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Small-Town Salem Is Big on Adventure

Marie McAden Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.
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With one of the state’s most beautiful wilderness areas right outside its door, Salem has plenty to offer visitors in the way of recreation.

Whether you enjoy paddling a quiet lake, fly fishing for trout or trudging up rugged mountain trails, it’s all there for you in Salem. And you’re not just limited to traditional outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and bird-watching. Strange as it sounds, the area also offers opportunities for scuba diving.

The center of fun is Lake Jocassee, offering 7,500-plus acres of cool, clear water delivered via streams and rivers from the blue wall of mountains that surrounds it. With water temperatures ranging from 78 degrees in the summer to 45 degrees in the winter, it’s prime habitat for trout—big, beautiful, picture-worthy trout.

Of the three species found in South Carolina, Jocassee holds the record for two of them—brown and rainbow trout. Want to improve your chances of reeling in one of those bad boys? Book an excursion with one of the many local fishing guides, among them Jocassee Charters, Fishski BusinessUp-Close Outfitters and Southern Outlaw Adventures.

Trout isn’t the only record-breaking fish hauled out of its deep, cold waters. Jocassee lays claim to three other state record-holders—redeye, smallmouth and spotted bass. There’s also brook trout, largemouth bass, bream, bluegill, black crappie and deep-water catfish.

And because visibility in the water ranges from 15 to 50 feet, Jocassee has become South Carolina’s best-kept scuba diving secret, rating in the top 25 freshwater dives in the world. Popular diving spots in the lake are 30 to 70 feet deep.

Among the most impressive is The Wall, rising 100 feet out of the water and 365 feet below the surface, with ledges at 30, 65 and 175 feet. The Wall was created when the side of the mountain was dynamited for rock to build the lake’s earthen dam. Several scuba shops, including Lake Jocassee Dive Shop, offer diving classes and charters for two-tank dives on the lake.

Even if you don’t dive, you can still enjoy other on- and in-the-water adventures. Outfitters like Eclectic Sun, located on the park grounds, offer kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and pontoon rentals as well as guided sunrise, sunset and waterfall tours. Jocassee Outdoor Center also offers deck boats and ski boats for tubing and other watersports. You can launch your rental from one of Devils Fork State Park’s four boat ramps.

For big-time, only-in-the-mountains fun, sign up for a Jocassee River Adventure with Jocassee Lake Tours. A guide will take you by boat to the entrance to Jocassee’s wildest rivers and creeks and then lead you upstream on foot to explore remote areas of the gorges. During the six-hour tour, you’ll have the opportunity to swim under waterfalls, jump off rock ledges and splash down sliding rocks.

In addition, Jocassee Lake Tours offers one- to three-day hikes in the mountain wilderness, naturalist-guided boat and kayak tours, plus shuttle services for kayaks, SUPs and backpackers wanting to set off on their own.

Designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society and Bird Life International, the Jocassee Gorges is also a premier birding destination. To download Devils Fork State Park’s bird checklist, click here

Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.