Sun and swim in an idyllic mountain swimming hole, Wildcat Lake in Banner Elk. This 13-acre lake has a white sand beach, swimming dock, bath house, picnic tables and fishing pier. It's located just a couple of miles from downtown Banner Elk and Lees-McRae College. Just down the road is the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (read about them below).
At an elevation of 3,700 ft., the chilly water of Wildcat Lake will refresh you on a hot summer's day. Kids love jumping off the dock! Open seven days a week with no admission charge, the lake is owned and operated by the Grandfather Home for Children (located next door), so they always appreciate donations.
It's definitely one of the only beaches with Fraser fir Christmas trees! Lifeguards are on duty during the summer. Boating is limited to non-motorized boats, including canoes and kayaks. Canoe and paddle board rentals are available at times. Alcoholic beverages and pets are prohibited.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission stocks the lake with bluegill, largemouth bass and varieties of trout. Fishing is allowed every day, dawn to dusk. An NC state fishing license is required.
Wildcat Lake is about 75 miles from Asheville. It's just 1.5 miles from downtown Banner Elk: go south on Shawneehaw Avenue (NC Highway 184) a half mile to Hickory Nut Gap Road. Turn left and go about a mile. There's no exact GPS address.
May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
Located about a mile away from Wildcat Lake is the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on the campus of Lees-McRae College. This learning laboratory for wildlife biology students cares for 1,500 injured birds, raptors, waterfowl, reptiles and small mammals from western North Carolina each year. You can stop by seven days a week all year to visit ambassador birds outside in the cages in front and take a peek inside to see what is happening in the lab via a large picture window.
On Saturdays (and Thursdays and Fridays during the summer) at 1 PM, stop by for a free one-hour talk about their work and a close up look at some of their permanent residents.
Located at 367 Mill Pond Rd, Banner Elk.