Wildcat Lake

Open May 25–Sept. 2

The college maintains historic Wildcat Lake for students, faculty, staff, the local community and visitors to the area. This premier High Country attraction features a white sand beach with a swimming area, and two docks for fishing and wildlife observation. In addition, there are four rental shelters with grills, perfect for family gatherings or summer parties. Nearby are a volleyball court, playground sets, and public restrooms. 

Outdoor equipment is available for rent through Wildcat Lake Rentals, an experiential learning endeavor run by students in the Lees-McRae Outdoor Recreation Management program. 

Swimming Area Hours

The lake is open for swimming from Memorial Day through Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 2). Professional lifeguards from the Lees-McRae Outdoor Recreation Management program are on duty seven days a week throughout most of the summer. Groups larger than 25 must contact Wildcat Lake staff at least one week in advance to ensure proper lifeguard staffing.

Monday–Saturday: 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
Sunday: 1–6 p.m.

Fishing Hours

Fishing is allowed from sunup to sundown at Wildcat Lake. Visitors may fish anywhere other than the beach/swimming area. All North Carolina fishing rules and regulations apply. A fishing license is required year-round. Fishing licences can be purchased at the Banner Elk Food Lion. 

Purchase a fishing license

Learn more about fishing in North Carolina


Please help protect yourself and other visitors by adhering to these policies: 

  • Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
  • No swimming without a lifeguard on duty.
  • Personal crafts (kayaks, canoes, paddle boards) are allowed on the water only during the hours lifeguards are on duty.
  • Individuals under 14 must have a personal flotation device (PFD) on at all times while using personal crafts. Ages 14 and older must have PFD on craft at all times. 
  • No motorized crafts.
  • No rough or rowdy play.
  • No diving or inverted manuevers anywhere at Wildcat Lake.
  • No projectiles in the swimming area. 
  • No glass of any kind.
  • No running on the dock.
  • No smoking, vaping, tobacco use, drugs, or alcohol allowed.
  • No bonfires or open flames.
  • No unauthorized drone usage. 
  • No littering.
  • Pets must be on leash at all times.
  • Park only in designated areas.
  • Pack out all personal belongings, including trash.
  • Groups larger than 25 must contact Wildcat Lake at least one week in advance to ensure proper lifeguard staffing.

Wildcat Lake Rentals

Outdoor equipment rentals are available during open Wildcat Lake hours. Credit/debit cards only. 

Item Less than 4 hours More than 4 hours
Hammock $5 $15
Canoe (includes PFD) $15 $30
Kayak (includes PFD) $15 $30
Stand-up Paddle Board (includes PFD) $15 $30
Field games, including cornhole, Spikeball, Kan Jam,
volleyball, and horseshoes
Free Free


There are four pavilions by the lake that can be rented in advance for $50 a day, including one accessible pavilion available on a first-come, first-served basis. Groups larger than 25 must contact Wildcat Lake at least one week in advance to ensure proper lifeguard staffing. To reserve a pavilion, email wildcatlake@lmc.edu.

Pavilion 1
5 covered picnic tables, electricity, 5 additional tables and a grill; non-adjacent parking

Pavilion 2
7 covered picnic tables, 4 additional tables and a grill; non-adjacent parking; nearest to the dam

Pavilion 3
2 covered picnic tables and a grill; no electricity; adjacent parking off Hickory Nut Gap Rd.

Pavilion 4
5 covered picnic tables and a grill, no electricity; adjacent parking from parking lot

Disc Golf Course

Lees-McRae features a disc golf course near the Historic Millpond and Athletics Complex. Discs are available through Wildcat Lake Rentals. 

View the map

Hiking and Biking Trails

There are numerous trails running throughout South Campus and near Wildcat Lake. These trails are open to the public for outdoor recreation purposes. 


Wildlake Lake partners with SustainLMC for operations and programming.  

Wildcat Lake follows Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics Principles:    

  1. Know Before You Go
  2. Stick to Trails
  3. Trash Your Trash and Pick Up Poop
  4. Leave It As You Find It
  5. Be Careful with Fire
  6. Keep Wildlife Wild
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Through our partnership with BearWise and as the first college to become a certified BearWise Campus in the U.S., we have removed all trash cans on the property. Please pack out all trash and leftover food to limit bear interactions. 

sustain-logo.png                     bearwise_logo_bw-transparent-backgrd-trademark-296x300.png

History of Wildcat Lake

Wildcat Lake was created in 1933 after a devastating drought decreased the water supply to the power plant that supplied electricity to the college and the community. The funds to dam Wildcat Stream and build the lake came from donors, including a $2,000 donation from The Duke Endowment. Under the management of the Edgar Tufts Memorial Association, Wildcat Lake became a top family destination for more than 50,000 locals and visitors each year. Lees-McRae College gained ownership of Wildcat Lake after purchasing the former Grandfather Home for Children Property from Children's Hope Alliance in 2022, and maintains the lake year-round as an educational and community resource. 

Special thanks to the Town of Banner Elk's Tourism Development Authority for their generous support of Wildcat Lake. 


With questions, email wildcatlake@lmc.edu or call 828.898.8786. 

Follow us on Facebook