Boating on Lake Lanier: Rules, Locations & Things to Do
Conveniently located forty-five minutes north of Atlanta, in the foothills of the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake Lanier is the ultimate place for boaters. This picturesque lake is surrounded by delicious restaurants, exclusive hotels, rustic cabins, thrift stores, boutiques, fine shops, art, culture, etc.
The 690-mile shoreline is filled with seemingly endless possibilities; there are seventy-six boat ramps, seventy-six recreational areas, ten marinas, dozens of parks, and cozy sleeping accommodations.
This article will feature some of the best areas and attractions, so read on and get ready to plan your next unforgettable adventure.
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6 Best Places to Boat on Lake Lanier
While Lake Lanier has seventy-six boat ramps available, not all are free to use; some require a membership or a small user fee. Are you interested in joining a boat club? Here are some secrets they don’t want you to know.
There are ten marinas on the shorelines too. Each offers fuel, bait, tackle, boat repair, boating supplies, souvenirs, and snacks. Below are our top six choices for boat ramps.
1. Long Hollow Access Ramp
Long Hollow Access Ramp is ideal because it is located near the center of the long lake, on the western side. You can find this boat ramp on the east end of Bryant Road in Gainesville, Georgia.
2. Old Federal Boat Ramp
This boat ramp can be found just southeast of Long Hollow Access, on the east side of the lake. It can be found at 6175 GC Crow Road, Flowery Branch, Georgia, in the Old Federal Day Use Park. This ramp accommodates large and small boats, though kayakers are particularly drawn to this access. Even when the water levels are down, it is more accessible than other ramps on the lake. There’s a small beach, clean restrooms, and a well-maintained park surrounding it.
3. Mary Alice Public Boat Ramp
Located at the end of a unique (and beautiful) peninsula on the southeastern side of Lake Lanier, the Mary Alice Public Boat Ramp leads to clean, clear, calm waters. Picnic tables, grills, and fire pits are also provided.
Many families visit the Mary Alice Beach Park, which encompasses the ramp, due to the kind waters and groomed beaches ideal for swimming. In addition to family days on the beach, there is an excellent crowd of jet skiers and water sports enthusiasts.
While the waters may be calm, your days can be adventure-filled here. This park is located at the eastern end of Mary Alice Park Road in Cumming, Georgia.
4. Little River Boat Ramp
Little River Boat Ramp can be found at the top of Lake Lanier. It is on the western end of Little River Park Road in Gainesville, Georgia. This boat ramp is perfect for anglers as there are many coves, deep waters, and impressive fish in the area. You aren’t far from the Little River either. Many boaters love the narrowness of this section of the lake and the gorgeous scenery.
5. Balus Creek Public Boat Access
The Balus Creek Public Boat Access is nestled in a cove at the end of Mountain View Road in Oakwood (Hall County), Georgia, just north of the Old Federal Boat Ramp. This access is clean, well-maintained, and offers four launch lanes. Because this park is so accommodating and clean, expect a large crowd here.
6. Lanier Park Access
Lanier Park Access is located at the southernmost tip of the lake, on East Lanier Park Road. This launch is part of the Buford Dam Park. The park offers restrooms, a beach area, picnic areas, and great fishing locations.
Where to Fish on Lake Lanier
Little River Park, as mentioned above, is a fantastic spot to cast. The Little River runs through here and offers interesting river channels, active shallows, and overhanging trees and logs perfect for larger quantities of fish. You’re most likely to find largemouth and smallmouth bass, big catfish, and lake trout.
Buford Dam Park, also mentioned above, is right near Buford Dam at the south end of the lake, and it offers cold and deep waters for serious anglers. Here you are most likely to catch carp, largemouth, and smallmouth bass.
The lake’s northern end is more shallow and filled with overhanging trees, shrubs, and brush. This leads to warmer waters and an ideal place to fish for spring crappie. You’re also most likely to find spotted bass, especially in the early spring and summer.
As the summer heats up, you should move south in the lake, towards the deep water near the dam. Here, the lake is colder and deeper, ideal for bass, catfish, and carp.
Lake Lanier Boating Rules
- People born on or after January 1st of 1998 must take a DNR-approved boater education course before using a boat on state waters, including Lake Lanier.
- Children under the age of twelve cannot operate a vessel that is longer than sixteen feet. They may run a vessel that is shorter than sixteen feet, but only if the boat has less than 30 horsepower (or is non-motorized) so long as a competent adult accompanies them.
- All boats must have a type I, II, or III PFD. Boats sixteen to twenty-six feet long must have a Type IV PFD. People on personal watercraft and those under the age of thirteen must wear their PFD while on the water, moving or not.
- Personal watercraft cannot be operated between sunset and sunrise.
- While alcohol is permitted on the water, vessel operators cannot exceed a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher.
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5 Best Restaurants on the Water on Lake Lanier
1. Bullfrogs Bar and Grille
Bullfrogs Bar and Grille can be found near the center of Lake Lanier at 7000 Lanier Islands Pkwy, Buford, GA 30518.
It offers informal American dining with a fun atmosphere, pool tables, and a large bar. They are known for great cocktails, late-night dining, and being accommodating to larger groups.
2. Pig Tales on Lake Lanier
This restaurant is right on the Aqualand Marina Fuel Dock and offers a front-row seat to the Three Sisters Island on the opposite side of the lake. Pig Tales offers American-style barbeque, wings, burgers, and a full bar. Sit inside or head out onto the patio to enjoy the view.
You can find this delicious eatery at 6800 Lights Ferry Rd, Flowery Branch, GA 30542.
3. G Sisters Restaurant
G Sisters is a Mexican restaurant with cheap but delicious food. Whether you dine-in or carry out, their portions are huge, and customers frequently mention how fresh their ingredients are, especially their tortillas.
G Sisters Restaurant is a short drive away from the Big Creek Boat Ramp. The address is 6986 McEver Rd, Buford, GA 30518.
4. Cotton Calf Kitchen
Cotton Calf Kitchen is an upscale, contemporary steakhouse in the historic district of Braselton. Reservations are required here, and the food is just as beautiful as delicious. Try out their fried green tomatoes, Wagyu New York Strip, or the dry-aged ribeye tomahawk steak.
You can find the restaurant at 9924 Davis St #9, Braselton, GA 30517. It is a thirty-minute drive from Old Federal Boat Launch to the restaurant, but well worth the drive.
5. Loretta’s Country Kitchen
Loretta’s Country Kitchen is a “no-frills eatery” that is affordable, and perfectly southern-style comfort food. Service is quick and friendly, the food is made from scratch, tasty, and served cafeteria-style.
It is a four-minute drive from the Balus Creek Public Boat ramp to Loretta’s Country Kitchen. You can find it at 4305 Mundy Mill Rd, Oakwood, GA 30566.
Can You Swim on Lake Lanier?
Yes, you can swim in Lake Lanier, anywhere you would like. With that said though, designated swimming areas and beaches are safer than out in the middle of the lake or in unmarked areas.
Always monitor the water levels yourself and also be sure to check for alerts regarding the lake’s health, temperature, cleanliness, and water levels. Officials have done an excellent job of monitoring the water levels, bacteria levels, and flow rates of the lake and keeping the public informed. They occasionally close access to the lake when necessary, out of caution and safety.
The most shallow end of the lake is the northern end, at levels of only a few feet deep, while the deepest section is on the southern side, close to the dam. The water near the Buford Dam can reach depths of 200 feet or more.
Does Lake Lanier Have a Beach & Where are the Best Places to Swim?
Lake Lanier has 20 Corps-designated swim areas and even more privately owned swim areas that the Corps do not manage. Most beaches are filled with imported white sand or play or construction sand. You are technically allowed to swim anywhere you would like on the lake, even in the middle of the lake from your boat side. Be aware of your surroundings and use proper floatation devices as needed.
Here is the complete list of Corps and State Park designated swim areas:
- Bald Ridge Creek Campground
- Bolding Mill Park
- Buford Dam Park
- Burton Mill Park*
- Clark’s Bridge Park*
- Don Carter State Park*
- Duckett Mill Campground
- Duckett Mill Park
- Keith Bridge Park
- Lanier Park
- Little Hall Park*
- Long Hollow Park
- Mary Alice Park
- Old Federal Campground
- Old Federal Park*
- River Forks Park*
- Sawnee Campground
- Shoal Creek Park
- Shoal Creek Campground
- Toto Creek Park
- Van Pugh Park
- Van Pugh North Park*
- Warhill Park
- West Bank Park
- Young Deer Park
Parks indicated by a * are some of our personal favorites for swimming with small children.
Please note that each of these swim areas is marked as “swim at your own risk,” meaning there are no lifeguards on duty. Seventy-six boat launches line the shores of the lake, too, meaning that you’re never far away from access. Most of the swimming areas listed above have a boat ramp (or several boat ramps) adjacent to them.
Clark Bridge Park is also known as the Lake Lanier Olympic Park because it hosted the 1996 Olympic Games. It’s an excellent spot to row, swim, or hit the water in a pedal boat.
Other popular beaches with locals and tourists alike are the Lanier World Beach and Water Park and Margaritaville at Lanier Islands Waterpark. You can find both of them at Lanier Islands on the southeastern side of the lake.
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Safe Swimming Practices
While Lake Lanier doesn’t have dangerous undercurrents or strong waves, many people have died there, usually due to drownings and boating accidents. Two hundred four people died on Lanier between 1994 and October of 2021. Many of these accidents were preventable, usually due to poor boating practices or lack of water safety. Wearing life jackets at all times, staying sober, and being aware of your surroundings can go a long way.
If you plan to drink while aboard a boat, make sure you have at least one designated person to drive the boat and keep an eye on everyone aboard.
If you are boating near or during dark, make sure your boat is fully equipped with lights and keep them on. There is significant boat traffic on Lanier, so it’s important to be visible. You can check out our comprehensive boat rental safely list here.
Even if you can swim, wear a life jacket. Falling off or out of a boat can result in a head injury, making it impossible to swim. Having at least one person in your group who knows CPR can be a huge help.
When it comes to children, especially younger children, always watch them closely, stay within arms’ reach, and always make sure they wear proper life jackets. Shallow water is not inherently safe, and not all children (or adults) make noise when they are struggling.
Lake Lanier Islands
An estimated 160 islands of various sizes and shapes are dotted across the lake. Of course, these islands weren’t always islands; before the Buford Dam was constructed, the islands were hilltops that belonged to local farms along the Chattahoochee River.
Nearly 700 families residing in the area were displaced when the dam was built. While some families were able to move their entire houses, most packed their belongings and abandoned their homes, barns, and outbuildings. Some of the taller buildings that would stand above the natural waterline or had the potential to float (such as wooden barns) were knocked down and hauled away, but many are still standing, albeit underwater, today. There are several cemeteries and unmarked graves below the lake too.
While Lake Lanier doesn’t offer excellent visibility underwater, many divers still explore beneath the water’s surface to check out the abandoned town, the farmsteads, sunken boats, and cars that have sunk since the lake was formed.
The islands can make for great swimming spots, and many visitors venture out to explore them every year. Use caution while on the islands, as most have steep drop-offs into the water.
Ready for your next adventure on north Georgia’s Lake Lanier? With a local Boatsetter boat rental, your next fun-filled adventure on the lake is easy.
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Waterfront dining in Lake Lanier
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