Smith Mountain Lake has over 500 miles of gorgeous shoreline, so it’s no wonder boating is one of the most popular activities here. You’ll find no shortage of rentals—pontoons, houseboats, fishing boats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, and much more.
Gazing from the deck of the Virginia Dare cruise boat in the middle of Smith Mountain Lake, it’s hard to believe you’re floating above what was 40 miles of rolling Blue Ridge farmland less than 60 years ago. Below the 20 billion gallons of cool, clear mountain water lies whatever remains of the agricultural communities that evacuated the area before 1960, when Appalachian Power Company began building a massive hydroelectric dam in the gap at Smith Mountain to generate electricity for the region.
Residents who had land at higher elevations became lucky waterfront property owners when the new Smith Mountain Lake (known locally as SML) filled to capacity in 1966, forming a 22,600-acre body of water with 500 miles of shoreline that spans three Virginia counties—Franklin, Bedford, and Pittsylvania. SML is the largest lake completely bordered by Virginia, with depths at some spots reaching 250 feet.
Today, SML is a popular water recreation destination, yet it remains largely residential, with no standard hotels near the water; it’s that lack of commercialization that attracts water enthusiasts to these unspoiled shores. Fortunately, many owners rent their homes through agencies or platforms like Vrbo or Airbnb, and there are B&B and marina-based condo rentals scattered around the lake. SML State Park offers vacation cabins and RV and tent camping, along with beach swimming and watercraft rentals. Those who never want to leave the water might choose a fully equipped houseboat rented through Parrot Cove in Moneta. Early reservations for everything from lodging to boat slips are a must during peak season.
No matter where you sleep at SML, you will spend your days on the water, so bring all your boat toys. SML has seven free public boat launches, and several marinas offer paid launches. Don’t own a boat? SML has marinas that can connect you with everything from motorboats and Jet Skis to kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes. If it floats, you’ll likely find one to rent at SML, as well as opportunities to swim at two sandy public beaches or to do some parasailing, water skiing, or world-class fishing.
Navigating SML’s many tributaries, inlets, and coves can be tricky, so make your first stop in town the SML Visitor Center at Bridgewater Plaza. Friendly staff there will steer you toward anyplace you need to go.
One way to survey the beauty of SML is under flapping white sails, and Smith Mountain Lake Sailing School offers instruction and coaching for both beginner and experienced sailors. Classes range from basic boat handling and sail trim for individuals to racing and spinnaker maneuvers with a crew. For those who just want to sit and enjoy, nothing beats the themed tours at Moneta’s Virginia Dare Cruises & Marina, including special history, sightseeing, pirate, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July fireworks, paint night, and wildlife lunch cruises on a 63-foot-long replica of a 19th-century side-wheeler.
The locals recommend Jake’s Place on Harbour Inn Lane in Moneta for casual waterfront dining. The Copper Kettle in Moneta is family-friendly and offers patio dining, while live bands entertain at Mango’s Bar and Grill, also in Moneta. The Landing Restaurant in Huddleston on Graves Harbor Trail, inside Mariners Landing Resort at The Pointe, offers fine lakefront dining. For a sweet finish, head to Homestead Creamery in Wirtz.
A few possibilities: Gills Creek Marina & Lodge in Wirtz, with lakefront rooms, kitchenettes, and daily boat rentals; Bedford Landings in Moneta, a fly-in B&B next to the SML Airport; Parrot Cove in Moneta, where you can rent a fully equipped houseboat with a full bath, kitchen, sundeck, and slide; Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Huddleston, with cabins, tent and RV camping, a boat launch, rentals (kayaks, hydrobikes, paddleboards, canoes, pontoons, ski boats, and Jet Skis), fishing, and a sandy swim beach; Halesford Harbour Inn and Marina in Moneta, a waterfront inn with 24 rooms and boat rentals (tritoons, ski boats, WaveRunners, paddleboards).