Top 10 Bass Lakes: A Travel Guide to Lake Murray

The best fishery in the southeast abounds with lodging and dining options and sits just minutes from one of America’s most stunning and least visited national parks.  -Joe Sills

Lake Murray is on a roll. The “Jewel of the South” reigns supreme in not only the Palmetto State, but the entire hotly contested southeastern region. In April’s Bassmater Elite Series event, a staggering 49 daily limits weighted in over 20 pounds. And of the 103 anglers competing, only a handful failed to limit each day. Six limits toped 24 pounds and a trio of those topped 26 pounds. 

Bass anglers making their rounds through the southeast this year would do well to keep Lake Murray high on their itinerary. It’s a straw poll favorite among Elite Series pros for the best lake on tour right now; one that’s bristling with stout average weights and a high likelihood of landing a giant to boot. 

Located just 20 minutes from downtown Columbia, South Carolina, Lake Murray is also an easily accessible travel destination with an abundance of activities beyond the water. Here’s where to go and what to see on your next trip to Lake Murray. 

Tie-up to a good time at lakeside eateries

Lake Murray abounds with restaurants and bars located right on the water. With no need to take the boat out, hungry bass anglers on most sections of the lake can grab a table in no time. 

Lighthouse Marina is one of just a dozen certified clean marinas in South Carolina, and the setup here feels the part. You’ll find plenty of pleasure boats tied up at the expansive dock complex on the Columbia side of Lake Murray; and those pleasure boaters power the dual eateries of the Rusty Anchor and Catfish Johnny’s. Snag a plate of chicken nachos or hot lava shrimp at the Rusty Anchor or a black and blue tuna sandwich at Catfish Johnny’s. Cool off after a hot day on the water with a dirty banana, key lime colada or mudslide here as well. 

Tie up to a dock at Big Mans Marina for what’s widely regarded as the best burger on Lake Murray. You’ll find the unassuming restaurant on the lake’s north end at the conjunction of Clouds Creek and the Saluda River. Elsewhere on the north end, Fiddler Blues dishes out panko-crusted fried shrimp and down-home country classics that provide a perfect break from the mid-day sun. 

At mid-lake, Buffalo Creek Bar & Grill Marina hosts live music and karaoke nights in the evenings while serving up a Greek-inspired menu of wings, burgers and salads. A pet-friendly porch welcomes furry companions while on-site docks allow anglers to tie-up on shore. 

Camping, splurging and collegiate spirit

Anglers living camp life will be right at home at Dreher Island State Park. The state park offers 97 paved camping pads with electrical and water hooks as well as on-site showers and restrooms. Most of the sites are located right along the shoreline. In addition to campsites, nearby Hickory Knob State Park Resort offers basic hotel rooms and cabin rentals.

Reservations for both camping and lodging can be made in advance, and an in-park tackle shop can help you stock up on last minute gear. 

For anglers itching to splurge, Lake Murray’s abundance of private home rentals on sites like VRBO is well worth a deep dive. Though the digs don’t come cheap, private villas with outdoor firepits, docks, barbecue areas and plenty of room for boat trailers and friends abound. Meanwhile, the slightly more spartan camping cabins at RiverWinds Landing can provide anglers with a similar experience in a more communal setting. 

From late summer to late fall, weekends around Lake Murray bring a hive of excitement revolving around the SEC’s hometown South Carolina Gamecocks. With annual marquee matchups against national powerhouses like the University of Georgia and University of Florida and Clemson, college pride takes over the town. Anglers can choose to hide from the hubbub out on the water, or dive right in with a room at the Graduate Columbia, where Gamecock memorabilia takes center stage in a hotel that feels pulled from the pages of a Sherlock Holmes novel. 

Find a full day of family fun in Columbia

Catch a sea lion show, feed giraffes and get up-close with koalas at Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo & Garden. The nationally accredited zoo features eight landscapes inspired by natural habitats around the world. And while you won’t find any artificial fish habitats, you will find replicas of Kenya, Uganda, Congo and Australia.

Flora lovers will be right at home here, too, as the zoo is home to a botanical garden annually ranked as one of the best in America. Stroll through a walled garden or glide beneath draping rows of angel’s trumpets, roses and apricots. 

Just five minutes away, the largest children’s museum in the Southeast and second largest in the world—the EdVenture Museum—is packed with family friendly activities. Open seven days a week, the EdVenture Museum. Designed to introduce young children to the world of education, the museum houses hands-on arts and crafts classes, a mock-up veterinarian clinic and fire station as well as a flight simulator and interactive games center. 

For bigger kids (or the young at heart) Frankie’s Fun Park offers a sprawling playground of go-kart tracks, arcade games and indoor thrill rides. The Park sits just seven miles from Lake Murray right off of I-26. 

Explore one of America’s least visited National Parks

Just 30 minutes east of Columbia, the astonishing old growth bottomland of Congaree National Park unfurls before angler’s eyes. This is the largest remaining intact tract of old growth bottomland in the United States, a labyrinth of loblolly pines reaching more than 160 feet in to the sky and cypress trees dating back five centuries. The ecosystem is so unique that it’s been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. 

Immerse in Congaree National Park on the 6.6-mile canoe and kayak trail, camp on a sandbar along the Congaree’s riverbank or simply stroll the 2.4-mile boardwalk trail from the visitor center. Fishing is allowed inside of the park; but this is a spot for kayak anglers to excel.  Watercraft powered by outboard motors are not permitted.