Updated June 14, 2022. Escape the hustle and bustle of the region and enjoy a summer getaway on the water. Whether you love basking in the sun on the shoreline or hitting the water for adrenaline-pumping water sports, you can’t go wrong by booking a trip to one of these Virginia lakes.
Claytor Lake is south of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The lake is the centerpiece of Claytor Lake State Park and is a beloved destination for water recreation. People come to fish, swim, camp, and for all kinds of boating. The lake is 4,500 acres surrounded by a forest, hiking trails, rental cabins, and the historic Howe House, which has interactive exhibits showcasing the ecology of the lake and region. Drive time: 4 hours.
Bedford, Franklin, and Pittsylvania Counties
Smith Mountain Lake is the second largest freshwater lake in Virginia. It is known as a water enthusiast’s paradise for the many kinds of boating, swimming, and fishing options available here. Smith Mountain State Park is just south of Lynchburg, but there are lots of cabins and homes close to the lake, including Mariners Landing Resort. People love swimming from the sandy beaches, skiing, and parasailing around this picturesque lake. Drive time: 4 hours, 30 minutes.
This 7,580-acre lake crosses the border of Tennessee at Virginia’s southwest corner near Abingdon. South Holston Lake has hundreds of miles of shoreline and is surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains. Part of the Cherokee National Forest, the lake is renowned for smallmouth bass fishing and an abundance of wildlife. Drive time: 5.5 hours.
Lake Frederick, near Dinosaur Land, consists of 117 acres and is operated by the Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries department. The big draw here in the Shenandoah Valley is fishing. Kayaks, canoes, and electric trolling motorboats are allowed, but there are no rentals available. Located just north of Front Royal, the lake is treasured for largemouth bass fishing. There are no fees, as this is a publicly owned property. Drive time: 1 hour.
Louisa and Spotsylvania Counties
Lake Anna is situated inside Lake Anna State Park, midway between Richmond and Alexandria. One of Virginia’s most popular lakes, there’s often a party scene on the beach. Appreciated by anglers for its stock of largemouth bass, crappie, and bream, Lake Anna has a public launch and a 2-acre fishing pond for kids. Overnight accommodations are available in cabins and lodges near the lake. Multiple marinas rent pontoon boats, kayaks, and jet skis (note that the park itself does not offer boat or equipment rentals). Drive time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Lake Drummond is a freshwater lake in the center of Great Dismal Swamp in Southeastern Virginia and is one of the state’s two natural lakes. The area became part of the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge in 1974 to protect the forested wetlands. Motor boats with a maximum motor size of 25 horsepower are allowed, but most visitors come to kayak or canoe. Fishing for crappie, bowfin, and bullhead catfish is permitted year-round. The closest towns are Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. Drive time: 4 hours.
Virginia-North Carolina border
Lake Gaston is located at the North Carolina and Virginia border between I-85 and I-95. This scenic 20,000-acre lake is a favorite of fisherman trolling for rock fish, largemouth bass, crappie, and sunfish. The lake is popular with water skiers, wake boarders, jet skiers, paddlers, and sailboats. Lake Gaston’s water is unspoiled and nearly drinkable, so it’s a fun place to swim, too. Closest towns are Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, and South Hill, Virginia. Drive time: 3 hours, 45 minutes.
Newport News City
The Mariners’ Lake is a man-made, 165-acre lake on the property of the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News. It is the heart of the 550-acre park, where visitors can rent small boats to explore the lake. The museum’s purpose is to celebrate the connection between humans and water with experiential learning experiences. This unique park has a 5-mile trail around the lake with 14 bridges. Drive time: 3 hours, 30 minutes.
Chesterfield and Dinwiddie Counties
Lake Chesdin is a 3,100-acre reservoir southwest of downtown Richmond known for excellent fishing, especially the abundant great channel catfish that run in the spring and fall. There are three private marinas with boat ramps that rent canoes and kayaks. People camp, hike, and take eco-tours, and it’s also a popular place to water ski. Closest accommodations would be Petersburg. Drive time: 2 hours.
Lake Moomaw is a pristine man-made lake straddling the Virginia and West Virginia border near the Homestead Resort. Located inside Bolar Mountain Campgrounds, the lake is surrounded by forest-covered mountains. The lake is popular for water skiing and wake boarding, and you can rent pontoons and canoes here. The lake has sandy beaches, campgrounds, and picnic areas. It’s not uncommon to see a variety of wildlife, including bears. Drive time: 4 hours.
Virginia-North Carolina border
Kerr Lake/Buggs Island Lake is Virginia’s largest lake and known as the top crappie fishing lake in the U.S. This lake with two names is huge—more than 850 miles of shoreline and 50,000 acres of fresh water. Water sports abound here, and the lake stays busy with motor boats pulling water skiers around the coves and sailboats catching the wind. The nightly sunset is the best show in town. Accommodations and boat rentals are available in Clarksville and South Boston, but many people camp along Kerr’s wooded shoreline. There are 30 boat launches and a handicapped accessible fishing pier. Drive time: 4 hours.
Franklin, Henry, and Patrick Counties
Philpott Lake is situated in three Virginia counties: Franklin, Henry, and Patrick. The 2,880-acre lake was built primarily for flood control, but today it’s beloved by recreation enthusiasts. Known for its walleye fishing, the lake is spectacularly scenic with 100 miles of undeveloped shoreline, six beaches, and multiple campgrounds. Right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the closest towns are Martinsville and Rocky Mount. Check out the Philpott Lake Blueway for a map and description of scenic destinations around Philpott Lake. Drive time: 4 hours, 30 minutes.
Nestled inside the protected woodlands of George Washington and Jefferson National Forests is the Sherando Lake Recreation Area. Called the jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains, people come to play in the spring-fed lake near the town of Lyndhurst. Sherando Lake’s 25 acres are used primarily for fishing, but visitors enjoy swimming from the sandy beach, camping, and picnicking. Drive time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.
Hungry Mother State Park is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwest Virginia. The bucolic 108-acre lake is encircled by thick forests that offer peaceful contemplation, although in the summer, the sandy beaches come alive with families staying in the lakefront cabins and campgrounds. One of the six original CCC parks that opened in 1936, visitors can rent boats or operate their own. Hungry Mother offers group accommodations at the Hemlock Haven Conference Center. Drive time: 5 hours.
Virginia’s Douthat State Park is located in the Allegheny Mountains and is one of the original six Virginia state parks that opened in 1936. Bounded by 43-acres of wooded hiking trails, the crystal-clear lake is the park’s centerpiece, attracting fishermen, swimmers, and boaters. During the summer months, the park rents paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes. There’s also a unique waterfall-like feature, camping platforms, 32 cabins, and three lodges in the park. The closest towns are Warm Springs and Clifton Forge. Drive time: 3 hours, 30 minutes.