Imagine a place, once the capital of a nation, but now home to a pristine mountain lake… where Native Americans once hunted and traded near lush forest streams and allies fought wars against foreign nations for control of land and people. Imagine visiting or even living on this gorgeous waterway, conveniently located near excellent golf courses, quaint towns, a major university, thriving cities, all within an easy drive of metropolitan areas. You’ve just described life on Lake Keowee, in the beautiful mountains of South Carolina.
Located in the northwestern part of the Upstate, Lake Keowee covers parts of both Oconee and Pickens Counties. The land that now makes up Lake Keowee was home to the Cherokee Indians of eastern South Carolina. The Cherokee Nation was divided into three regions, the Overhills, Middle, and Lower Sections, and Keowee was the capital of the Lower Section. This fertile place, green and inviting, was named “Kuwoki,” or “place of the mulberries” by its original Indian inhabitants. While Hernando Desoto came through the area in 1540, it was the British who laid claim to the area as part of their Carolina colony in the mid-1600s.
Though the setting today is peaceful and relaxing, Keowee’s history includes bitter battles and alliances that were made and broken. Normally a peace-loving people, the Cherokees fought as allies of the British during the French and Indian War. Then, when that alliance soured, they fought against the British in the Anglo-Cherokee War. A peace treaty was signed in 1762 after the British burned Keowee, ending Cherokee control of the area.
The region’s many rivers, which doubtless attracted the Cherokees and, later, the British, continue to play a role in the area’s development. The Keowee, Toxaway, Little, and Whitewater Rivers feed nearby lakes to the north and south, and supply the basin of Lake Keowee, covering the original Cherokee capital. Originally constructed in 1970 by the Duke Power Company to generate hydroelectric power, this 18,500-acre lake now serves many purposes. Besides its ongoing use in generating electricity, Lake Keowee supplies drinking water to numerous surrounding communities and provides spectacular landscapes for several state parks and public and private campsites.
For example, the Keowee-Toxaway State Natural Area, a 1,000-acre park, contains exceptional rock formations, as well as views of the Foothills and Blue Ridge Mountains. Large rental cabins, surrounded by a forest, feature a deck porch overlooking Lake Keowee. Other facilities include picnic areas with shelters, a campground, lake fishing areas, a floating dock and mountain trails. Nearby, historic Oconee State Park, located in the close-by Blue Ridge Mountains, contains cabins, camping and fishing facilities, and boating activities in two small lakes, eight hiking trails, and a number of picnic areas, shelters and meeting facilities.
Of course, the jewel of the area is Lake Keowee itself. Unspoiled waters shimmer in the shadow of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, and 300 miles of pristine shoreline welcome outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Like fishing? Lake Keowee holds smallmouth and spotted bass, along with crappie, and nearby lakes and rivers are well known for trout. This deep lake allows for swimming, diving and water sports of every kind.
The beauty of Lake Keowee and the surrounding foothills of South Carolina attract far more than a stopover from the occasional visitor-the Lake Keowee area is home to some spectacular golf courses. There are over 20 golf courses in Oconee and Pickens County, ranging from public courses to resort facilities, designed by such golf superstars as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, and Gary Player. The Upstate of South Carolina is considered a golfer’s joy, and the Lake Keowee area one of its finest delights.
The residents and visitors of this paradise come for various reasons. While there are vacation homes for rent on the lake and in nearby areas, there is an active market for both second homes and primary residences. Local realtors report that pre-retirees often purchase a vacation home first. Later, this becomes a primary residence for active retirees who enjoy the four-season living of Upstate South Carolina. There are homes and lots available in every price range, from attractive and affordable to luxurious and lush.
Nearby areas add to the appeal of Lake Keowee. Seneca is a quaint foothills city, with a library, restaurants, shopping, hospital and medical facilities. The historic village of Pendleton is one of the most picturesque locations in South Carolina, and Clemson University, a top-25 public university, offers all the amenities of a college town, with an active social and performing arts scene-not to mention the chance to see the nationally ranked Clemson Tigers athletic teams in action!
Larger cities are close by as well. Greenville and Spartanburg, SC, with their vibrant business atmosphere, are the economic engines of the region, and Asheville, NC, is pulsating with artistic energy. Looking for an even bigger city? Atlanta and Charlotte are within two and a half hours of Lake Keowee. In fact, many newcomers to the area-part-time vacationers and residents alike-come from nearby metropolitan areas, ready for the relaxing and active lifestyle Lake Keowee offers.
For over 300 years, people have come to this gorgeous place nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Some, like Desoto, came and departed, leaving no mark behind. Others, like the Cherokees, who lived and worked here, appreciated the area to such an extent that they made it a capital of their nation. Now, Lake Keowee serves as a source of drinking water and power to growing neighboring communities. Most of all, it continues to be a vista of natural beauty and wonder for all who experience this remarkable locale. If you are looking for just such a place to stay a day, a week, or forever, visit the Lake Keowee area in the stunning Northwest Mountains of South Carolina.