10 Best Lakes for Retirement in the Southern U.S.

Retirement is a time to enjoy yourself, but you don’t have to default to a beachfront condo to still enjoy being in community with other retirees and the perks of retirement.

Scattered across the temperate southern United States are hundreds of communities, country clubs, and things to do.

In this post, I’ll break down 10 of the best lakes to consider for retirement, as well as a few notable attractions and cost of living indicators. Since many lakes border more than one state, the cost of living can vary widely (including home prices).

1. Lake Norman (NC)

Lake Wylie NC

Just a half-hour away from Charlotte is the largest lake in North Carolina, Lake Norman. New York Lifestyle Magazine called it an ideal place for retirement because of its low real estate taxes and great retirement communities.

There’s a lot you can do on the lake, like sailing, fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. A fun small town you can take a short 20-minute drive to is Mooresville, NC. Have a fun afternoon at the Pit Indoor Kart Racing.

For more great activities nearby, as mentioned earlier, Charlotte is not far. Take a stroll through Uptown Charlotte, where you’ll find great dining and entertainment options. Take in the beautiful sights at Freedom Park, or learn a bit of NASCAR history at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Notable attractions

  • The Lazy 5 Ranch
  • Carrigan Farms
  • NC Auto Racing Hall of Fame


  • Home Prices: ~$500,000 – $1M+ (Lake Norman area) (Zillow)
  • Cost of living: 1.8% higher than national average (Charlotte, NC) (Salary.com)

2. Kerr Lake (VA, NC)

kerr lake nc

Kerr Lake, also known as Buggs Island Lake, is the largest reservoir in Virginia. It’s owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

This lake is a great option for those who are fishing enthusiasts. You can have fun fishing for all types of fish like largemouth bass, striped bass, and catfish. Occoneechee State Park offers boat rentals if you need one, and unlike many larger lakes with retirement communities, Kerr Lake is one of the more remote and quiet options on the list.

If you’re in the mood for a day trip, Durham and Raleigh, NC, are just an hour away, and Richmond, VA, is an hour and a half away. But for anyone that just wants to be far from city life, this is an excellent lake to visit.

Notable attractions

  • John H. Kerr Dam
  • Prestwould Plantation
  • Clarksville Regional Museum


  • Home Prices: ~$300,000 – $700,000+ (Clarksville, VA area) (Zillow)
  • Cost of living: 2.7% lower than national average (Clarksville, VA) (Salary.com)

3. Lake Wylie (NC, SC)

Lake Wylie

Lake Wylie is right near the border of North Carolina and South Carolina. Take a walk on the many different trails of McDowell Nature Center and Preserve. Not far by, Copperhead island is a great spot to get your boat out on the lake.

Many businesses and restaurants on Lake Wylie are within a short walk of the lake. If you have a golf cart, you can use it to get around whenever you don’t feel like walking

During the holiday season, you’ll enjoy seeing the beautiful Christmas display at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens. If you’re a fan of monster trucks and race cars, definitely check out the Carolina Speedway, which is a short 10 to 15-minute drive away.

Lake Wylie is located on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina, and is only a half-hour away from Charlotte.

Gastonia, NC, is also a half-hour east of Lake Wylie. History buffs will like visiting the American Military Museum and the Schiele Museum of Natural History.

If you’re curious to explore what South Carolina has to offer, Rock Hill is a half-hour south of Lake Wylie. Depending on the state you prefer, South Carolina communities like Tega Cay are situated on Lake Wylie as well.

Notable attractions

  • Carowinds Amusement Park
  • Charlotte Premium Outlets


  • Home Prices: ~300,000 – $2,000,000+ (Zillow)
  • Cost of living: 15% higher than national average (Tega Cay, SC) (Area Vibes)

4. Tellico Lake (TN)

tellico lake

The Tennessee Valley Authority created Tellico Lake after the completion of the Tellico Dam. Dog lovers (and dogs) will be happy to know that you can walk your pet here without a leash.
It’s one of the cleaner lakes in the state, with water generally flowing from national forests and the Smoky Mountains National Park. When you’re up for a hike, you can go on the Hall Bend Trailhead or the Baker Hollow Trailhead.

If you’re out boating, you’ll likely see some interesting old silos standing where farmland used to be. Spend the day doing your favorite water sport or just sit back and relax on the water.

Tellico Lake is also the perfect place for golfers, as there are multiple golf courses around. When you’re up for some city life, Knoxville, Tennessee, is about a half-hour away.

If you don’t mind a longer drive, Chattanooga is about an hour and a half south of Tellico. While you’re in the area, enjoy the view at Lookout Mountain.

Notable attractions

  • Market square
  • Sunsphere Tower
  • Knoxville Museum of Art


  • Home Prices: ~300,000 – $1,000,000+ (Zillow)
  • Cost of living: 22% higher than national average (Tellico Village, TN) (Area Vibes)

5. Lake Marion (SC)

Lake Marion SC

Lake Marion is South Carolina’s largest lake, with a 315-mile shoreline and 110,000 acres of coverage. It was created when the Santee Dam was built in 1941.

Visit the Santee National Wildlife Refuge to do birdwatching, hunting, or see some alligators. If you’re a fisher, you have the chance to catch a lot of catfish in the water.

Nearby you can explore the Santee Indian mound, which was a ceremonial site for the Santee tribe. For a little more relaxation, you can play 18 holes at the Santee National Golf Club.

Some great cities not too far from Lake Marion are Columbia, Orangeburg, and Summerville. Columbia is the capital of South Carolina, where you can get a chance to tour the South Carolina State House. You can also take time to see the Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park.

Notable attractions

  • Fisheagle Wildlife Tours
  • Santee State Park


  • Home prices: ~150,000 – $500,000+ (Zillow)
  • Cost of living: 11% lower than national average (Santee, SC) (Area Vibes)

6. Lake Travis (TX)

lake travis texas

You can do just about anything you want at Lake Travis. The popular Texas destination offers a variety of outdoor activities, from scuba diving to ziplining.

There are also many varieties of fish to catch. The lake is considered to be one of the clearest ones you can find in Texas.

Lake Travis is only a little over a half-hour away from Austin, which is why it’s one of the more expensive options on the list. You can find some more affordable homes further down the reservoir on the Colorado River, but still drivable if you want to day trip in Austin.

Notable Attractions

  • Lake Travis Zipline Adventures
  • River Place Nature Trail
  • Flat Creek Estate Winery & Vineyard


  • Home Prices: ~400,000 – $3,000,000+ (Zillow)
  • Cost of living: 24% higher than national average (Lakeway, TX) (Area Vibes)

7. Lake Martin (AL)

Lake Martin

Lake Martin is one of the oldest lakes on our list, having been around since the 1920s. Today, you can relax on the sand beach or get in the water for a nice swim.
Throughout the year, there are multiple events. Have fun watching the fireworks show on the Fourth of July or take in the sounds of jazz music during the Alexander City Jazz Festival.

Another way you can enjoy some live music is by taking in a show at the Lake Martin Amphitheater. One of the most recognizable traits of Lake Martin is Chimney Rock, a beautiful rock formation that looks like a Chimney.

An hour’s drive away, you can spend the day in Montgomery, Alabama. You’ll find many interesting Civil Rights attractions, such as the old home of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum.

Notable Attractions

  • Smith Mountain Fire Tower
  • Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail
  • Wellborn Musclecar Museum


  • Home Prices: ~300,000 – $800,000+ (Zillow)
  • Cost of living: 13% lower than national average (Jacksons Gap, AL) (Area Vibes)

8. Lake Lanier (GA)

lake lanier

Lake Lanier has hosted Olympic events for canoeing and championships for boating and kayaking. Millions of people come to the Georgia lake annually to enjoy boating, jet-skiing and other water activities.

Around the lake, there are lots of restaurants to dine at, along with some small shops to explore. There are also multiple parks, such as the Buford Dam Park and the Van Pugh North Park.

One of the perks of retiring at Lake Lanier is you have so many places nearby you can visit. If you want more nature and hiking, take a one-hour drive up to the North Georgia Mountains. Whenever you’re ready to enjoy some more city life, Atlanta and Athens, GA, are both about an hour away.

Notable Attractions

  • Lanier Islands Water Park
  • Port Royale Marina
  • Balus Creek Park
  • Home Prices: ~400,000 – $2,000,000+ (Zillow)
  • Cost of living: 7% lower than national average (Cumming, GA) (PayScale)

9. Lake Kissimmee (FL)

Any animal lover will be happy with what Lake Kissimmee has to offer. The area has lots of wildlife in the area. You can come across bald eagles, white-tailed deer, and many other animals native to Florida.
If you’re up for seeing alligators, take the Kissimmee swamp tour or the Alligators Unlimited Nature Tour. When you’re done touring the swamp, you might like checking out the cow camp. You’ll learn the history of how horses and cows were brought to Florida in the 1500s.

If you’re a bird enthusiast, you’ll find many different species at the Joe Overstreet Landing. See if you can spot the sandhill cranes and the black vultures.

Two hours away, you can spend a day or weekend in Orlando or Tampa. When you want some time in the ocean, the nearest beach is about an hour and a half away.

Notable attractions

  • Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area
  • Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
  • Lake Kissimmee State Park

10. Lake Guntersville (AL)

Bass Pro Shops recognized Lake Guntersville as the best place to fish in Alabama. The waters feature largemouth bass, bluegill, and other types of fish.

The Active Times also recognized the town of Guntersville as one of the best lake towns in America. Surrounded by beautiful greenery, you can enjoy golfing, ziplining, biking, hiking, and more.

While you’re out in nature, look up to see if you spot a bald eagle. Conservationists have been successfully restoring their population in the area. A great city you can visit an hour away is Huntsville, Alabama. Have fun checking out the US Space & Rocket Center and explore the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

Notable attractions

  • Goose Pond Colony Resort
  • Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge
  • Weathington Park


As you’ve seen from our list, there are a lot of great lakes in the south to live out your retirement. Whether you want to fish in the Kerr Lake or see alligators in Lake Kissimmee, each lake has something unique to offer.

Know any other lakes that would be a great place to retire? Let me know in the comments.

If retiring near the coast is more your style, check out my post on these 9 Affordable Gulf Coast Retirement Spots that typically fly a bit under the radar.

Leave a Comment