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13 Best Lakes in Virginia to Swim, Fish or Just Unwind

By | Last Updated : 22nd July 2020

The state of Virginia is home to several magnificent lakes, most of which are human-made reservoirs built during the construction of a dam. While many lakes lie solely in Virginia, some of them also occupy other states like North Carolina and Tennessee. Besides serving as prominent fishing spots, these lakes even leave tourists in awe because of the serene, ecstatic landscape surrounding them, as many lie within state parks or amidst the natural wilderness.

Lakes in Virginia

Must-Visit Lakes in Virginia

Among the several human-made reservoirs, the state accounts for only two natural freshwater lakes, Lake Drummond, and Mountain Lake.

1. Smith Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake in virginia

A reservoir lake located to the southeast and southwest of Roanoke and Lynchburg cities was constructed in 1963 as a part of the Smith Mountain Dam project. The southern shore of the lake touches Franklin County, while a part of it, including the dam’s access point, remains in the Pittsylvania County. The array of recreational sports alongside professional fishing tournaments, make this one of the must-visit spots. The Smith Mountain Lake State Park, situated along its shores, also provides for various activities.

Fishing: Striped bass is the most popular find here, alongside species like white bass, rock bass, redbreast sunfish, muskies, channel catfish, and walleye (occasionally found).

Other Activities: Swimming is permissible in major parts excepting areas near the Ponderosa Campground, and Bay Roc Marina where high E.coli levels have been detected. Other activities include sailing, boating, water skiing, wakeboarding, golfing (on the five golf courses located in the lake’s premises), and hiking.

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2. Kerr Lake

Kerr Lake in Virginia

Alternately called the Bugg’s Island Lake, or John H. Kerr Reservoir, it lies on the North Carolina – Virginia border enclosed by the John H. Kerr Dam. It holds the credit of being Virginia’s largest reservoir, with a 50,000 acres (200 sq. km) surface area and 850 miles (1370 km) shoreline.  The lake is a hub for many water sports for the people of Virginia and North Carolina.

Fishing: It has a high bass population like striped bass and largemouth bass mostly seen between late February and early March, alongside bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

Other Activities: Swimming (though no lifeguards are there), water-tubing, jet-skiing, sailing, motor boating,camping (in the Kerr Lake State Recreation Area), and picnicking

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3. Lake Anna

Lake Anna in Virginia

Lake Anna, a freshwater inland reservoir near Washington, D.C., Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Northern Virginia has a 13,000 acre (53 sq. km) surface area. The public or cold side of the lake has many marinas and boat launches. On the other hand, the private or hot side has no marinas and remains accessible to the North Anna Power Station’s property owners. The Lake Anna State Park on the public side of its eastern shore has many things to entertain tourists.

Fishing: It provides fishing facilities all year round, with the significant species being largemouth bass, crappie, and striped bass. Other finds include yellow perch, walleye, white perch, channel catfish, and bluegill.

Other Activities: Swimming is allowed in most parts of the lake barring certain areas in the Orange, Spotsylvania, and Louisa counties due to algae bloom. Boating, picnicking, and camping are the other recreational activities available here.

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4. Lake Gaston

Lake Gaston in Virginia

This hydroelectric reservoir occupies parts of Virginia (Mecklenburg and Brunswick) and North Carolina (Warren, Northampton, and Halifax). The lake with a 35-mile length, 20,000 acres (81 sq. km) surface area, and 350 miles (560 km) shoreline, stands as a famous fishing ground. More than 150, 000 people reside in its adjacent areas, with the towns close to it on the Virginia side being South Hill and Clarksville. The rural feel and beauteous landscape surrounding the place has made it a fabulous retirement destination since the 1970s.

Fishing: Largemouth bass is the most popular, while other fish include blue catfish, chain pickerel, bluegill, and channel catfish.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, wakeboarding, and water skiing

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5. South Holston Lake

South Holston Lake in Virginia

The South Holston Lake reservoir though majorly located in Tennessee, has a certain part of it in Virginia too, adjacent to the Bristol and Abingdon cities. Anglers from both states can fish in the whole lake on purchasing the South Holston Reservoir Fishing License. The Washington County State Park on the lake’s western shore, and the Cherokee National Forest located nearby fascinate campers and boaters with their scenic beauty.

Fishing: Black bass, crappie, sunfish, bluegill, catfish, and walleye mostly dwell in the lake. Rock bluffs, flat clay points, and shale banks along the shorelines give the anglers a diverse fishing environment.

Other Activities: Swimming (in the recreation area on its eastern and western shores), boating, wildlife viewing, hiking, and camping

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6. Claytor Lake

Claytor Lake in Virginia

Claytor Lake in Virginia’s Pulaski County was constructed for a hydroelectric project administered by an Appalachian Power Company. It gets its name after W. Graham Claytor, Sr, who supervised the Claytor Dam’s construction. The Claytor Lake State Park stretches across 3 miles of the lake’s shoreline, hosting a lot of activities. The Claytor Lake Aquatic Base operates on its shores offering training on rowing, sailing, wakeboarding, and other watersports to the Boy Scouts of the Blue Ridge Mountain Council.

Fishing: Bluegill is the most abundant fish here, alongside species like smallmouth bass, striped bass, and largemouth bass. The ideal largemouth bass fishing spots include Clapboard Hollow, Peak Creek, and big coves in the lake’s lower area. The lake holds seasonal fishing tournaments of small and largemouth bass.

Other Activities: Swimming (only from Labor Day – Memorial Day weekend), sailing, kayaking, canoeing, and hiking

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7. Philpott Lake

Philpott Lake in Virginia

The Philpott Lake reservoir enclosed by the Philpott Dam has a 2900–acre (12 sq. km) area and a 100-mile (160 km) shoreline. The lake located at the Blue Ridge Mountain’s foothills surrounding Patrick, Henry, and Franklin counties of southwest Virginia will woe all with the magnificent landscape that surrounds it.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye (April – August), and crappie are some commonly available fish.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, wildlife viewing, bird watching, hiking, and camping

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8. Lake Fairfax

Lake Fairfax in Virginia

This is an 18 acre (0.073 sq. km) lake within the bounds of the Lake Fairfax Park in the Reston city of Fairfax County, constructed during the late 1950- early 1960 span. While the lake facilitates fishing, the park accounts for various recreational sports. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole situated in the park’s premises close to the lake has the lazy Rattlesnake River, ideal for watersports.

Fishing: Fishing happens year-round with the commonly available species, being bass, bluegill, black crappie, bullhead, and catfish. One can fish from kayaks, but the gas or electric boats are not allowed.

Other Activities: Though swimming in the lake remains prohibited, camping, skating, pedal boating and picnicking in the state park premises, as well as watersports in the water park are available.  

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9. Lake Drummond

Lake Drummond in Virginia

This is one of the two natural and freshwater lakes of Virginia, situated within the premises of the marshy Great Dismal Swamp. The bowl-shaped lake with a 3142-acre (13 sq. km) surface area borders the southeastern and northeastern parts of Virginia and North Carolina. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge houses Lake Drummond and a significant portion of the swamplands (Great Dismal Swamp).

Fishing: Crappie (mostly available in spring), chain pickerel, yellow perch, bullhead catfish, longnose gar, and bowfin are found here. There are limited species because of the less pH levels of the lake.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, wildlife viewing, and camping

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10. Douthat Lake

Douthat Lake in Virginia

The Douthat Lake sits in the Douthat State Park within the Bath and Alleghany counties. While the park situated near the Alleghany Mountains has a 4545-acre (18 sq. km) surface area, the lake stretches up to an area of 50 acres (0.20 sq. km). The mountainous terrain that abounds it takes its beauty to a different level altogether.

Fishing: Trout fishing is allowed for those with a state’s fishing license and a proper permit. Other species found here include crappie (in spring), bullhead catfish, flier, chain pickerel, and yellow perch.

Other Activities: Swimming (only from Memorial Day – Labor Day), kayaking, canoeing, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and picnicking

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11. Sherando Lake

Sherando Lake Virginia

The Sherando Lake fed from springs is a part of the Sherando Lake Recreational area, having a 25 acre (0.10 sq. km) surface area. The hardwood forests, beauteous Blue Ridge Mountains (lying nearby), and open fields surrounding the lakeside make it a visitor’s paradise. One could, for sure, spot waterfowl and shorebirds in fall and winter in its vicinity.

Fishing: Trout is the main catch here, spring and fall being the prime fishing season.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, wildlife viewing, bird watching, camping, and hiking in the Sherando Lake Recreation Area

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12. Mountain Lake

Mountain Lake in Virginia

Apart from Lake Drummond, this is the other freshwater lake of Virginia, situated in the Giles County adjacent to the Newport community. The lake went through a severe water-level fluctuation, drying up entirely in 2008, and remaining in that way for 12 long years.  It refilled quite recently in the 2020-spring. The Mountain Lake Hotel surrounding the lake was remodeled in 2012 and named as Mountain Lake Lodge in 2013 October. The Mountain Lake Conservancy was founded to protect and preserve the property of the Mountain Lake.

Fishing: The lake does not provide for fishing at present due to its prolonged period of dryness.

Other Activities: Because of the lake’s dryness there is no scope for swimming here.Recreational activities like mountain biking, cross-country skiing, hiking, wildlife viewing, and snow-shoeing are hosted in the Mountain Lake Lodge and Mountain Lake Conservancy areas.

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13. Burke Lake

Burke Lake in Virginia

This is a freshwater reservoir of 218 acres (0.88 sq. km) surface area in Fairfax Station, situated in Fairfax County. The lake is under the ownership of VDGIF (Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries) and a perfect fishing spot, equipped with a whole lot of facilities like the fishing pier and fishing bulkheads that could be accessed by people with disabilities.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, walleye, muskellunge, black crappie, channel catfish, and bluegill are the common catches.

Other Activities: The lake prohibits swimming, but one may avail other recreational sports likeboating, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and golfing.  

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Most of the lakes permit pets that are leashed and not considered dangerous to humans.

Top Picks

Best Lakes for Fishing: Lake Anna, Claytor Lake, Kerr Lake

Best Lakes for Swimming: Lake Anna, Smith Mountain Lake, Philpott Lake

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