There’s Anna, Amelia, Curtis, Frederick, Gordon, Laura, Maury, Nelson; there’s one that’s Brittle; there’s even Swan Lake. They’re but a few of the names you’ll find if searching for the perfect Virginia lake to launch your boat, water-ski, canoe, camp or swim.
In our research, we’ve found the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries the most beneficial resource of all Southeast states – its web site ( www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating/ ) contains a lake-full of information for boaters, anglers and water recreation enthusiasts, whether outboard or rowboat, Jet-Ski or water-ski. And the information is presented in a comprehensive yet easily understood fashion. Its "Virginia Watercraft Owner’s Guide, " for example, details everything from boat registration and equipment regulations to speed laws, water skiing safety, environmental laws and theft prevention. And the details it provides on each of more than 150 lakes statewide are second-to-one, with accolades as well as warnings.
The guide also explains that boating laws are enforced throughout the Commonwealth primarily by 174 Conservation Police Officers who have full police powers, meaning they have the right to lawfully stop and board a boat at any time to check for proper registration and required safety equipment. Like other Southeast states, Virginia requires boat and personal watercraft operators to complete a boating safety course before registering a vessel – and non-residents with boats registered in another state can enjoy Virginia’s waters for up to 90 days. Virginia has more than 250, 000 registered motorboats (including about 30, 000 personal watercraft) and in the past 5 years, there have been more than 700 recreational boating accidents that resulted in nearly 100 fatalities. In 2011, there were 212 boating accidents statewide, with 19 fatalities. Specifics on accidents at individual lakes were not available.
Here’s a quick look at Virginia’s larger lakes, starting in the southwest corner and moving north and east:
Claytor LakeSurrounded by several parks, including the popular Claytor Lake State Park, Claytor Lake offers virtually all forms of water recreation. There are four public ramps and a handicapped-accessible fishing pier, where many of the lake’s species can be caught throughout the year.
- Location: In the New River Valley, approximately 60 miles southwest of Roanoke, in Pulaski County near Radford.
- Size: 4, 475 acres of surface water; 21 miles long.
- Activities: Boating, swimming, camping, hiking and picnicking.
- Safety: Patrolled by the Virginia State Parks system.
South Holston LakeAlthough most of South Holston Lake is in Tennessee (it’s a reservoir created and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority), many Virginians head here for boat racing events in the summer, and its huge Fourth of July fireworks display can be seen for miles. It’s also a popular fishing area – in fact, in 2011, both states agreed on a special license that allows residents of each state to fish in the entire lake.
- Location: Near Abington and Bristol, TN.
- Size: 7, 580 surface water acres (1, 600 acres in Virginia); 168 miles of shoreline.
- Activities: Boating, camping, swimming (no lifeguards), fishing.
- Safety: Patrolled by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Deep in the George Washington National Forest and tucked into a canyon that once was called Kincaid Gorge, up in the Alleghany Highlands, is the massive Gathright Dam, which forms Lake Moomaw from the Jackson River. Lake Moomaw (named for the local businessman who pushed for its creation) is the second largest "impoundment" in western Virginia, and reaches depths of 150 feet or more.
- Location: Just a few miles west of the state’s border with West Virginia, about 60 miles north of Roanok, in Warm Springs, in Bath County.
- Size: 2, 530 acres of surface water; 43 miles of shoreline.
- Activities: Camping, swimming, boating, fishing; part of the 13, 428-acre T.M. Gathright Wildlife Management Area.
- Safety: Patrolled by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Note there are no boat motor size or horsepower restrictions for Lake Moomaw.
Smith Mountain Lake
Surrounded by the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, Smith Mountain Lake is the second largest freshwater body in Virginia (it’s actually a reservoir, owned by American Electric Company). Its open water and many inlets make it appealing to anglers (it hosted the ESPN Bassmaster Elite Series tournament for several years), motor-boaters and canoers alike. Its proximity to Roanoke and Lynchburg means there can be heavy boat traffic during the summer. Smith Mountain Lake is considered one of Virginia’s premier fisheries, and adjacent Smith Mountain Lake State Park offers picnic areas and hiking trails, as well as a next-door golf course.
- Location: Roughly 20 miles southwest of Roanoke, in Bedford, Franklin counties.
- Size: 20, 600 surface water acres; 40 miles long; 500 miles of shoreline.
- Activities: Boating (numerous public, private ramps, marinas); camping (campsites, cabins)
- Safety: Patrolled by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries; no horsepower or engine size limits.
Leesville ReservoirA "kid sister" to Smith Mountain Lake, Leesville Lake (actually, a reservoir) not only helps keep Smith Mountain filled, but is a popular recreation area in its own right. When completed in 1963 by American Electric Power, the surrounding area consisted mainly of corn, tobacco and small family farms, but shoreline residential growth has been increasing since 2004. Still, there are several public boat ramps and marinas available.
- Location: Approximately 40 miles southeast of Roanoke and 35 miles southwest of Lynchburg, in Bedford, Pittsylvania counties.
- Size: 3, 400 acres of surface water; maximum water depth of 31 feet.
- Activities: Fishing (especially for striped bass), boating, water skiing, wakeboarding, personal watercraft.
- Safety: Patrolled by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries – which advises boaters to watch for routine floating debris.
Buggs Island Lake (Kerr Reservoir)
Perhaps a variation of "You say toe-may-to, I say tow-mah-to, " this huge expanse of water – spanning two states – is called Buggs Island Lake by Virginians, while North Carolinians prefer Kerr Lake. Either way, it’s hugely popular with folks from both states (it’s official name is John H. Kerr Reservoir/Buggs Island Lake). Despite that, it never seems crowded, since there’s enough room for the myriad recreational opportunities it offers.
- Location: About 10 miles east of Clarksville, in Mecklenburg County, along the VA-NC border; approximately 110 miles southwest of Richmond, 45 miles north of Raleigh, NC .
- Size: 48, 900 acres of surface water; 900 miles of shoreline; 39 miles long; average depth 30 feet.
- Activities: Fishing, camping, boating, water-skiing, sailing, wind surfing; hiking/walking, bird watching, picnicking in adjacent parks.
- Safety: Shared patrols by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Virginia, North Carolina state parks personnel. NOTES: Corps of Engineers suggests, when boating beyond buoy 23, to proceed at slow speeds due to the shallow waters. Also, use of "Kite Tubes" prohibited on John H. Kerr (Buggs Island) Lake and Philpott Lake (product recalled by manufacturer).
Popular with those seeking getaway weekends and full vacations, Lake Gaston cuts through the Virginia-North Carolina border, drawing people from Roanoke to the north and Raleigh to the south, due to its closeness to both I-85 and I-95. A valid fishing license from either Virginia or North Carolina permits fishing on Lake Gaston from a boat in either state.
- Location: 100 miles south of Richmond, near Clarksville and South Hill in Virginia (in Brunswick and Mecklenburg counties); roughly 20 miles west of I-95.
- Size: 20, 300 acres of surface water; 350 miles of shoreline; 34 miles long.
- Activities: Fishing, boating (including Jet-Skis), swimming, water skiing and wakeboarding.
- Safety: Patrolled by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries; boaters are cautioned to make sure their boat, motor, and trailer do not have hydrilla on them, so the invasive plant won’t be spread to other lakes.
While far from being the largest lake in Virginia, Philpott Lake (or "reservoir") makes it on this list because of its popularity with boaters – its crystal clear waters are surrounded by 6, 000 undeveloped acres of woods and forests, set in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are numerous boat ramps, six beaches, picnic areas, restroom facilities, hiking trails and campgrounds scattered throughout the reservoir.
- Location: Approximately 60 miles south of Roanoke, in Henry, Patrick counties.
- Size: 2, 880 acres of surface water; 97 miles of shoreline.
- Activities: Boating, swimming, picnicking, hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, camping, wildlife observation.
- Safety: Patrolled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; no restrictions on boat engize size, horsepower; "Kite Tubes" prohibited (recalled by manufacturer).
CENTRAL & NORTHERN
If it’s true that there are two sides to every story, then Lake Anna is no exception. It has two sides – literally: The 9, 000-acre public side, or "cold side" (because it provides water to cool a power plant’s generators), which has several marinas and boat launches; and the 4, 000-acre private side, or "hot side" (it receives warm water discharge from the power plant), accessible only by property owners and power station employees. Lake Anna is probably the most popular recreational lake in Virginia (it’s only 72 miles from Washington, D.C.), and water sports enthusiasts tend to enjoy the mid-lake area, while anglers head for its nooks and crannies on the northern end.
- Location: Between Spotsylvania and Louise, 25 miles southwest of Fredericksburg, 60 miles northwest of Richmond.
- Size: 13, 000 acres of surface water; 250 miles of shoreline; 17 miles long; maximum depth 80 feet.
- Activities: swimming, sailing, boating, world-class fishing, and multiple annual triathlons.
- Safety: Patrolled by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries; sailboat owners should note that the lake’s several bridges, including the main 208 bridge, are too low for a sailboat to pass beneath.
The largest natural freshwater lake in Virginia, Lake Drummond is in the heart of the 112, 000-acre Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, which stretches into North Carolina. Due to low pH levels, the species of fish are limited (its best sport fishing is for crappie during the spring), but boaters come here for the protected wildlife and natural resources.
- Location: Approximately 35 miles southeast of Norfolk, near Suffolk.
- Size: 3, 142 acres of surface water; maximum depth 6 feet.
- Activities: Boating and fishing; camping, hiking and other recreational opportunities are offered in the refuge.
- Safety: Managed by the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service; boating access is limited to a feeder ditch off the Dismal Swamp Canal.
Boaters looking for the best of both water-worlds find it…and more, in the southeastern-tip of Virginia. Back Bay separates the southern portion of the Outer Banks from the mainland and Virginia Beach. From the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, there’s access to both the Atlantic Ocean and the freshwater Currituck Sound, which includes not only Back Bay but Redhead Bay and Sand Bay to its north. More than 100, 000 people annually visit refuge and its barrier islands, which feature large sand dunes, maritime forests, fresh water marshes, ponds and beaches, and large areas for wintering wildfowl.
- Location: City of Virginia Beach
- Size: 25, 000 acres of surface water.
- Activities: Fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking.
- Safety: Patrolled by the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service.
Send your inquiries to [email protected] or call 877.886.8388for more information on Virginia lake properties and developments. We’ll be happy to help you navigate through the process of finding the right retirement relocation or second home.