For some, Lake Norman is just a large body of water that teases motorists on their daily commute on I-77 to and from Charlotte.  For others, the lake is a place to scorn. It’s rumors of brain-sucking amoebas (No joke, a Mom stared at me in horror when I told her I let my son swim in a body of freshwater after an incident at an unrelated park last year) or swaths of rowdy teenagers crashing tranquil family outings nearby.  For many, though, life on the lake is something special. It’s an escape.  A breath of fresh air. Home.

Dubbed North Carolina’s “Inland Sea,” with a surface area of over 50 square miles (or 32,000 acres!) and 520 miles of shoreline, the Tar Heel state’s largest man-made lake is home to thousands of Charlotte suburbanites.  But with few restaurants, public beaches, or marinas (relative to its size), Lake Norman is truly a hidden gem and little slice of heaven for its inhabitants.

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In the still of the morning, it’s osprey watching from a screened porch with a hot cup of coffee.  It’s the quiet humming of a trolling motor and small talk between a father and son fishing in a wooded cove.  As the lake and our community wake up, fishermen give way to families and friends on water vessels of all shapes and sizes. On towable rafts pulled by ski boats, kids scream and cling to dear life praying a wave doesn’t turn them broadside, breaking only for the nostalgic jingle of an ice cream boat selling frosty treats. The more adventurous (or perhaps just a bit older) practice their skills at water skiing, wake boarding, and jet skiing. Seasoned boaters with wide-brimmed hats and wine glasses idle up and down the channels in large pontoons.

For my family, our secret to serenity on the ‘inland sea’ is found tucked away in a little cove within the southeastern portion of Lake Norman State Park.  Engine off and anchor dropped, in the shade of our black bimini, life seems a little less pretentious and a lot more peaceful than on the lake’s more southern shores.  Cell phone scrolling is replaced with a stack of magazines or a good book.  Our son keeps himself busy practicing his jumps off the stern or fishing from the bow.  There are few interruptions up here, except friendly kayakers paddling by or waves from the State Park’s hikers meandering the trails that follow the perimeter of the lake.

An abundance of wildlife including herons, ospreys, ducks, geese, and turtles don’t seem to mind our vessel in the cove.  But with the occasional caw from a great-blue heron perched precariously overhead or even a visit from a turtle family to our raft, these creatures continually remind us that this part of the lake is really their turf.

As evening approaches and feeling drained from the sun, we ride towards home. We wave or tip our cap to fellow boaters as they pass by – a common Lake Norman tradition whether you know your nautical neighbor or not.  Our son sits on his Dad’s lap and steers – he’s actually getting pretty good at driving!

Back at the dock, the salty sting of sweat and sunscreen still fresh in my eyes, I catch the tip of the blazing Southern sun dipping beneath the trees.  Through the yard and toward the house, still trying to regain our “land legs,” we unload coolers and tote bags.  The air-conditioning inside the quiet house feels good.  It’s getting late – about 7:30 or so.  Our five-year-old tiredly rubs his eyes. My husband and I could easily put our son to bed, plop down on the couch, and waste the evening away in a sun-induced Netflix coma.  Instead, our time inside is short-lived.  Trays are piled high with hot dogs, marshmallows, chocolate bars, and a pair of boozy cocktails, and we head back out to the fire pit.  Between bites of charred hot dogs and gooey smores, in the glow of burning embers, with a chorus of chirping crickets, we savor every last drop of both our cocktails and this picture-perfect Lake Norman day.

Yes, life on the lake is truly an escape.  A breath of fresh air. Home.

Strawberry Basil Mint Smash Cocktail

Engine off and anchor dropped, in the shade of our black bimini, life up here seems a little less pretentious and a lot more peaceful than on the lake’s more southern shores.

An abundance of wildlife including herons, ospreys, ducks, geese, and turtles don’t seem to mind our vessel in the cove. But with the occasional caw from a great-blue heron perched precariously overhead or even a visit from a turtle family to our raft, these creatures continually remind us that this part of the lake is really their turf.

Yes, life on the lake is truly an escape. A breath of fresh air. Home.