Lake Murray SC
Southern lakes offer something to do on the water 365 days a year, and Columbia’s Lake Murray is a prime example of a watery playground that can be enjoyed throughout all seasons. Beyond boating, there’s fishing, paddling, paddleboarding, and sailing, and off the water, there’s birdwatching, cycling, and hiking to enjoy. During the warmer months, you can add swimming, water skiing, kneeboarding, jet skiing, wakeboarding, and even scuba diving to the list.
Directions and Parking
55,000 acres and 650 miles of scalloped shoreline make the capital city's grand oasis easily accessible for a day trip or weekend getaway. “From I-26, it’s an easy trip to the Lake Murray Dam, which has terrific facilities,” says Jayne Baker, Public Relations Manager for Capital City Lake Murray Country. “On the Lexington side of the dam, there’s a beach for swimming; the Irmo side is great for picnicking and paddling. There’s a launch pad that sits just a few inches below the water so you can get on your stand-up paddleboard or into your kayak without tipping over. Both areas have plenty of parking, and the walk over the dam between the two is beautiful.”
Boating and Other Activities
The lake’s calm water is just right for a smooth cruise on a pontoon boat with your squad with coolers and snacks in tow. Every weekend, hundreds of visitors and locals alike hit the lake with pontoon boats of their own or rentals. You can be the captain of your own boat by renting one from Better Boat Rental or Aqua Fun Boat Rentals and Tours. If you want to appreciate the marina from dry land, just join the party at restaurants like Rusty Anchor & Catfish Johnny's and Liberty on the Lake that open the decks, bring on the music, and transform the scene into a daylong celebration.
If you prefer the quieter side of the lake, consider spending a day —or several—at Dreher Island State Park, where you can swim from a sandy beach, rent kayaks and other water toys, and fish. You can keep it old school and camp, or spend the night in one of the island's villas or cabins for an experience that's more like glamping. There are also hiking trails, a short nature path, a playground, and even a camp store where you can rent tackle and purchase a fishing license.
Fishing on Lake Murray
The region's temperate climate makes Lake Murray is a fisherman's paradise. Former pro tour fisherman Michael Murphy, who works as a fishing guide on the lake, says that weather rarely keeps him—or his clients—off the water. “The fish are always there,” he laughs. “What changes is where they hang out. If you want to fish on Lake Murray, we know where the fish are.”
Stripers and large-mouth bass are two of the most popular species to catch, but Murphy says that there are plenty of what he calls panfish (fish you can cook in a pan) as well. “Bluegills, white perch, and shell crackers are all plentiful and delicious.”
No matter what type of fish you’re after, Murphy says that the setting at Lake Murray is about the prettiest he’s seen. “The buffer zone is amazing, so you would never know you’re so close to the city,” he says. “We see deer swimming out to the islands, loons in the winter, and wood ducks during the summer. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to see the ospreys fishing. They fly up about 100 feet into the air then to into an absolute dive-bomb straight in. It’s amazing they don’t knock themselves out, but they never do. They pull away with a giant fish, one claw on the head, the other on the tail.”
Birding Season, Boat Tours, & More
The ospreys aren't the only dramatic bird sightings. Each summer, tens of thousands of Purple Martins—a pretty, iridescent species of swallow—roost on Bomb Island. This former training site for World War II B-25 bombers (including the famous Doolittle Raiders), is not only the largest Purple Martin sanctuary in North America but also the oldest. It serves as a resting spot for the Purple Martins as they prepare to make their way to South America for the winter. The phenomenon begins at sunset when the fiery sky comes alive with the birds, who swoop, flutter and caw as they search the air for insects. The show continues until it gets dark and the birds decide to settle into their nests for the night. Want to experience it for yourself? Private charters, naturalist-led bird-watching tours, and rental boats make it easy for nature lovers to take it all in.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there alligators in Lake Murray SC?
Because Lake Murray is fed water from the Saluda River, there is a possibility of an alligator sighting. But, finding a gator in these waters can become somewhat of a Bigfoot chase. In 2021 the State Parks Department stated that there are no gators in the water and over the last ten years only two gators have been spotted with evidence. If there are any, there aren’t many and Lake Murray remains a safe place to swim and enjoy.
Where is Lake Murray SC located?
The 600-mile shoreline expands throughout the Columbia region through Lexington, Irmo, Chapin, but also expands to other territories. Different entry points to the water can be found throughout our region, but one of the most accessible points is entry from the Dreher Shoals Dam.
How far is Lake Murray from Columbia?
Lake Murray is located just west of downtown Columbia. A center point for lake access is the Dreher Shoals Dam, with open parking on the Irmo and Lexington side, the drive is a little less than 14 miles. That’s about a 20 – 25-minute car ride full of sunshine and anticipation. If you look hard enough, you can even see that classic Columbia skyline!
What is Lake Murray known for?
With over 600 miles of shoreline in South Carolina, Lake Murray earned its title as being one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the country. Originally constructed to provide hydroelectric power to all of South Carolina, Lake Murray was once the world’s largest man-made reservoir. Locals and visitors alike come here to enjoy boating, fishing, swimming, and just overall relaxation. Several small islands can be found throughout the lake including Bomb Island, home to one of the largest roosting sites of Purple Martins in the nation. In the summer months, these birds travel through South Carolina on their way north, and about 30-45 minutes before sunset they settle on the island in swarms before they leave again at dusk.