While Virginia only has two natural lakes, there are dozens of manmade lakes scattered throughout the state, from the pastoral Piedmont to the highlands of the Blue Ridge. And, even better, many of these lakes were designed as recreational destinations – offering opportunities for swimming, fishing, and boating. While Virginia is dappled with stunning lakes, here are just a few of the most beautiful lakes in the state.
Smith Mountain Lake
Located just 35 miles from Roanoke, in the shadow of eponymous Smith Mountain, southwest Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake is the second largest lake in Virginia, serving up 20,600 acres of water along with more than 500 miles of shoreline. Created by damming the Blackwater and Roanoke Rivers, the lake was completed in 1960s – and has been a recreational hub for more than as half century. Today, there are more than a dozen marinas scattered around the lake, offering boat and paddleboard rentals, and waterfront restaurants. Along the northern side of the lake, Smith Mountain Lake State Park offers swimming areas, hiking trails, seasonal camping, and lakeside cabins with boat docks.
Surrounded by more than 20,000 acres of protected federal and state land, southwest Virginia’s Philpott Lake feels like a slice of wilderness. The 3,000 acre lake was created more than a half century ago, to generate hydropower for the region and prevent damaging floods. Today, the lake is edged by a patchwork of recreation areas offering hiking and biking trails, waterside campgrounds, and boat launches. Plus, the entire lake is traversed by the Philpott Lake Blueway a network of paddling trails connecting points of interest and natural wonders, like 200 foot Calico Rock. Campers can even spend a night at the offshore campground on Deer Island, in the middle of the lake.
Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 40 miles west of Charlottesville, Sherando Lake is idyllic mountain getaway. Spreading over 25 acres, the spring-fed lake is the centerpiece of the Sherando Lake Recreation Area, now part of the George Washington National Forest. The lake and surrounding recreation were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression. Today, the recreation area includes two lakes, along with a network of waterside hiking trails, some that connect to longer footpaths in the George Washington National Forest. A campground, open seasonally from April to October, is situated between the lakes.
One of just two natural lakes found in Virginia, Lake Drummond’s origins are still a mystery. However, scientists have theorized the lake may have been formed as the result of a meteor impact. Today, 3,100 acre lake anchors the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, a hotspot for endemic wildlife situated just outside Chesapeake. For paddlers, there are public boat launches on the lake – a connection (with a portage) to the Great Dismal Swamp Canal, a link in the Intracoastal Waterway. The lake has also featured prominently in classic literature, appearing in the writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Robert Frost, Thomas Moore, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
John H Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake)
The largest lake in Virginia, the Kerr Reservoir (also called Buggs Island Lake) is loaded with recreational opportunities. Built more than a half century ago to control flooding and provide hydropower for the Roanoke River Valley, the massive reservoir extends over 50,000 acres, extending from the southern Virginia Piedmont into neighboring North Carolina. Today, the lake is a hotspot for anglers, drawn by the lake’s resident largemouth and striped bass. And, along with ample opportunities for swimming, fishing, and boating, for overnight getaways, there are more than a dozen campgrounds scattered around the reservoir.
Fairy Stone Lake
Steeped with local lore, Fairy Stone Lake was created in the early 1930s when the tiny mining town of Fayerdale was forever flooded to make way for Fairy Stone State Park – one the Virginia’s original six state parks, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The lake and the state park are named for the cross-shaped, staurolite crystals found in the surrounding area, appropriately nicknamed fairy stones. Beyond the local lore, Fairy Stone Lake provides a buffet of recreational opportunities, with a seasonal swimming beach, seasonal boat rentals, and plenty of resident largemouth bass and rainbow trout to hook. Onshore, the state park offers campsites, cabins, yurts, and the five-bedroom Fairy Stone Lodge.
Nestled into suburban Fairfax County, just outside Washington, DC, Burke Lake is a family-friendly getaway. The lake is heat of Burke Lake Park, a year-round destination loaded with amenities. Although swimming is not permitted, the lake a popular fishing spot, with bulkheads and piers for anglers. There are both boat launches and seasonal rentals available. On dry land, the 4.7 mile Burke Trail circles the entire lake, and the park offers both disc golf and mini golf courses, along with a carousel and miniature train.
South Holston Lake
Nestled along the western edge of the Appalachian Mountains, 7,850 South Holston Lake is one of Virginia’s most stunning bodies of water. Shared by Virginia and Tennessee, the 7,850 acre lake is almost entirely surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest – meaning there are plenty of opportunities for paddling, fishing, and birdwatching – all with a postcard-perfect mountain backdrop. For overnight visits, the lake is easily accessible from a number towns in southwest Virginia, including Abingdon and Bristol.
While Virginia can only claim two natural lakes, the state is still dappled with more than three dozen manmade lakes -- from the highlands of the Blue Ridge to the Atlantic Coast. Many of thes state's lakes are situated in state park or natural areas, meaning recreational opportunities abound -- and there plenty places to reserve a waterfront cabin or campsite for the weekend.