8.7.23 4

Carolina Bays

Do any of y’all from Southeastern North Carolina ever skip the beach trip and head to Lake Waccamaw, White Lake, or Jones Lake instead? We do. These lakes are closer to us than the beach and much less crowded.

I’ve lived within an hour of these swimming holes for most of my life and never realized they were any different from the other lakes I frequented growing up.

How are they different? Good question. What makes them different is the fact that they aren’t lakes. They are Carolina bays.

A Carolina bay is a shallow egg-shaped depression on the earth’s surface. Named for the bay trees often found nearby, these basins are spread throughout the Atlantic Coastal Plain from Florida up to Maryland.

The origins of Carolina bays are a mystery and a source of scientific debate. Did meteors create them? Glaciers? Wind? The truth is, no one knows.

Those of us who live in Southeastern North Carolina are surrounded by them, whether we realize it or not. The highest concentration of these depressions exists on either side of the North Carolina-South Carolina line.

Scientists estimate that 400,000 to 2.5 million Carolina bays dot the landscape. Most of them have dried up or become boggy from vegetation overgrowth. Others were plowed over, bulldozed, or had roads asphalted through them. 

There are about 900 left today – 80% of them found in North Carolina, and most of those are in Bladen County.

Those that remain provide a glimpse into the wild wetlands that once claimed Southeastern North Carolina. Sandy shores shaded by long-leaf pines gaze out over murky waters where ancient pond cypresses grow. The scent of various types of bay dance on warm breezes. Rare plants and wildlife make their homes around the bogs. In the spring and fall, the amphibians lift their voices in a throaty chorus.

If it sounds like a magical place, it’s because it is.

A trip to one of the bays is always worth it. Here’s a few places where you can experience the magic for yourself:

  • Bladen Lakes State Forest
  • Lake Waccamaw
  • Jones Lake
  • White Lake
  • Singletary Lake
  • Horseshoe Lake
  • Antioch Church Bay
  • Salters Lake
  • Bushy Lake
  • Lake Phelps
  • Bay Tree Lake

Leave a Comment


  1. Tipper Pressley wrote:

    Fascinating! I’ve never heard of them but would love to visit one.

    Published 8.7.23
    • Cassie wrote:

      They’re really beautiful spots! I take the girls to Jones Lake a few times every summer. It’s a lot less crowded that Lake Waccamaw and White Lake – sometimes we find ourselves with the whole lake to ourselves. 🙂

      Published 8.8.23
  2. Edwin Bailey wrote:

    I’ve been to White Lake. I just thought it was a lake. Good story.

    Published 8.7.23
    • Cassie wrote:

      Thank ya, sir! I didn’t know these weren’t true lakes until about five years ago. It blew my mind to learn that they were something else altogether.

      Published 8.8.23