It's early morning at Smith Mountain Lake State Park . The silvery rays of sun shine low across the water and peek through the dark green conifers and acorn-laden oaks. While everyone else is finishing their first cups of coffee, dedicated anglers are already here, betting their lures on a good catch. It’s so quiet you can hear a red-bellied woodpecker enthusiastically knocking against tree bark and the rustling of leaves as deer or wild turkeys shuffle through the understory of small trees and shrubs. The hushed side of the lake is the most enthralling.
Smith Mountain Lake—called SML by locals—is surrounded by Blue Ridge scenery and is about equidistant from Lynchburg and Roanoke . Plans for building this reservoir began back in 1924. The Roanoke River flowed through a natural gap in Smith Mountain, which created an ideal place to construct a dam, because it would reduce flooding downstream and supply the area with hydroelectric power. Eventually, a twodam system was completed in 1966. Smith Mountain Lake became the largest one in Virginia that is entirely within the state, encompassing more than 20,000 acres and an astonishing 500 miles of magnificent shoreline.
The park, located on the east side of the lake, has nearly 1,250 acres of fun. There are plenty of easy to moderate hiking paths and a 50-mile bike route that meanders through Bedford County. It also contains one of the two public beaches on the lake. Head to the sandy shores for a kid-friendly spot to swim, splash, and goof around— complete with lifeguards, concessions, and restrooms. Kayaks, houseboats, and sailboats prowl the lake. It’s not difficult to find watercraft— there are several rental companies, though you’ll need to make reservations far in advance during peak months. Bridgewater Plaza has a marina and serves as a community hub for eating, shopping, and entertainment.
There’s plenty to learn, too, from the area’s historic sites and interpretive centers. The Booker T. Washington National Monument is located in nearby Hardy. Washington was known for his work building the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The monument is on the former plantation where he was born into slavery in 1856 and where he and his family learned of their emancipation.
The lake is buzzing with activity in the summer, but much of it goes quiet in late fall and winter. The jewel tones of oak, maple, and sumac leaves carpet the forest floor and entice hikers to explore the park trails, while the decreased motor traffic tempts bikers. Throughout the year, whether you’re leaning into a turn on a Jet Ski, biking along the lake, or relaxing on a sun-warmed dock, there’s plenty to do. And that’s what makes Smith Mountain Lake the best—you can pretty much have it all.
dcr.virginia.gov , 540-297-6066, 1235 State Park Rd., Huddleston, VA 24104