The 20 Best Backcountry Lakes: Calderwood Lake

Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, Tennessee/North Carolina

Reach this U-bend in Calderwood near mile 6, just short of the turnaround at Calderwood Dam. (Photo by Jeremy D. Taylor)

Get a taste of the country’s most-visited national park—without the crowds—at this “finger lake,” which pools in the southern Appalachians just outside the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

You could hike to Calderwood’s deserted shores, but paddling there affords better opportunities to explore and set up a basecamp. Start by canoeing a mile from Magazine Branch Boat Ramp to the mouth of Slickrock Creek, where you’ll find your ideal basecamp nestled beneath the green mountainsides. From here, the possibilities are endless. Either hike the Slickrock Creek Trail 1.5 miles into the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness to Wildcat Falls for cliff jumping, or hop back in your boat and paddle farther west on Calderwood (the lake is 7.5 miles long). Its banks are streaked with rock outcroppings, one of which houses an abandoned, half-submerged train tunnel. “You can paddle straight through,” says Jeff Wadley, a boater and hiker who grew up in the area. “It’s like paddling through a cave.”

Trailhead Magazine Branch Campground (35.455643, -83.946571)Season Year-round Boat rentalsSanteetlah Marina ($125 per day or $345 per week) Permits None