As the fiberglass paddle slices into the water and my 16-foot-long rotomolded kayak slides forward along the Mountain Island Lake coastline, a red-tailed hawk peers down from a pine tree on the bank and a turtle drops off a floating log back into the dark abyss below. I cruise along a brief portion of Mountain Island's 61 miles of shoreline, exchanging waves with occasional speedboaters and a random fisherman. Enjoying the serenity of the water is just a short drive from Charlotte's bustling city life.
Mountain Island Lake is the smallest of the area's three main bodies of water. Lake Norman's 520 miles of shoreline and Lake Wylie's 325 miles of shoreline offer more distance, but also a more hectic atmosphere in which jet-skis, waterskis and wakeboards are far more prevalent. Among them, all three lakes have about anything you'd want to do related to aqua-culture — from water sports and swimming to boat tie-up parties.
Because Mountain Island Lake is a primary source of water for the Charlotte area, there are efforts to limit boating and other activities on the water, and that means you get a calmer environment. Bordered on its southeastern side by Latta Plantation, Mountain Island Park has an outlet for kayak rentals and tours, as well as a small overlook. With fewer homes dotting the shorelines, the numbers of boats and amount of boating activities are minimal, although boat launches are available throughout the park and surrounding areas. A boat launch farther down the Catawba River gives access to the slow-flowing waterway and a water-side entrance to the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
If you're looking for the more active side of lake life, Wylie and Norman are the best bets. On the area's two biggest lakes, you'll find speedboats, sailboats and just about every variety of motorboat you can imagine zipping across the choppier waters. These lakes offer the ideal environments for an adrenaline rush, whether it's on a jet ski, wakeboard or inner tube tied to boat. Outfitters in those areas offer lessons or rentals as needed for just about any sport you're interested in. What's more, the islands scattered throughout both lakes provide great places to tie up, take a swim, or explore the wooded areas.
Another popular way to experience these waterways is on a sunset tour. All of the lakes, as well as the Catawba River, offer various forms of the tours. Kayak tours are available through Latta Plantation as well as outfitters such as Charlotte Outdoor Adventures, while lakes Norman and Wylie have plenty of party and charter boats.
Back on Mountain Island Lake, away from the hum of outboard motors or the noise and chatter of water parties, there's enough quiet to help you find what you're looking for — from soaring birds to skittish amphibians. Or maybe you're just looking for a little piece of mind.
There are plenty of rental agencies and outfitters at each lake. Here are a few examples:
Offers Lake Norman boat rentals, in addition to skis, tubes, kneeboards and wakeboards. Call for rates.
Rates for jet skis range from $99 for two hours to $295 for eight hours.
Rates for jet skis range from $200 to $350 with a four-hour minimum.
Offers kayak, boat and jetski rentals on Lake Norman. Call for rates.
Offering kayak and canoe rentals. Call for rates.
Offers wakeboarding lessons on any of the area lakes. Call for rates.
Offers fishing charters on any of the area lakes. Call for rates.