- Adam Kincaid For the AJC
Lake vacations are the best. They have all the spirit refreshing ambiance of a beach sunset without any dangerous sea monsters, salt water nausea or months spent vacuuming sand out of everything you own. Best of all, they are right around the corner. So if you're as sold as I am on getting some quality lake time in this year, refer to this somewhat subjective list of Georgia's 5 best lakes.
The waters of Lake Lanier are so busy in season that it's hard to imagine it as a getaway. The famous reservoir sure is close to Atlanta, though, making it the undeniable choice for a day trip. Lanier also has its advantages in size; 59 sq. miles of water accommodate millions ans millions of annual visitors. The 7 miles of holiday lights are worth a trip in winter. Lake Lanier Islands offers a drive through their grounds to witness one of the largest animated light show in the southeast.
Just outside Milledgeville sits Lake Sinclair -- a quiet place to boat, fish and relax. The area has 10 golf courses, more than 15,330 acres of water and more than 400 miles of scenic shoreline, winding coves and inlets. The best time of year to visit Lake Sinclair? Try Master's week. The one-hour-or-less drive to Augusta National makes for a wild week throughout lake country.
Lake Hartwell is the place to be for peace and quiet. Maybe that's why until 2014, former Georgia head football coach Mark Richt called it his getaway of choice.
The homes that line Lake Hartwell's shores are filled with the retired leaders of Atlanta and Athens communities.
Of course, you can be under the age of 50 and still have a blast on Lake Hartwell. In fact, Lake Hartwell is perfectly situated to allow residents and guests to split their time between the iconic waterfront, and all the land based fun that both East Georgia and South Carolina have to offer.
If you've never spent a night at Oconee's top lakeside retreat, The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation, then it looks like you have something to add to your "stay-cation" Pinterest board.
The lodge itself is one of the most serene and beautiful waterfront properties in the state, lined with impeccable golf courses, jet ski rentals and other water games, and cabins for larger families and business retreats. In colder months the Ritz even staffs a full time s'more-maker at the fire pit to ensure that your lakeside getaway is as unforgettable as the scenery around you.
One meal not to be missed – Fish and Chips from The Silver Moon in nearby Eatonton.
Winding through horse and farm country, the roads to Lake Burton, Seed and Rabun (the sister lakes of Rabun County) leave behind any illusion of metropolitan sprawl, as roads arch ever higher into the hills of North Georgia. En route you'll pass full service stations, rolling crests of grass and even the famous Springer Farms (of Springer Mountain chicken fame). There is an endless supply of barnwood for the city folk to one day "reclaim."
Arrive at any of Rabun's shores -- especially those of Lake Burton -- and you'll encounter a community that is contorting its North Georgia mountainous roots to accomodate Atlanta's emerging counterpoint to the Hamptons.
There are gifts unique to Rabun County that come without a price tag, though. The countryside feels like the kind of place where our forefathers might've made moonshine in wilderness camps. There are pristine crystal rivers that feed into the lakes and rolling hills cut dramatically into the sides of mountains. The dirt roads wrap the landscape and wind ever further into the mysterious and alluring pine forest abyss, only to reveal waterfront views, multimillion-dollar homes and properties, and the kind of rustic perfection normally reserved for J. Crew catalogs and Kennedy home videos.
Through it all, Rabun County and her lakes have a certain old south charm where beauty is everywhere and the future seems to be happening now – whether the locals like it or not.