boat at one of the local marinas and head to Dukes for waterside service. Move over, Chick-fil-A. There’s a new king in town.

From Atlanta: Take I-20 east

Driving Distance: About an hour and a half

Lake Allatoona

Thirty minutes north on Interstate 75 lies Lake Allatoona, which serves as one of Atlanta’s main water reservoirs and recreational lakes. With much of its shoreline managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, Allatoona is a popular lake that still retains much of its natural beauty. Close to Atlanta and with multiple marinas, campsites, and recreational areas, you can easily make a day trip or turn it into a full weekend of freshwater fun.

From Atlanta: Take I-75 north

Driving Distance: About 45 minutes

Lake Chatuge

With its shoreline part of the Nantahala National Forest, Lake Chatuge is a far cry from busy Lake Lanier. Located in North Georgia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, you won’t find any water parks or laser shows, but you will find quiet coves and uninhabited islands perfect for exploring. While it’s a doable drive from Atlanta (right at 2 hours), you may want to pack a bag and stay at the Ridges Resort and Marina. With a salt water pool, fire pits and s’mores at night, and a nearby marina where you can rent a boat for the duration of your stay, you’ll wonder why you ever went to the trouble of driving six hours to the beach.

From Atlanta: Take I-75 to I-575 or Ga-400 north

Driving Distance: Just over 2 hours

Featured image by S. Massey

—Shelley Massey

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