Some are nestled in mountains and surrounded by wooded forest, while others are found not far from city centers, but all of Virginia’s lakes provide scenic spots for rest and reflection. What’s more, many Virginia lakes offer opportunities for all kinds of recreation in nature, from fishing and boating to swimming and kayaking. Only two of Virginia’s lakes are natural. The rest were formed by damming rivers to create reservoirs not only for recreation but also for drinking water, flood control and hydroelectric power. Many of Virginia’s lakes are located within state, county or town parks offering facilities – such as picnic tables, boat launches, boat rentals, campsites and cabins – that make it convenient and fun to enjoy the outdoors on your Virginia vacation. Here’s a look at some of the top lakes in Virginia.
Smith Mountain Lake
With 500 miles of shoreline in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Smith Mountain Lake is one of Virginia’s largest inland bodies of water. Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Bedford County is where you’ll find one of the lake’s two public beaches; the other is in Smith Mountain Lake Community Park in Franklin County. Anglers appreciate the opportunities to fish for striped bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and catfish. If you want to wake up close to the lakeshore, consider a cabin rental, tent site or RV site in Smith Mountain State Park, which is about 35 miles southeast of Roanoke. A cozy bed-and-breakfast not too far from the lake is Frazier 102, named for its street address on 102 Frazier Road in Alta Vista.
Stretching 17 miles across Louisa and Spotsylvania counties, as well as a small slice of Orange County in the northeastern part of the state, Lake Anna is located about 80 miles south of Washington, D.C. This inland reservoir boasts 200 miles of shoreline. Interestingly, Lake Anna has a public and a private side. The public side offers many boat launches, gas pumps, marinas and restaurants, while the private area of the lake can be accessed only by local property owners. The public section of the lake borders Lake Anna State Park, where visitors flock for swimming, boating, fishing and hiking. The state park’s sandy beach area is family-friendly, with lifeguards on duty from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. You can stay overnight in a cabin, lodge or even a yurt at the state park; campsites are also available. Further afield, Stevenson Ridge in Spotsylvania offers lodging in 19th-century cabins and cottages on a rural 87-acre property.
Hungry Mother Lake
At 108 acres, Hungry Mother Lake isn’t a huge body of water, but it’s one of the state’s popular fishing lakes for its plentiful largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, as well as crappie, carp and sunfish. Channel catfish, walleyes and musky are stocked annually. The lake is located within Hungry Mother State Park in Smyth County, in the western part of the state. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy picnicking, fishing, boating, hiking and swimming at the state park. Cabins, lodges, yurts and campgrounds are available for overnight lodging in the warm-weather months.
Lake Drummond is one of only two natural lakes in Virginia (the other is Mountain Lake near Newport, which has dried up and refilled in recent years). The rest of Virginia’s lakes were created by damming rivers. What’s nifty about Lake Drummond is that it’s wholly contained within the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, an important 113,000-acre habitat and diverse ecosystem for flora and fauna that straddles the Virginia-North Carolina border. This makes Lake Drummond a particularly great place for bird-watching. The lake itself is only 6 feet deep, but it allows for peaceful kayaking and canoeing. Lake Drummond is about 30 miles south of Chesapeake and 15 miles south of Suffolk, where moderately priced hotels include the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront.
John H. Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake)
Virginia’s largest lake is John H. Kerr Reservoir in the south-central part of the state. Stretching across the border into North Carolina, it’s also known as Buggs Island Lake and some call it Kerr Lake. With more than 800 miles of shoreline, this freshwater body of water is known for its ample opportunities for boating, water skiing, swimming and fishing. In fact, it’s one of Virginia’s best places to fish for crappie, and the lake hosts many statewide and national fishing tournaments. North Bend Park Campground has 249 primitive sites and electric and water hookups close to the water. Here, you’ll also find plenty of facilities, including a recreation trail, a fishing pier, a boat launch, swimming beaches and a kids playground.
Also known as Chesdin Reservoir, Lake Chesdin (about 30 miles southwest of Richmond) is located in the eastern part of the state, forming part of the southern border of Chesterfield County. Boating, fishing, water skiing, canoeing and kayaking are popular activities to enjoy on the lake, and largemouth bass are plentiful here. One place to easily access the lake is Lake Chesdin Campground in the town of Church Road, with its on-site boat ramp and sandy beach. Across from the Lake Chesdin Campground is a boat landing for canoes and kayaks in Chesterfield County.
Occoquan Reservoir is on the southern border of Fairfax County and serves as a major source of drinking water for northern Virginia. It provides a plethora of opportunities for water recreation, as well. One place to enjoy recreation facilities is Fountainhead Regional Park in Fairfax Station. A boat launch allows outdoor enthusiasts to set off in canoes, kayaks or small power boats. There are also boat rentals and kayaking tours available. If you need to stock up on fishing supplies, you can stop by the bait shop. There are multiple trails surrounding the lake, including hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking trails, for even more outdoor exploration. Budget-friendly Hampton Inn Potomac Mills/Woodbridge is 9 miles southeast of Fountainhead Regional Park.
South Holston Lake
South Holston Lake stretches 7,580 acres across southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee. Located south of Abingdon, this lake is particularly scenic as it’s surrounded by forest. From the wooded shoreline, visitors can launch a recreational boat, a stand-up paddleboard, a kayak or a canoe for a fun day on the water. The reservoir is home to sportfish like largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, crappie and walleye, and it’s stocked with brown, rainbow and lake trout. Campsites on the Virginia side of the lake are located at Washington County Park and Wolf Lair Campground. Otherwise, consider moderately priced hotels in nearby Abingdon, such as Country Inns & Suites by Radisson, Abingdon, VA, with rates that include breakfast.
Lake Gaston is situated in southern Virginia, spanning about 35 miles (a large portion of which stretches across the border into North Carolina). It’s just east of John H. Kerr Reservoir. Boating, wakeboarding, water skiing, kayaking, canoeing are all popular recreational water activities travelers can enjoy at this lake. From Holly Grove Marina, you can launch your own boat or rent a pontoon boat or kayak. The marina also features a tackle store and a deli serving breakfast and sandwiches. Just across the water (and accessible via a road) is Lake Gaston Americamps with 120 campsites accommodating tents to 45-foot RVs. Eight cabins each have two sets of bunk beds.
Lake Fairfax Park is in northern Virginia about 20 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., offering lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation. On 18-acre Lake Fairfax, visitors can rent a kayak or pedal boat. While swimming isn’t allowed in the lake, you can splash around the Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole, a water park with slides, water sprays and a lazy river. Lake Fairfax Park also features an old-fashioned carousel, a 15,000-square-foot skate park and wooded hiking trails. Stay close to all the action in the park’s campground with its 136 campsites. Otherwise, Homewood Suites by Hilton Reston is just outside the park.
Bear Creek Lake
Bear Creek Lake sits at the center of Bear Creek Lake State Park in central Virginia, about 55 miles west of Richmond. Surrounded by Cumberland State Forest, this scenic spot is popular in warm-weather months for swimming, fishing and boating. Visitors will find a sandy beach (with lifeguards Memorial Day to Labor Day) and a pier with motorboat, rowboat, paddleboat, stand-up paddleboard, canoe and kayak rentals at this state park. Anglers can try their hand at catching largemouth bass, crappie, bream and channel catfish. The state park also has horseback riding, biking and hiking trails, as well as an archery range. Spend the night here in a rustic lodge or cabin, or rent a tent or RV campsite. Outside the state park, Tru by Hilton Farmville is a budget-friendly lodging option about a 20-mile drive south.
Sherando Lake is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, specifically the George Washington National Forest, about 40 miles west of Charlottesville. The 25-acre spring-fed lake is part of the developed Sherando Lake Recreation Area, with opportunities for picnicking, boating, hiking, swimming from a sandy beach and fishing. A smaller upper lake that’s also part of the recreation area is used primarily for fishing. A campground between the two lakes offers sites for tents and RVs. The sprawling Wintergreen Resort is a 10-mile drive west and offers multibedroom condos and homes for rent, as well as single-bedroom guest rooms.
The nearly 4,400-acre Claytor Lake was formed by the damming of the New River. One convenient way to enjoy all this reservoir has to offer is to visit Claytor Lake State Park, which is nestled into one of its bends. Located about 50 miles southwest of Roanoke, the state park offers facilities for swimming, fishing and boating. A local outfitter rents pontoon boats, ski boats, fishing boats, canoes, kayaks and even hydrobikes. Catfish, muskie, walleye and striped bass are the types of fish anglers can catch from this lake. Plus, this is a great place to take a nature walk, as the park features 7 miles of easy trails. Overnight accommodations include campsites, cabins, lodges, yurts and a bunkhouse. The town of Dublin is home to moderately priced hotels, including the Holiday Inn Express Dublin, just 5 miles away.
Considered by many to be one of the prettiest lakes in Virginia, Philpott Lake is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 50 miles south of Roanoke. Like other reservoirs in Virginia, Philpott Lake is used for flood control and hydroelectric power generation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates a visitor center at the north end of Philpott Dam Road not far from Philpott Marina. The lake is also chock full of opportunities for recreation with 100 miles of shoreline, eight campgrounds, six beach areas and nine boat launches. The Hampton Inn Martinsville is one of a handful of budget and moderately priced hotels in Martinsville, about a 20-mile drive southeast of the visitor center.
About 100 miles west of Charlottesville, Douthat Lake is located within Douthat Lake State Park, a historic recreational area that families have flocked to since 1936. The 50-acre lake is stocked with rainbow, brown and brook trout during fee season (the first Saturday of April to June 15 and again from Sept. 15 to Oct. 31), so it’s an especially good time for kids to toss a line with the fish biting. In the summer, fees and trout stocking are suspended. Travelers can traverse the more than 40 miles of hiking trails in the state park or enjoy the unguarded beach for swimming (open May through October). Cabins, lodges and campsites are available within the state park. Otherwise, the Red Lantern Inn, housed in a 100-year-old building in downtown Clifton Forge, offers casual accommodations.
Fairy Stone Lake
Fairy Stone Lake is located within Fairy Stone Lake State Park, about 50 miles south of Roanoke and close to Philpott Lake. The 168-acre reservoir is named after the “fairy stones” or uniquely shaped rocks found in the area. The stones have an unusual three-dimensional cross shape, though some are just single brick form. According to legend, they are good luck, so if you find one while visiting, be sure to pick it up and pocket it. The lake itself is popular for kayaking and canoeing, and rentals are available in the state park. Guarded beach swimming is available for a fee, and there are 10 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. You’ll find sunfish, largemouth bass and crappie to fish for here. Accommodations include cabins, lodges, yurts, tent campsites and RV sites with electricity and water. Martinsville is about 15 miles southeast and budget lodging in town includes the Comfort Inn near Martinsville Speedway.
Burke Lake is in Fairfax County, about 25 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. The 218-acre lake is popular among anglers for its variety of fish: largemouth bass, muskellunge, walleye, bluegill, white perch and sunfish are just a few of the many types of fish you can catch here. The reservoir is the centerpiece of Burke Lake Park, which offers lots of entertainment for visiting families. In the warm-weather months, you can ride a carousel or miniature train, play mini-golf, stroll the 4.7-mile trail around the lake, take a boat tour or rent a fishing boat, a kayak, a rowboat or a canoe from the marina. Swimming and stand-up paddleboarding are not permitted in the lake. There are 100 wooded campsites here for tents or RVs up to 25 feet long; no electrical or water hookups are available. Otherwise, Embassy Suites by Hilton Springfield, offering free cooked-to-order breakfast, is 10 miles east.
Lake Keokee is in western Virginia, not far from the border of Tennessee. Surrounded by National Forest land, the 92-acre lake is home to largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish. A quiet spot for boating and fishing, the lake has a public boat launch. You can also stroll around the 3.7-mile lakeshore loop. This is a day-use recreational area, so there are no campsites nearby. The nearest hotel and camping accommodations are about 15 miles east in Big Stone Gap.
The Mariners’ Lake
Formerly known as Lake Maury, The Mariners’ Lake is part of The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News. While there is a fee to enter the museum dedicated to the world’s waters and maritime heritage, access to the lake and park is free to the public year-round. A 5-mile walking trail circles the lake. A popular photo op and picnic spot is Lions Bridge, overlooking the James River. A variety of lodging, from budget to upscale, is available in Newport News, including the Newport News Marriott at City Center.
Lake Moomaw is in the Allegheny Highlands, surrounded by George Washington National Forest, about 75 miles north of Roanoke and close to the West Virginia border. The lake is 12 miles long and has about 43 miles of shoreline. The Gathright Dam and Lake Moomaw Visitor Center on the southeast corner of the lake is a good spot to learn more about recreational opportunities in the area, including fishing (stocked trout are plentiful), hiking, boating and camping. Consider booking one of the 140 tent or RV campsites at Bolar Mountain Recreation Area. Or if you’re looking for a more comfortable spot for rest and relaxation, the Vine Cottage Inn in Hot Springs is a highly rated bed-and-breakfast that has been welcoming guests for more than a century.
Cave Mountain Lake
Twenty miles south of Lexington in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the 7-acre Cave Mountain Lake is a popular recreation area for families in the warm-weather months with its sandy beach. It’s also a peaceful spot for fishing, picnicking and hiking. Boats and other watercraft are not permitted on the lake. When it comes to a place to stay, the on-site campground offers 51 nonelectric sites. Another option for nearby accommodations is Natural Bridge Historic Hotel and Conference Center, 8 miles north of the Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area.