Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Lake Lanier, GA

  • Published 2023/03/18

Lake Lanier, the largest in Georgia, counts as one of the most visited among the 464 US lakes that the Army Corps of Engineers has developed and operated.

This popularity comes even as urban legends hound this 150-square-kilometer lake created with the 1956 completion of the Buford Dam in northern Georgia.

The US Army Corps of Engineers built the dam for power generation as well as to control the flooding of the Chattahoochee River flowing west of Atlanta.

The rising waters that resulted from the dam construction submerged the thriving village of Oscarville, which eventually became a fertile source of urban lore.

Be that as it may, some12 million visitors a year flock to Lake Lanier both for water-based and land-based leisure activities.

Most of these recreational delights can be enjoyed at the 1,600-acre Lake Lanier Islands in the region of the city of Buford.

Originally, these islands were large hills that eventually became an archipelagic chain, with the dam creating Lake Lanier.

A sprawling resort complex has been developed in these islands—Margaritaville–bringing in many of the things to do in Lake Lanier, as shown in the following list.

Discover a Hideaway at Lanier Park Beach

Scenic view of Lanier Park Beach waters

RodClementPhotography /

This is a secluded beach on a small peninsula accessible via Lanier Park Road in the city of Buford.

The waters of this beach are impounded directly by Saddle Dam No. 3 of the Buford Dam.

This is one of the three saddle dams built to bridge several hilltops so that the waters of Lanier Lake can be contained.

Rocky shoreline of Lanier Park Beach

Headley8488 /

Given the setting of Lanier Park Beach, its enclosed waters are calmer and suited for boating and stand-up paddleboarding, as well as swimming.

This park provides a half-mile walking trail, a picnic area with tables and grills, and a boat ramp.

Those coming as a large group can rent a pavilion with a boat dock and commanding views of Lanier Lake.

Create Outdoor Experiences at Buford Dam Park

Located at the very south end of Lake Lanier, this park offers many opportunities to create many beautiful memories, especially outdoor experiences.

The park, easily accessible from Buford Dam Road, provides a beach on the lake designated for swimming.

This beach is tucked in a lake section where jet skis and motorboats are not allowed, so its waters are relatively calm and quiet for swimmers.

The sands are also clean and in abundance on the beach, perfect for the kids and adults to build sandcastles.

Additionally, there are plenty of shaded areas along the beach for cookouts.

The waters of Lanier Lake are calm, and the park provides a boat ramp offering plenty of opportunities for paddleboarding or kayaking.

Off the water, the park has its 3.8-mile, out-and-back Laurel Ridge Trail stretching onward to the nearby Powerhouse Park and Lower Overlook.

As this trail winds through the lake’s shoreline and the edge of the Chattahoochee River, glimpses of beautiful lake views, wildflowers, and wildlife add more delights to a visit to this park.

Pitch a Tent on Lake Lanier’s Shore

Trees along Lake Lanier’s Shore

Sandra Burm /

The shoreline of Lake Lanier provides a choice between pitching a tent on a primitive campsite and hooking up an RV to a developed pad.

The US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) runs seven such campgrounds with 482 campsites, 430 of which have electric and water hookups.

Most of these are waterfront sites, and all have a fire ring, grill, picnic table, and lantern pole.

An empty bench at Lake Lanier’s park

Sandra Burm /

Across east of the Buford Dam Park, bookings for several of these COE campsites can be made at East Bank Park and Lanier Park.

The privately run Shoal Creek Campground on Shadburn Ferry Road, Buford, is also near this area.

It offers campsites amid woodlands perfect for tent camping, pop-up campers, and smaller RVs.

Tall trees near Lake Lanier’s Shore

Sandra Burm /

Explore Bowman’s Island Trail

This trail is accessible via Lower Pool Road in the city of Cumming and is one of the inland points of interest just a short distance from the shoreline of Lake Lanier.

The Bowman’s Island Trail is part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

A complete, out-and-back hiking of this trail goes for about seven kilometers across a well-maintained pathway.

The trail traces the western banks of the Chattahoochee River and features just the right ridge elevation for hikers to enjoy river views under the canopy of forest trees.

The river’s waters here are still in a pretty blue/green hue, having just emerged from the nearby Buford Dam.

Enjoy the Water Park at Margaritaville at Lanier Islands

This water-based amusement park is one of the prime draws of the resort Margaritaville at Lanier Islands.

Set lakeside on Lanier Islands Parkway, it features varying fun rides fit for the thrill scale of kids, teens, and adults.

The favorite pick for some is the Black Out slide in total darkness, while others prefer racing on dual mats across plummets and drops.

Many are also drawn to the water park’s zip line providing an adrenaline rush as they fly across the lake.

For the less venturesome, the Water Park offers a wave pool where they can relax and be entertained by Margaritaville’s sights and sounds.

Cruise on Lake Lanier

Boats docked at Lake Lanier's marina

Brett Barnhill /

A visit to Lake Lanier won’t be complete without a leisure cruise on its waters, an experience that the Margaritaville resort offers.

It has a fleet of excursion yachts that depart from the resort’s Harbor Landing for three-hour lake cruises.

Margaritaville’s luxury cruise boats feature enclosed, climate-controlled cabins with indoor seating and restrooms.

A boat on Lake Lanier

James P Mock /

These vessels also provide an upper outdoor deck with seats as well as a modern sound system.

While cruising, the passengers will not only enjoy scenic views and snacks of nachos, shrimps, and empanadas.

They can also sample the six specialty margaritas of Margaritaville or the resort’s signature boat drinks like the ice-cold LandShark Lager.

Chill in Winter at Margaritaville’s Snow Island

A winter visit to Margaritaville at Lanier Islands can be as exciting as a vacation in a mountain resort.

During winter, this resort operates its Snow Island featuring snow tubing and other amusement rides.

The resort’s snow slide, dubbed Parrot Mountain, boasts a 575-foot or eight-story glide, said to be one of the longest in North America.

At Margaritaville’s Snow Island, visitors can also enjoy doing figures of eight in a skating rink, as well as riding the Ferris wheel, carousels, and bumper cars.

There is also a Snowball Alley where resort guests can make snow angels or even have a snowball fight.

Winter in Margaritaville is also the time to see and enjoy its Lakeside Lights Spectacular and the warm offerings of the resort’s Glacier Café.

Swing Woods and Irons at the Legacy on Lanier Golf Club

Lake Lanier is one of the features that contribute to the consistent top ratings of the Legacy on Lanier Golf Club.

Twelve of this club’s 18-hole championship golf course present play on the water for a unique golfing experience.

Located on Lanier Islands Parkway at the Margaritaville at Lanier Islands, this golf course has also been redesigned to reflect the classic 18-hole layouts of the early to mid-1900s.

Complementing the beauty of Lake Lanier, fine white sands, rolling fairways, and undulating greens grace the par 72 courses of Legacy on Lanier Golf Club.

A round at this layout stretches to 6,580 yards from the longest tees traversing an unspoiled natural setting.

The course flaunts state-of-the-art MiniVerde Bermuda Greens and zoysia-lined “Billy” bunkers.

Notably, this innovative bunker design has been developed at the revered Augusta National Golf Club.

Legacy on Lanier Golf Club challenges golfers with its slope and course ratings of 141 and 72.7, respectively.

Try Flyboarding or Go Jet Skiing in Lake Lanier

Water sport equipments at Lake Lanier

Sandra Burm /

Check out the deck of Lake Lanier Water Sports in the Margaritaville resort if you want to experience the thrill of flyboarding.

It has a professional staff to ensure your safety as you go airborne over the water.

Lake Lanier Water Sports also offers Jet Ski rentals, as well as instructions for beginners on driving the watercraft.

Newbies at Jet Ski driving can rely on Lake Lanier Water Sports to provide them with one-on-one professional instruction about safety and controls.

Its instructors will also take Jet Ski beginners on a guided tour of the waters of Lake Lanier.

Later, the Lake Lanier Water Sports tutors will take them to a zone for a chance at riding solo.

Paddle on Lake Lanier

Visitors of Margaritaville at Lanier Islands who want to go paddleboarding or kayaking proceed to Energy Watersports at Landshark Landing Beach.

Rentals of paddleboards and kayaks are available here, as well as instructors for beginners on kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.

Energy Watersports already has more than 10 years of experience in its business.

It thus has access to expert tutors for kayakers and paddleboarders in Lake Lanier.

From Landshark Landing Beach, kayakers and paddleboarders in Margaritaville have nearly one mile of sand to launch into the inviting waters of Lake Lanier.

Go Camping or Glamping on Lake Lanier Islands

Margaritaville at Lake Lanier Islands offers campers some of the best lodging options.

One choice is its RV campground, and another is its lakeside cabins, plus the opportunity of staying in the resort’s glamping tent cottages.

Margaritaville’s RV campground is very well-maintained, including its bathhouse and laundry.

Most sites are cemented and spacious, with options on open or wooded areas conducive to a quiet camping experience.

Catch Bass or Carp at Lanier Lake’s West Bank Park

View of Lanier Lake from West Bank Park

Thomson200, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This park on the western bank of Lake Lanier is near the Buford Dam at the lake’s southern end.

Expert anglers prefer fishing at West Bank Park because this part of Lake Lanier has cooler and deeper waters that carp and bass typically inhabit.

Located in the city of Cumming, West Bank Park is also a preferred fishing spot for families because of its kid-friendly swimming beach.

Besides its fishing jetty, this day-use park also provides picnic shelters and nature trails.

Stay at Lanier Islands Legacy Lodge

The essence of the leisure activities that Lake Lanier has created can be best captured with a stay at this highly rated lodge.

A part of the Margaritaville resort complex, Lanier Islands Legacy Lodge offers 282 individually furnished hotel rooms.

It has villa rooms with terraces or balconies overlooking the lake and also boasts private lake houses suitable for up to eight guests.

The lodge’s room amenities include free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, coffeemakers, and balconies or patios.

Legacy Lodge provides several other facilities such as a saltwater swimming pool, a fitness center, a business center, and multiple dining options, including Sidney’s Fine Dining and Bull Frog Bar & Grill.

Dock at Lake Lanier at Holiday Marina

Boats docked at Holiday Marina

Sandra Burm /

Boat captains exploring Lake Lanier would typically slip their boat in for the day at this marina at the south end of Lake Lanier.

Situated just outside of Lake Lanier Islands, it is the oldest marina and one of the largest on the lake.

Holiday Marina has many special amenities which cater to the Lake Lanier boat owner.

These include an easily accessible fuel dock, marine service center, yacht sales, ships store, sailing academy, and boat rentals.

Water-based recreational facilities complementary to a boating lifestyle are also readily available at the nearby Margaritaville resort complex.

Chill Out at the Twisted Oar Restaurant

This restaurant, located on Lake Lanier at Holiday Marina, is a straight choice for savory food, superb service, and cold drinks.

Its menu items range from tasty chicken to sizzling steak and fresh seafood, ensuring there’s something for everybody’s tastes.

On the outdoor seating of Twisted Oar, its patrons can enjoy a cold beer from a draft selection of 20 brews while enjoying the views of the lake.

Or they can sip on a refreshing margarita while viewing a game on one of the restaurant’s 10 flat screens located both indoors and outdoors.

Twisted Oar also features weekly entertainment, including live music, dueling pianos, and trivia contests.

Admire the Waterfront Scenery at Toto Creek Campground

Toto Creek Campground has everything you might need for a nature retreat along Lake Lanier’s shore.

This Dawsonville attraction has garnered attention from many camping enthusiasts with its well-rounded facilities.

This tent-only site features an impact pad and stunning wide-open views of the lake.

Among its recreational amenities include a picnic area, paved walkways for casual strolls and walks, and grills.

Come by with your loved ones and take advantage of the fire rings for your campfire sessions.

Splash around at the lake and go fishing if you’ve got the time.

You can find Toto Creek Campground north of Buford Dam on Henry Grady Highway.

Launch Your Boat at Vanns Tavern Park

One of the best ways to experience Lake Lanier is by riding a boat across its calm waters.

And this is possible at Vanns Tavern Park.

Located along Vann Tavern Road in Gainesville, this park draws history from a man named James Vann, who was a Cherokee tribe native.

Sometime around 1805, James Vann created a tavern near Vann’s Ferry.

Several years later and after many renovations, the site offers a charming white sand beach and a boat launch ramp.

Vanns Tavern Park is your best bet for fun in the waters with the whole family.

Go Hiking at Lanier Point Park and Athletic Complex

Lanier Point Park and Athletic Complex provides you with the active pastime you’ve always been looking for along the shores of Lake Lanier.

This park’s athletic complex comes with grass outfields and major league bases.

The site also has picnic facilities within the complex for your quick snack run.

Walking outside, you’ll find a boat ramp and pavilions.

Make your visit more memorable and immersive by going on a hike along the park’s multi-use trails.

Lanier Point Park and Athletic Complex are on Lee Waldrip Drive Northwest in the city of Gainesville.

Marvel at Nature as You Walk along Rock Creek Greenway

For a laid-back hike that gets you to Lake Lanier, Rock Creek Greenway is the trail for you.

This semi-urban trail starts from downtown Gainesville on Northside Drive and ends at the shores of the famous lake.

Well-shaded and paved, this route is ideal for casual walkers and joggers.

Rock Creek Greenway also connects four parks within the city.

These include Rock Creek Park, Ivey Terrace Park, Wilshire Trails Park, and Longwood Park.

Along your route are large canopies of trees—this is what makes this trail unique from others within its area.

So, tie your shoelaces, and get ready for a walk at this two-mile greenway.

Watch the Boat Race at the Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival

One of the famous Lake Lanier festivals you shouldn’t miss out on is the Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival.

Considered a Georgia event staple, this festival brings Hong Kong to American land.

And though the festival introduces Hong Kong cuisine and a variety of cultural events on the shores of Lake Lanier, the event’s centerpiece is the dragon boat race.

The race features intricate dragonboats at 39 feet long with a distinguishable head and tail at each end.

Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival takes place every September, so mark your calendars as soon as you can!

Final Thoughts

Lake Lanier shall remain a hot travel destination in Georgia, even as many strange tales have been associated with it.

To a certain extent, such stories may even have helped sharpen the interest in visiting this lake and the various island attractions in it.

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