Atlanta may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean you're completely out of luck when it comes to water activities and beach getaways. While the state doesn't have many salt-water beaches, it does have several lakes, many of which are within a two hour drive from the city. Expect plenty of activities, from swimming and boating to fishing, camping and more.
If you’re willing to drive a bit further, there are a handful of great beach options available within Georgia state limits, like Georgia’s Golden Isles (roughly five hours) and Tybee Island (roughly four and a half hours). But for something closer by, here are our favorite lake destinations, complete with information about recreation, lodging and other details you need to know to plan your next getaway.
Georgia's most visited lakeside destination, Lake Lanier, is a reservoir created by the completion of Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River in 1956. Also fed by the Chestatee River, today the lake boasts 38,000 acres of water and 692 miles of shoreline, making it a popular destination for Atlantans wanting to escape city life.
Distance from Atlanta: Less than 50 miles (a 45-minute drive) northeast of Atlanta via I-85 and I-985N
Whether you want to soak up some rays on the sandy beach or channel your inner child, Margaritaville at Lanier Island is a one-stop-shop for the whole family. Located along a half mile of white sandy inland beach, the entertainment complex offers a spectacular range of entertainment, including a water park with slides and zip lining, as well as golf, horseback riding, water sports and restaurants open year round.
Likewise, boating enthusiasts can savor the 30,000 acres of water by renting a day or pontoon boat or chartering a yacht for the day or weekend. Harbor Landing also provides a variety of tubing and ski equipment rentals.
Many Atlanta families have been lucky enough to snag a lakehouse of their own around Lake Lanier, but for those who just want to escape the city, there are plenty of accommodations available for rent, from lodges and campgrounds to luxurious villas, resort rooms, lakehouse rentals and Airbnbs.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began constructing Lake Allatoona in the 1940s. Today the lake boasts 270 miles of shoreline and 12,000 acres of water and is popular with movie and TV studios as well—Netflix's series Ozark is among the shows filmed here.
Distance from Atlanta: Roughly 35 miles northwest of Atlanta (a 45-minute drive) via I-75 or I-575N
This storied lake (the region’s history includes a Civil War battlefield and the settlement where the removal of Native Americans first began) is home to 15-day use beaches, most of which have picnic areas and many of which offer boat launch space, plus 11 parks, eight marinas and 10 campgrounds. If you want to splash around, Dallas Landing Park, Galts Ferry and Acworth Beach are good access points with swimming beaches. There are several reputable boat rental companies, whether you prefer a slick ski boat, a powerful Personal Water Craft or a pontoon/party boat. You can even hire a captain and charter a pontoon for up to 20 people.
There are nearly a dozen campgrounds at Allatoona, including the popular Red Top Mountain State Park. Choose from cabin accommodations or post up your tent. You can also stay in nearby towns, like Acworth and Cartersville.
This central Georgia reservoir on the Oconee River was created in 1979 when Georgia Power completed the construction of the Wallace Dam. Today, Lake Oconee boasts 374 miles of shoreline with a surface area of 18,971 acres.
Distance from Atlanta: 75 miles southeast of Atlanta (a 75-minute drive) via I-20E
Like most of the lakes on this list, Lake Oconee offers exceptional boating, fishing, camping and water sports. In addition to the traditional activities, like swimming, water-skiing, wakeboarding, you’ll also find Flyboarding, a one-of-a-kind adventure and a plethora of golfing options, including six championship courses!.
Though there are several lodging options available, The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation, is our favorite. The luxury resort is akin to an upscale summer camp—they even offer jet skis, plus pontoon boat, paddle board and kayak rentals. For something more budget-conscious, consider Harbor Club, which offers overnight cottages, water rentals and a public marina or one of the two campgrounds where you can pitch a tent or bring your RV.
Callaway Gardens’ Robin Lake Beach
Note: This is a seasonal option; Open daily Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend
Distance from Atlanta: Roughly 80 miles south of Atlanta (a 75-minute drive) via I-85S
Because it's located inside Callaway Gardens, you’ll have to pay admission to access Robin Lake, but so much fun awaits once you’re inside. There’s table tennis, miniature golf, shuffleboard and a children’s playground as well as FSU’s Flying High Circus, swimming, sunbathing, giant chess and checker sets and shuffleboard. For an additional fee, there’s also a floating obstacle playground (Aqua Island), paddle boats, water slides, rock climbing walls, bouncy houses trapeze adventures and even beachfront dining.
Callaway Gardens offers four accommodation types – the Mountain Creek Inn, Southern Pine Cottages, Mountain Creek Villas and Vacation Homes – to suit a variety of tastes and budgets. All overnight rates include Gardens admission, fitness center use and Wi-Fi access. Other area lodging options include the Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens and the Pine Mountain RV Resort, which offers RV sites, cabins, yurts and tent sites.
With nearly 56,000 acres of water and a 962-mile shoreline, this man-made reservoir bordering Georgia and South Carolina on the Savannah, Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers is one of the southeast's largest and most popular recreation lakes.
Distance from Atlanta: Roughly 100 miles northeast of Atlanta (a 90-minute drive) via I-85N
Lake Hartwell, 222 miles of which is in Hart County, Georgia, is home to a multitude of year-round events and a variety of recreational activities, from sandy beaches perfect for swimming and sun worshipping to shoreline campgrounds and quiet water areas ideal for boating, water skiing and tubing. There are five-day-use recreation areas running along the Hartwell Dam, plus two county recreation parks offering tons of recreation areas where visitors can hunt in a preserve, swim at the YMCA or watch a local baseball game.
You won’t find many luxury resorts around Lake Hartwell, but there are charming B&B’s and some big box motels to choose from, or you can camp at one of the popular US Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds near the lake. There are also tons of lakehouse rentals available.