Jordan Lake Dam

By Will Cook and Norm Budnitz

Overview: The high dam that creates Jordan Lake has excellent vistas of the south end of the lake and the Haw River downstream, plus some nice field and woodland birding.

Getting there: From US 64 at Wilsonville (stoplight east of the causeway), take Beaver Creek Road (1008) south 1.0 mile past Ebenezer State Recreation Area, turn right on Pea Ridge Road (1972) and reset odometer. After 3.0 miles on Pea Ridge, bear right to stay on Pea Ridge. New Elam Church will be on your left at 3.1 miles. Note the gated road on the right at 3.6 miles. At 5.1 miles turn right onto US 1 south. Take exit 79, which is marked "Jordan Dam", 1.5 miles west of the Haw River. Turn right at the stop sign onto Moncure-Pittsboro Road (1012). At 0.2 mile, turn right onto Jordan Dam Road (1970). At 2.0 miles on 1970, bear right at a fork, and park near the gate at 2.3 miles.

From Raleigh, take US 1 south to exit 79 and proceed as above.

From Pittsboro, take 15-501 south, then turn left on Moncure-Pittsboro Road. Follow this for 6 miles or so, then turn left on Jordan Dam Road (1970) and proceed as above.

Coordinates for Google Earth/Maps: 35 39 13 N, 79 04 10 W

Where to go: Walk past the gate and you'll be on top of the 1330 foot long dam, 50 feet or so above the lake on your left and 113 feet above the Haw River on your right. You can check the lake water level here -- it's normally around 216 feet above sea level [current report]. If it's lower than 214 feet, there should be some mudflats at the northern end of Jordan Lake. Note the large grassy area on the other side of the dam, to the left and right. This is an emergency spillway in case the lake gets too high. Scope the lake and river from the dam and continue to the other side. Hike down to the grassy field to the right and follow the makeshift trail along the river, past the spillway and into the river bottom woodlands, as far as you feel like going, then head back to the field. Follow dirt road around the emergency spillway field away from the dam. The road and field curve around in a large loop, around a forested hill, and return to the north side of the dam. About halfway around the hill, at the northeast corner, the road straightens and runs across the field. At the top of this straight stretch, the road splits. To the east, it passes through a fence that you must walk around and becomes a long, straight road leading east. If you follow this road for about 1 mile, you'll reach Pea Ridge Road -- this is the "gated road on the right at 3.6 miles" mentioned above. Back at the split, if you turn left, the road climbs up through second-growth forest and heads toward the New Hope Overlook. This track often seems relatively under-populated birdwise, though in the spring, on the right day in May, it can be swimming in migrant warblers.

What to look for: The dam is a great place for scoping the south end of the lake. If you're lucky you may see a duck, perhaps even a scoter, but more likely you'll just find Ring-billed and Bonaparte's Gulls. Downstream is good for gulls, herons, and woodland ducks -- early in the morning in winter, large numbers of Hooded Mergansers can often be seen downstream of the spillway. The area right below the dam is usually best just after dawn, since hordes of fishermen often line the river banks later on in the day (fewer in winter). You may find large numbers of Turkey Vultures loitering atop the dam and in the spring, Barn and Cliff Swallows nest under the dam control tower. The large spillway field is one of the few places you might find a Savannah Sparrow in winter and Grasshopper Sparrows in spring around Jordan Lake, and can harbor Snipe, herons, and meadowlarks. The woodland trail along the stream is very birdy and loaded with things like Winter Wrens, Hermit Thrushes, and woodpeckers. In winter, the long, straight road is the best place near Jordan Lake to find one or more Blue-headed Vireos, mixed in with numerous flocks of the usual winter denizens -- Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, both Kinglets, Brown Creepers, etc. In the spring, this gated road is excellent for both Chuck-wills-widow and Whip-poor-will.

Facilities: The Army Corps headquarters building is at the top of the hill overlooking the dam, though I've never visited when it's been open. I suspect it's open 9-5 M-F. Below the dam, on the west side, are some picnic tables and port-a-johns. The Army Corps has a web site at, which has a little more info about the Jordan Lake project.

When to visit: Fall through Spring.

Revised 12/29/2008

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