Discover the marvels of the Jocassee Gorges in winter with Jocassee Lake Tours
Picture yourself on a pontoon boat, the spring-fed blue waters of 7,500-acre Lake Jocassee spreading out around you. The air is cold this February day, but you’re cozy with a lap blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. You’re not focused on the cold; instead, your attention is drawn to the solitude and beauty of this wilderness. Without its curtain of green foliage, the landscape of the Jocassee Gorges reveals itself: the rock outcroppings, the dramatic elevation in the shoreline, the myriad smaller waterfalls that lie hidden in summer.
This is what you can expect on a cool-season boat trip with Jocassee Lake Tours, the company Kay and Brooks Wade established in 2010. Outdoor lovers who relocated to the Upstate from Florida, the couple purchased a pontoon boat on a whim. They soon found that there were no tour services on Lake Jocassee whose guides had detailed knowledge of the area’s extraordinary natural features, so they set out to create one. In 2011, Brooks completed the SC Master Naturalist program, giving him the expertise he needed to introduce passengers to the region’s flora, fauna, and geography. Kay earned her certification the following year.
A naturalist-led, nature-focused guide service, Jocassee Lake Tours requires all its guides to go through the Jocassee Naturalist Program, which the Wades administer through Jocassee Wild Outdoor Education, the nonprofit they established in 2018. In the winter months, the lake is especially popular with birders, who come to see horned grebes, ducks, gulls, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles—not to mention the population of common loons who overwinter at Jocassee.
Tours have no set route or script, and every trip is different. “We let the lake tell us what to do [on any given] day,” says Kay. “If we feel it will be a good day to see bald eagles, we’ll go in one direction; to see certain flowers, we might go in another direction. If someone is all about waterfalls, we might make a special emphasis on that.”
“In winter, Jocassee is the unknown wonder of the Upstate,” Brooks adds. “It’s a wild, unpredictable place—you never know what you’re going to run into.”
Sail Away with Jocassee Lake Tours
As the Wades well know, you have to experience Lake Jocassee in the cool season to appreciate it, so pull on your parka and climb aboard. Jocassee Lake Tours offers cool-season tours from November through March. Jan–Mar: Tues & Sat 11am–2pm; Sun 2–5pm. $55. Enter through Devils Fork State Park (admission $8; free on Tuesdays). Jocassee Lake Tours, Lake Jocassee Rd, Salem. (864) 280-5501, jocasseelaketours.com