15 Best Lakes in Virginia

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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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

Smith Mountain LakeSource: 2265524729 / shutterstock
Smith Mountain Lake

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

 Lake Anna, VirginiaSource: davideme80 / shutterstock
Lake Anna

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

Kerr LakeSource: Rui Serra Maia / shutterstock
Kerr Lake

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

Lake GastonSource: Jeff Self / Flickr
Lake Gaston

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

Mountain LakeSource: www.virginiaplaces.org
Mountain Lake

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

Claytor Lake, VirginiaSource: Rui Serra Maia / shutterstock
Claytor Lake

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

South Holston LakeSource: Melinda Fawver / shutterstock
South Holston Lake

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

Lake Drummond, VirginiaSource: JoMo333 / shutterstock
Lake Drummond

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

Leesville Lake, VirginiaSource: Realtorldy / Flickr
Leesville Lake

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, VirginiaSource: Visit Chesterfield Virginia / Flickr
Lake Chesdin, Virginia

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, VirginiaSource: Andriy Blokhin / shutterstock
Burke Lake

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

Occoquan ReservoirSource: Photo Phiend / Flickr
Occoquan Reservoir

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 LakeSource: vastateparksstaff / Flickr
Philpott Lake

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

Lake Maury, VirginiaSource: Ali Hankeesh / shutterstock
Lake Maury

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

Gardy's MillpondSource: www.alpsroads.net
Gardy’s Millpond

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.

15 Best Lakes in Virginia:

  • Smith Mountain Lake; Bedford, Franklin & Pittsylvania Counties
  • Lake Anna; Louisa, Spotsylvania and Orange Counties
  • Kerr Lake; Mecklenburg County
  • Lake Gaston; Brunswick & Mecklenburg Counties
  • Mountain Lake; Giles County
  • Claytor Lake; Pulaski County
  • South Holston Lake; Abingdon, Virginia & Bristol Counties
  • Lake Drummond; Chesapeake & Suffolk Counties
  • Leesville Lake; Pittsylvania, Bedford & Campbell Counties
  • Lake Chesdin; Chesterfield, Dinwiddie & Amelia Counties
  • Burke Lake; Fairfax County
  • Occoquan Reservoir; Fairfax & Prince William Counties
  • Philpott Lake; Franklin, Patrick & Henry Counties
  • Lake Maury; Newport Mews
  • Gardy's Millpond; Northumberland & Westmoreland Counties