Central Florida Lakes Guide – Lake County – Harris Chain

Harris Chain

Lake County is located smack in the center of the state between Orlando and Ocala. More than 1,000 lakes and 202 square miles of water can be found within Lake County, which has a very different feel from the rest of the state, which is mostly flat. Averaging 184-ft. above sea level, Lake County is home to some of the highest elevations in the State. The most prominent of the county’s waterways is the Harris Chain of Lakes spanning more than 50,000 acres, and connecting to the Atlantic Ocean through the Ocklawaha and St. John’s Rivers.

Part of Florida’s Ocklawaha Basin (which drains through the St Johns River to the Atlantic Ocean), the Harris Chain of Lakes is set amongst the quaint towns of Eustis, Mount Dora, Leesburg, and Tavares. The seven lakes on the chain are: Lake Harris (the largest of the chain), Little Lake Harris, Lake Eustis, Lake Dora, Lake Beauclair, Lake Griffin, and Lake Carlton. While Lake Yale is technically the eighth lake of the chain, it is not accessible from the other lakes. Lake Apopka forms the headwaters of the Harris Chain.

The Harris Chain has reached national acclaim as a source of prize-winning bass, drawing anglers for fishing excursions and numerous professional tournaments. The open, unobstructed waters average over 10-ft in depth, making the chain an ideal spot for boating and watersport recreation. The Harris Chain provides a worthwhile excursion path to Ocala’s Silver Springs via Lake Griffin, if you’re feeling particularly exploratory!

Leesburg Venetian Gardens

Breaking Down the Chain

Big and Little Lake Harris

The two Lake Harrises combine to cover over 16,000 acres of water. Little Lake Harris is the body of water east of the Howey Bridge, while the water west of the bridge is considered Big Lake Harris. Big Lake Harris is one of the largest lakes in Florida and one of the most scenic – where steep hills line the northern shoreline. Little Lake Harris is largely undeveloped, and clearer than most of the Harris Chain waters. Hickory Point Park is located at the union of the lakes, where you can find boat docks and ramps, a fishing pier, nature trail, picnic and barbeque areas, a playground, and sports fields. Best of all, admission is free! This is a popular site for fishermen and kayakers. Little Lake Harris has numerous canal off-shoots. Most are shallow, but they can reach up to 8-ft in depth. 

The charming town of Howey-in-the-Hills is located on the western shore of Little Lake Harris, with its outstanding golf courses, lakeside marina, and upscale restaurants. The City of Leesburg and its Venetian Gardens Waterfront Park (with public boat ramp) are located on the west side of Lake Harris, and The Villages, the largest retirement community in the US is located in Lady Lake just north of Leesburg. On the southern shore of Big Lake Harris, you’ll find the nostalgic village of Yalaha and the famous Yalaha Bakery.

Lake Eustis

At the center of the Harris Chain is Lake Eustis. At approximately four miles wide and five miles long, Lake Eustis connects to Lake Harris through the Dead River, while the Dora Canal in the southeast corner leads the way to Lake Dora, the City of Tavares and the City of Mount Dora. Lake Griffin can be reached through Haines Creek. 

Lake Eustis is home to a selection of waterfront restaurants. You can also dock at the City of Eustis municipal docks to explore the scenic, charming downtown area and the Eustis Lake Walk. There are two public boat ramps on Lake Eustis: the Buzzard Beach ramp between Tavares and Leesburg on Highway 441, and the Eustis city ramp on Lakeshore Drive. Lake Eustis is an exceptional spot for bass and crappie fishing, as well as boating and jet skiing.

Lake Dora

The historic lakefront town of Mount Dora sits on the eastern shore of Lake Dora. Mount Dora is home to popular events like the Mount Dora Art Festival as well as endearing sidewalk cafes, antique shops and exquisite sunsets. Lakeshore Drive is a beautiful and scenic two-lane road running alongside Lake Dora connecting Mount Dora and the Town of Tavares, where Lake Dora plays host to the Antique Boat Festival, and guests who love classic watercraft.

The town of Tavares is the county seat and “Florida’s Seaplane City” – a unique downtown and waterfront area where visitors have the option to fly-in by seaplane. The Dora Canal from Lake Eustis is the site of many “old Florida” cruises and tours of natural areas full of ancient cypress trees and native wildlife. 

Lake Beauclair and Lake Carlton

Lake Beauclair is accessed through a short cut at Lake Dora between the City of Mount Dora and Deer Island. Access to tiny Lake Carlton is through a small inlet in the bottom of Lake Beauclair. Lake Beauclair and Carlton both hold good sized bass. The Apopka Beauclair canal system is home to a fair population of resident fish, especially at the locally famous “clear canal” section with a spring.

Lake Griffin

Lake Griffin is the most natural of the Harris Chain lakes, with minimal development, and water levels controlled by two locks (at Haines Creek and at Moss Point near Highway 42). The lake is approximately seven miles long with a large lakefront golf course community on the west side of the lake and the City of Leesburg to the south. A thin peninsula known as Treasure Island juts out into the lake about midway on the northeast side. Lake Griffin is a great spot for catching bass and crappie, with public boat ramp access on Highway 441 at the south end of the lake. It’s also a popular pathway for a daytrip to Silver Springs.

Lake Yale

Lake Yale is the only large Harris Chain lake that is not accessible from the rest of the chain. Approximately five miles long and three miles wide, this is the quietest and least populated of the Harris Chain lakes, with the most excellent fishing holes. There is an extensive nature area on the north shore of Lake Yale, as well as public boat ramp access at Marsh Park on the east side of the lake off highway 452.

Surrounding the Chain