North Carolina’s state park system stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to mile-high Mount Mitchell, offering a variety of activities, including camping and fishing in most of the parks. 

Unlike many campgrounds and recreation areas in the state’s national forests and national parks that are seasonal, most of the state parks are open year-round, except for Christmas Day. Fees are affordable, and the amenities often include or surpass features found at high-cost private campgrounds.

Lake James State Park in Burke and McDowell County is one of the state’s 41 state parks. The 3,600-acre park is divided into two sections: the Catawba River Area in McDowell County and the Paddy’s Creek Area in Burke County. Both are on Lake James.

Established in 1987, the park initially included only the 565-acre Catawba River Area in McDowell County. After the park acquired an additional 3,000 acres, the Paddy’s Creek Area was constructed and opened in the fall of 2010.

Camping

The park has 33 drive-in, tent-camping sites in the Paddy’s Creek Area, 20 walk-in sites in the Catawba River Area and 30 boat-in sites on the Long Arm Peninsula section of the park. Both the Catawba River Area and Paddy’s Creek Area have handicapped-accessible sites.

Drive-in campsites in the Paddy’s Creek Area can accommodate up to six people and include a tent pad, large enough for two small tents or one large tent, picnic table, lantern post, metal food storage chest — the area does have foraging critters — and a fire pit. Most sites are far enough apart to afford some privacy, more than you’ll find in national park and national forest camping areas. All sites can accommodate two vehicles. No sites offer hookups.

A large bath house is centrally located between the two camping loops in the drive-in camping area, providing hot-water showers and a large outside sink for washing dishes.

The walk-in, tent-camping sites in the Catawba River Area are 100 yards to 300 yards from the parking area. Several prime sites overlook the lake. Each site has a fire pit, picnic table, lantern post and small tent pad. Freshwater outlets are spread among the camp sites, and a bath house with hot-water showers is located near the parking area. Two drive-in handicapped accessible sites are near the parking area.

The boat-in camping area in Long Arm Peninsula has 30 sites. Amenities include pit-toilets, fire pit, picnic table and a small tent pad. No water outlets are available. Reservations are required.

Fishing

For trout fishing, the Linville River in the nearby Linville Gorge Wilderness Area operates under hatchery-supported regulations and is open to fishing year-round. The section below Lake James Powerhouse from the bridge on State Road 1223 to Muddy Creek is hatchery-supported waters.

The Catawba River from Muddy Creek to Morganton city limits is special regulation trout waters and is noted for its trophy brown trout. Creel limit is two trout per day with a minimum size of 14 inches. No bait restrictions apply, and the stream is open year-round.

Lake James is noted primarily for its largemouth bass fishing, but it also has good populations of smallmouth bass, walleye, white bass, crappie, perch, catfish and sunfish. One excellent site to fish for walleye is in the Linville River upstream from the NC 126 bridge. The creel limit here is four walleyes, with no size restrictions. Elsewhere in the lake, the creel limit is eight walleyes with a minimum-size limit of 15 inches.

A fishing pier is adjacent to the large swimming area below the park’s ranger office and concession area. The park office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Boat access

Canoes and kayak rentals are available at both camping areas. Three public boat ramps provide access to the lake. Hidden Cove is open only during park hours and is closed during the winter. Canal Bridge is open 24 hours a day throughout the year. Both ramps are within 2 miles of the Paddy’s Creek Area on NC 126. The Linville River Boating Access Area is on NC 126 northwest of Morganton, off Jamestown Road and is open 24 hours a day.

Lake James also has several commercial marinas,

Fees

The park uses a “dynamic pricing” system for all sites. Prices run from $18 for weekday camping to $32 per night for weekends and holidays. Drive-in sites are $18 per night on weekdays $20 per night Sunday through Thursday, $20 per night on Fridays and Saturdays, and $26 per night on holiday weekends. Walk-in sites in the Catawba River Area are $18 for week days, $26 per night on Fridays and Saturdays and $32 per night on holiday weekends. Boat-in sites are $13 per night at any time. Discounts of $6 per site are available for senior citizens (62 and over) and for members of the military.

Advisory

Both sections of the park close their gates in the evening. Opening and closing times depend on the season but usually are between 8 and 10 p.m. If you’re out too late, you’ll have to walk to your campsite.

Contact/Directions

The park’s phone number is 828-584-3328. For reservations, call 877-722-6762 or visit. lakejames@ncparks.gov. Directions: From I-40, take Exit 94, go north, turn left on US 70 for 11/2 miles to Bridgewater Road. Continue for 1.2 miles to Benfield’s Landing Road, go 2 miles to a stop sign and turn left onto NC 126. Follow signs to the Catawba River Area, about 1.5 miles on the right. To get to the Paddy’s Creek area, turn right on N.C. 126 and follow signs to the campground.