Sandwiched between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia is a magnificently beautiful state that is known for its picturesque landscapes. It is also a historic state, dating back to the Native Powhatan People and playing a big part in the USA’s history. There is a reason why it is nicknamed ‘Old Dominion’.
Virginia’s amazing terrain draws in hordes of tourists every year that come to visit the wineries, the mountains and the coastal beaches. There are also plenty of lakes spread across the state. If you ever make a trip here, these are the 15 best lakes in Virginia not to miss.
1. Smith Mountain Lake; Bedford, Franklin & Pittsylvania Counties
Created in 1963 by the impounding of the Roanoke River, Smith Mountain Lake is a large reservoir that sits in a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The scenery around the lake is jaw-dropping, making it a popular destination.
Smith Mountain Lake is the largest lake that is entirely in Virginia. Its 800 kilometre shoreline has been highly developed with commercial, retail and residential buildings.
The recreational activities are one of its biggest draws, with water skiing, wakeboarding, boating, swimming and sailing being popular. Most of this is done from the Smith Mountain Lake State Park that sits on the north shore of the lake.
2. Lake Anna; Louisa, Spotsylvania and Orange Counties
One of Virginia’s largest freshwater lakes, Lake Anna was built by the damming of the North Anna River. It is accessible from Washington DC, Richmond and Charlottesville, making it one of the state’s most popular recreational lakes.
The 53,000 hectare lake is divided into two sides; private and public. The public side is larger and features several marinas and boat ramps, and is particularly busy in the summer.
Lake Anna State Park sits along the shoreline of the public side, providing visitors with picnic areas, hiking trails, a snack bar and a beach. It also hosts a number of summer festivals.
3. Kerr Lake; Mecklenburg County
At 20,000 hectare, this is Virginia’s largest reservoir, although majority of it sits within neighbouring North Carolina. The lake sits along the Roanoke River and was built by the construction of the John H. Kerr Dam.
Kerr Lake is named after Congressman John H. Kerr and is popular amongst both Virginia and North Carolina residents. It is also a popular tourist spot thanks to its excellent largemouth bass and striped bass fishing.
The lake is owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers who run campsites along its shoreline. There are also a few marinas that offer water skiing, jet-skiing, water-tubing and yachting.
4. Lake Gaston; Brunswick & Mecklenburg Counties
Also sitting along the Virginia-North Carolina border, Lake Gaston is roughly 8,100 hectare and boasts a 560 kilometre shoreline. There are numerous small towns surrounding the lake, which is home to over 150,000 residents.
Residents and tourists alike visit Lake Gaston for its excellent wakeboarding, water skiing, swimming and boating. It is also a popular spot for fishing.
Lake Gaston has been a highly-liked retirement destination since the 1970s. It is also a favourite vacation spot thanks to its laid-back atmosphere and stunning scenery.
5. Mountain Lake; Giles County
Located near the city of Newport, Mountain Lake is one of only two natural lakes in the entire state! The 20 hectare lake sits in the mountains around 1,180 metres above sea level.
The scenery around the lake is phenomenal, making it a popular vacation spot. Some may also recognise it as being the set for the 1987 film ‘Dirty Dancing’.
Fishing, canoeing and paddle boarding are popular activities enjoyed on the lake, while hiking and mountain biking are offered in its surrounding area. It is also home to the Mountain Lake Biological Station.
6. Claytor Lake; Pulaski County
This 1,810 hectare lake sits along the New River within the slopes of the mountains. The New River Trail State Park sits along part of the lake’s shoreline.
Claytor River is ringed by some magnificent shale rock, which just adds to its beauty. Sailing, rowing and wakeboarding are offered, as is scuba diving.
Claytor Lake State Park sits along the north edge where visitors can go hiking and camping, as well as boating, fishing or relaxing on its beach.
7. South Holston Lake; Abingdon, Virginia & Bristol Counties
This 3,100 hectare lake is shared between Virginia and Tennessee, although most of it lies within Tennessee. 60 per cent of its shoreline is bordered by the Cherokee National Forest, boasting some fantastic scenery.
South Holston Lake is a great spot to go fishing for black bass, crappie, walleye, bluegill and walleye. It also produces numerous trophy trout.
Try to visit on the 4th of July to watch the spectacular fireworks display over the lake. There are also numerous boat racing and fishing events.
8. Lake Drummond; Chesapeake & Suffolk Counties
This freshwater lake sits in the centre of the Great Dismal Swamp in the southeast corner of Virginia. It is one of two natural lakes in the state; the other being Mountain Lake.
Lake Drummond sits within the hills at an elevation of two metres. The 1,300 hectare lake is the highest point within the Great Dismal Swamp.
Boating, canoeing and fishing are enjoyed on the lake, while hiking, cycling and bird watching are enjoyed in its stunning surroundings. Those that wish to stay the night can do so at one of the campsites within the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
9. Leesville Lake; Pittsylvania, Bedford & Campbell Counties
This 1,320 hectare lake is a smaller and lower portion of the Smith Mountain Lake. It is nestled in a valley within the Blue Ridge Mountains at an elevation of 190 metres.
Leesville Lake boasts a 180 kilometre shoreline that is home to lakefront houses, cabins and a few family farms. It is a popular recreational lake for residents of the area, as well as visitors.
Boat traffic on Lake Leesville is much lower than the larger Smith Mountain Lake, making it a great alternative for water sports. It is also a popular spot for striped bass fishing.
10. Lake Chesdin; Chesterfield, Dinwiddie & Amelia Counties
Lake Chesdin stretches across three counties in south-central Virginia. It provides water to the city of Petersburg and the rest of the area.
There is an abundance of largemouth bass in the lake, making it a popular fishing spot. There are also plenty of other species like crappie, bluegill, channel catfish and walleye.
The lake was created in 1968 with the construction of the George F. Brasfield Dam. Both the lake and the dam sit along the Appomattox River.
11. Burke Lake; Fairfax County
Burke Lake is the centrepiece of the Burke Lake Park. The 88 hectare freshwater lake was formed by the building of a dam along South Run.
The lake is 100 per cent public, being owned and run by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visitors from all over Virginia and beyond come here to go boating, rowing, canoeing and fishing.
Those that don’t have a boat can go fishing from the 7.2 kilometre fishing shoreline or the fishing pier. It is also possible to go running, jogging or walking along the 7.53 kilometre trail that sits within the Burke Lake Park.
12. Occoquan Reservoir; Fairfax & Prince William Counties
Just southwest of Burke Lake is this 850 hectare reservoir that sits along the Occoquan River. Occoquan Reservoir is a major water source for the area, as well as being used for recreational activities.
Fishing is the most popular thing to do here, as there are plenty of largemouth bass, channel fish, black and white crappie, bluegill and northern pike, amongst other species. The lake is also home to a major boating club; Occoquan Boat Club (OBC).
There are two regional parks along the north shoreline of the reservoir that offer visitors access to it. Fountainhead Regional Park also offers hiking, cycling and horseback riding, while Sandy Run Regional Park features a rowing club.
13. Philpott Lake; Franklin, Patrick & Henry Counties
Philpott Lake sits in the mountains at an elevation of nearly 300 metres. The 1,200 hectare lake was created by the damming of the Smith River.
As well as generating hydroelectric power to the area, the lake is also used for recreational activities. Swimming, boating and fishing are all popular things enjoyed on the lake.
In addition to water-based activities, Philpott Lake’s surrounding parks offer hiking, horseback riding and cycling.
14. Lake Maury; Newport Mews
This reservoir was created as part of the Mariners’ Museum in the independent city of Newport Mews. It is the centrepiece of the park, taking up 68 of the park’s 222 hectares.
Lake Maury was named after 19th century oceanographer Matthew Fontain Maury. No private boats are allowed on the lake, but the museum will hire out paddle-boats so visitors can go rowing and fishing.
The Lake Maury Natural Area is at the north end of the lake, offering hiking and cycling. There is also an eight kilometre trail that runs along the lake’s shoreline.
15. Gardy’s Millpond; Northumberland & Westmoreland Counties
The best thing about Gardy’s Millpond is its tranquil setting. The 30 hectare lake is decorated with lily pads, which makes for some great pictures.
The shoreline of the lake is mostly forested, with the water being pretty shallow. Still, it is a great place to go fishing, especially if you want a quiet spot to do it in.
Many fish use the lily pads as protection, including largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and black crappy. There are also a plethora of other fish species swimming around.
Where to stay: Best Hotels in Virginia (VA)
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Smith Mountain Lake was named the top lake in Virginia in a ranking of the “Best Lakes in All 50 U.S. States” by MSN Travel and Cheapism.What are the 2 natural lakes in VA? ›
There are only two natural lakes in Virginia, Lake Drummond (in Great Dismal Swamp) and Mountain Lake (in southwestern Virginia).What is the clearest lake in VA? ›
Here's more on what you can expect from your visit to Lake Moomaw, the clearest lake in Virginia. Located near the border of West Virginia, Lake Moomaw is a stunning mountain lake where the opportunities for adventure are nearly endless.What is the most beautiful lake in West Virginia? ›
At 2,700 feet above sea level in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest, Lake Sherwood is the coolest lake in West Virginia. This beautiful lake has a large campground, swimming beaches, a picnic area and trails.
Virginia's largest lake, John H. Kerr Reservoir / Buggs Island Lake includes more than 50,000 acres of fresh water and over 800 miles shoreline!What is the deepest lake in Virginia? ›
|Smith Mountain Lake|
|Max. depth||220 ft (67 m)|
|Water volume||2.8 km3 (2,300,000 acre⋅ft)|
|Shore length1||500 mi (800 km)|
|Surface elevation||795 ft (242 m)|
Coles Point at Lake Moomaw boasts picnic shelters, two fishing docks, two boat ramps and a swimming beach. Opportunities abound for hiking, photography, nature study, birding and viewing wildlife.Why is Lake Drummond black? ›
Several centuries of exploitation and logging reduced the swamp to about 50% of its original size. It was common practice for merchant ships of the time to fill up water casks with the dark-stained water from Lake Drummond.What is the best beach in Virginia? ›
- Colonial Beach.
- Cape Charles.
- Bethel Beach Natural Area Preserve.
- Hampton, VA.
- Lake Anna State Park.
Dragon Run, 35 miles of swamp at the headwaters of the Piankatank River, may be the most pristine water body in Virginia, affected least by the changes in the landscape over the last few centuries.
Virginia's second largest lake with 500 miles of shoreline, Smith Mountain Lake is home to a thriving tourism industry as well as thousands of retirees and second-home weekenders looking for an idyllic natural setting not too far from urban conveniences.What celebrities live on Smith Mountain Lake? ›
Sissy Spacek, Joe Montana, Tom Cruise: Rumor has it that these celebrities have or have had homes on Smith Mountain Lake.What is the cleanest lake in West Virginia? ›
- At the center of Stonewall Resort State Park is Stonewall Jackson Lake - a gorgeous body of clear water that you can spend an entire day enjoying. ...
- The park and lake is one of the newer state parks in West Virginia.
Summersville Lake is a reservoir located in the US state of West Virginia.Are there alligators in West Virginia? ›
All of southern West Virginia is buzzing about the big gator found at Upper Mud River Reservoir. The area manager for the Upper Mud River Wildlife Management Area killed the alligator, which measured more than five feet in length after finding the reptile on the banks of the popular fishing water.What are the 3 important lakes in Virginia? ›
- Philpott Lake. Stretching over three counties, Philpott Lake has a surface area of 2,880 acres and is the tenth biggest lake in Virginia. ...
- Lake Chesdin. ...
- Lake Drummond. ...
- Leesville Lake. ...
- Claytor Lake. ...
- South Holston Lake. ...
- Lake Anna. ...
- Lake Gaston.
Alligator sightings occur every few years, in all regions of Virginia. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has concluded that all such sightings are from escaped or released pets.What is the shallowest lake in the world? ›
Physical and Geological Characteristics. Lake Erie has an estimated water surface area of 9,910 square miles and has a total volume of about 116 cubic miles. The lake has three basins namely the eastern, central, and western basins and has an average depth of 62 feet.What is the deepest lake in the USA? ›
At 1,943 feet (592 meters), Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the deepest in the world. The depths were first explored thoroughly in 1886 by a party from the U.S. Geological Survey.Are there alligators in Lake Anna? ›
May 18—A Maryland roan and his teen‐aged son. accompanied by a professional fishing guide, found more than they bargained for on a fishing trip here last week: a sixfoot alligator in a cooling lagoon at the Lake Anna nuclear power station of.
Water entering the lake on the south side has been heated in the Lake Anna nuclear power plant, as it cools the team boilers that generate electricity. Discharge into the lake creates a "hot side" on the southern edge of Lake Anna.Why is Lake Moomaw closed? ›
Last month, the USFS announced a delay in opening the Bolar Mountain recreation area at Lake Moomaw. Campground Loops 1-3, Sugar Ridge and McClintic Point campgrounds will not open until mid-summer, due to substantial maintenance needs at the wastewater treatment plant that require a complex contr...What town is Lake Moomaw in? ›
A U. S. Army Corps of Engineers project, Lake Moomaw was constructed for downstream flow augmentation (water quality), flood control, and recreation. The idea for a lake above the City of Covington was hatched just after World War II, but the project was not completed until the early 1980's.Can you rent kayaks at Lake Moomaw? ›
At the marina you can rent boats, pontoons, kayaks and canoes as well as park your boat and trailer for the duration of your stay. Coles Point Boat Ramp is located at the southeast end of the lake with bathrooms and a large parking area.Why is it called Dismal Swamp? ›
“Dismals”, as Europeans referred to, were common terms for swamps or areas where water stood for long periods of time. Visit the Dismal Swamp State Park to learn more about the swamp's rich history and explore nature through biking, hiking, paddling, birding and photography.Is Lake Drummond man made? ›
Lake Drummond is one of only two natural freshwater lakes found across the entire state of Virginia.What President drained the Dismal Swamp? ›
In May 1763, George Washington made his first visit to the Swamp and joined with several other prominent Virginians and North Carolinians to form two syndicates known as the Dismal Swamp Land Company and the Adventurers for Draining the Great Dismal Swamp.What is the safest beach in Virginia? ›
Virginia Beach is, no doubt, the state's most celebrated and popular beach. What is this? With its sparkling waters, gorgeous golden sands and fun amenities, the beach offers a plethora of activities for the entire gang. And, since the beach is manned by several lifeguards, it's also the safest beach in Virginia.What's the most famous beach in Virginia? ›
No beach in Virginia is as famous as Virginia Beach. Vacationers love the access to the Atlantic Ocean. It is close to the Chesapeake Bay, which gives the area extra charm when it comes to the food scene and activities beyond building sandcastles.
Sandbridge Beach is almost never crowded and the waves are much calmer, which means you can truly relax by the oceanfront or walk far out into the Atlantic without being swallowed by massive waves or knocked over by frenetic children.
I. Frank Osburn caught this image of a black bear crossing the cove near his home at Lake Anna. Frank Osburn caught this image of a black bear crossing the cove near his home at Lake Anna.What is the shortest river in Virginia? ›
|Rappahannock River drainage basin|
Swimmers advised to avoid Virginia's Lake Anna due to harmful algae bloom. Swimmers and other water sport enthusiasts are warned to avoid certain branches of Lake Anna because of a toxic algae bloom.Does Smith Mountain Lake have alligators? ›
If you plan on hitting up Smith Mountain Lake anytime soon, make sure you're on the lookout for alligators.Are there sharks in Smith Mountain Lake? ›
They perform underwater tasks all over the world. A recent job at an offshore oil rig had Smith diving more than 1,000 feet. During some of his deeper ocean dives, Smith said he has seen a variety of sea life, such as sharks, tuna and squid. Smith said he did not see anything unusual during his dives at the lake.How many man made lakes are in Virginia? ›
You might be surprised to hear that none of the ones mentioned above are naturally formed. All but two lakes in our state – Mountain Lake and Lake Drummond – are man-made. It's not clear why either lake formed or has persisted until today, when all other lakes in Virginia have been drained by erosion.What is the best beach in Virginia? ›
- Colonial Beach.
- Cape Charles.
- Bethel Beach Natural Area Preserve.
- Hampton, VA.
- Lake Anna State Park.
Coles Point at Lake Moomaw boasts picnic shelters, two fishing docks, two boat ramps and a swimming beach. Opportunities abound for hiking, photography, nature study, birding and viewing wildlife.Can you swim in Lake Anna Virginia? ›
People and pets are advised to avoid swimming, windsurfing and stand-up-paddle-boarding, as well as other activities that pose a risk of ingesting water. Activities such as boating may continue with proper precaution in advisory areas. Follow-up monitoring above Route.Can you swim in Virginia lakes? ›
NORTHERN, CENTRAL, AND SOUTHERN VIRGINIA
Lake Anna State Park features a swimming beach on one of Virginia's most popular lakes. Panning for gold and nature programs are other popular activities.