The 15 Best Lakes in the Virginia Mountains to Visit

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Nothing quite ups the ante on a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains like nestling in beside a beautiful mountain lake. In our eyes, Virginia lakes are some of the most remarkable in the nation.

The lakes of Virginia– particularly those in the western reaches of the state- tend to be geared towards tourists, with established beaches, boat launches, simple restaurants, and top-flight campgrounds and cabins.

Many of the best lakes in Virginia are the centerpieces of award-winning state parks. So they come with phenomenal picnic shelters, hiking trails, and abundant natural features worthy of visiting in their own right.

For those planning to cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive, perhaps taking side trips to visit charming mountain towns, these bodies of water in Virginia are easily added to the itinerary.

Whether you’re into fishing, boating, swimming, or just staring out over the serene reflections dancing across the water, visiting one of these VA lakes will make for a stellar vacation or day trip.

Read on for our guide to the best lakes in Virginia to visit, including an overview of each one’s amenities and other fun things to do in the area. 

READ MORE: The 20 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks in NC & VA

Best Lakes in the Virginia Guide

  1. Bear Creek Lake  (Cumberland VA)
  2. Carvins Cove Reservoir  (Roanoke VA)
  3. Cave Mountain Lake  (Natural Bridge Station VA)
  4. Claytor Lake  (Dublin VA)
  5. Fairy Stone Lake  (Stuart VA)
  6. Hungry Mother Lake  (Marion VA)
  7. Lake Anna  (Spotsylvania VA)
  8. Lake Arrowhead  (Luray VA)
  9. Lake Keokee  (Keokee VA)
  10. Lake Moomaw (Warm Springs VA)
  11. Lake Whitten  (North Tazewell VA)
  12. Mountain Lake  (Pembroke VA)
  13. Sherando Lake  (Lyndhurst VA)
  14. Smith Mountain Lake (Huddleston VA)
  15. South Holston Lake (Abingdon VA)
Best Lakes in VA - Bear Creek Lake
Bear Creek Lake, photo by vastateparksstaff via CC BY 2.0

1. Bear Creek Lake

22 Bear Creek Rd., Cumberland VA 23040

Phone: 804-492-4410

Official Website

Bear Creek Lake is 40-acre lake in Bear Creek Lake State Park. It’s right next to the Cumberland State Forest, which is about an hour east of Lynchburg VA or two hours from Roanoke.

The tranquil lake is open to fishing, swimming, and boating. It includes a fishing pier, a designated beach area, and a boat launch.

Cumberland State Forest also features cabins and campgrounds, picnic areas and playgrounds, as well as an archery range.

The park encompasses 329 acres and the forest encompasses 16,000 acres, with over 14 miles of multi-use trails that are open to hikers, cyclists, and horse riders.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Virginia State Parks in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Carvins Cove - Boat Launch at Carvins Cove
Boat Launch at Carvins Cove, photo by Emma Gallagher

2. Carvins Cove Reservoir

9644 Reservoir Rd, Roanoke VA 24019

Phone: 540-362-1757

Official Website

With over 600 acres of surface area, Carvins Cove Natural Reserve is a massive reservoir that supplies the city of Roanoke with water. The lake is located just 10 miles from the heart of downtown Roanoke VA.

Carvins Cove is part of a 12,500-acre nature reserve, with 45 miles of stellar mountain biking trails, as well as hiking trails, equestrian trails, and picnic areas.

The lake can be accessed by boat ramps or canoeing and kayaking launches. It is hugely popular for fishing, with bass, catfish, and sunfish being the big draw.

Carvins Cove doesn’t have any camping facilities available. But it is so close to the city that visitors can get into nature during the day and visit Roanoke breweries and restaurants at night.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Roanoke VA

Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area
Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area, photo via

3. Cave Mountain Lake

811 Cave Mountain Lake Rd, Natural Bridge Station VA 24579

Phone: 540-291-2188

Official Website

Easily accessed via I-81, 49 miles northeast of Roanoke and 8 miles south of Natural Bridge State Park, the Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area is a great spot for family outings.

Cave Mountain Lake is a small (7 acres) man-made lake built in the 1930s, using the natural rock as buttresses for a dam wall.

The recreation area is open to daytime visitors as well as campers. There are picnic areas to reserve, including a log picnic shelter with a stone fireplace and rough-hewn logs.

From April through October, Cave Mountain Lake can be used for swimming and fishing (no boats), and there are miles of great hiking trails surrounding it. 

The Cave Mountain Lake Campground features 40 campsites with campfire rings, as well as a group campsite that can hold up to 30 people, 

READ MORE: The Best Restaurants in Lexington VA & Natural Bridge VA for Foodies

Best Lakes in VA - Claytor Lake
Fall at Claytor Lake. photo by vastateparksstaff via CC BY 2.0

4. Claytor Lake

6620 Ben H. Bolen Dr, Dublin VA 24084

Phone: 540-643-2500

Official Website

Located an hour west of Roanoke on I-81, Claytor Lake State Park is one of Virginia’s most beloved state parks, with a full flotilla of facilities for visitors to enjoy.

Claytor Lake VA is open to guarded swimming from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and includes a diving tower, a lakeside beach, and a snack bar.

Fishing and boating are also optional activities on the lake, which offers over 4000 acres of water-based recreation space and has a full marina.

The park also features great hiking trails, camping facilities, rental cabins, picnic shelters, a gift shop, and guided ranger walks to round out the experience.

READ MORE: Exploring the Blue Ridge Music Center, Galax VA (Blue Ridge Parkway MP 213)

Best Lakes in VA - Fairy Stone Lake
Fairy Stone Lake, photo by Emma Gallagher

5. Fairy Stone Lake

967 Fairystone Lake Dr, Stuart VA 24171

Phone: 276-930-2424

Official Website

Located an hour south of Roanoke, Fairy Stone State Park is best-known for the special crystals (a.k.a. fairy stones) found within its boundaries, but nowhere else. But it also has an amazing lake.

Fairy Stone Lake encompasses 168 acres and is open to boaters and anglers. It’s also popular with swimmers, and includes a beach with picnic shelters and concessions.

The park has cabins for rent, a lovely campground, a great collection of hiking trails, and a little museum at the visitor center.

Aside from the lake, another highlight of visiting the state park is to hunt for (and likely find) fairy stone crystals in a dry creek bed. There are regularly scheduled guided hikes offered by the park’s rangers.

READ MORE: Exploring the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke VA

Best Virginia State Parks - Hungry Mother
Hungry Mother Lake in Marion VA

6. Hungry Mother Lake

2854 Park Blvd, Marion VA 24354

Phone: 276-781-7400

Official Website

Located 5 miles north of the charming small town of Marion VA, Hungry Mother State Park spans a beautiful 3,300+ acres, with a stunning lake as its central feature.

Hungry Mother Lake encompasses 108 acres and has a sandy beach with a diving platform, as well as picnic shelters, concessions, and boat rentals (paddle boats, kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards).

There is a lovely loop trail that encircles the lake, as well as several other trails for hiking and biking.

During certain times of the year, an 800-acre section of the park is open to hunting, and the lake is always open to fishing.

The park also has multiple campgrounds, yurts and lakeside cabins for rent, and a bunk lodge for large groups.

READ MORE: Camping and Hiking in Grayson Highlands State Park, VA

Best Lakes in VA - Lake Anna
Lake Anna State Park, photo by vastateparksstaff via CC BY 2.0

7. Lake Anna

6800 Lawyers Rd, Spotsylvania VA 22551

Phone: 540-854-5503  

Official Website

Located 58 miles north of Richmond VA, Lake Anna State Park offers 3,127 acres of wilderness and 10 miles of shoreline to explore.

Lake Anna VA boasts a massive 13,000 acres of surface area, and the park has a lakeside beach, bathhouse, concessions, and a boat launch for visitors to enjoy. 

Recreational opportunities here include hiking trails, swimming, fishing, boating, and equestrian trails, as well as a museum at the park’s visitor center.

Lake Anna offers lots of fun things to do for kids as well, including an arcade, mini golf, and beach volleyball.

The state park also has full camping facilities, yurts and cabins for rent, and two six-room lodges available.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in the North Carolina Mountains to Visit

Lake Arrowhead near Luray VA
Lake Arrowhead, photo via Visit Luray

8. Lake Arrowhead

725 Lake Arrowhead Rd, Luray VA 22835

Phone: 540-743-5511

Official Website

Lake Arrowhead is part of a 134-acre recreation area located near the town of Luray VA. Encompassing nearly 40 acres, the little lake is mostly devoted to fishing.

Fishing on Lake Arrowhead can be done by boat: There’s a concrete boat launch and courtesy dock available.

Otherwise, around 70% of the lake is accessible for shoreline fishing. Bass and catfish are the most common species for anglers to catch.

Lake Arrowhead Recreation Park also has a beach and designated swimming area, food concessions, five picnic shelters, and about two miles of hiking trails.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Luray VA (Gateway to Shenandoah)

Lake Keokee VA
Lake Keokee VA via Visit Virginia

9. Lake Keokee

Keokee Lake Rd, Keokee VA 24265

Phone: 540-265-5100  

Official Website

Located just a stone’s throw from Virginia’s border with Kentucky, Lake Keokee is in the Clinch Ranger District of Jefferson National Forest. So it’s basically surrounded by wilderness.

The 92-acre impoundment is best known for its great fishing opportunities, especially panfish, although bass and catfish are also common catches.

The lake also features hiking and biking trails, and there’s a fishing pier as well as a boat ramp (electric motors only) for public use.

Primitive camping and bathrooms are available at Lake Keokee, but the Clinch Ranger District also has four other campgrounds: Bark Camp, Cane Patch, Cave Springs, and High Knob.

READ MORE: The Appalachian Culture & History of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Best Lakes in VA - Lake Moomaw
Lake Moomaw, photo by SchuminWeb via CC BY-SA 2.0

10. Lake Moomaw

756 Twin Ridge Dr, Warm Springs VA 24484

Phone: 540-962-2178

Official Website

Backing up the Jackson River for 12 miles, Gathright Dam helps to form Lake Moomaw in Virginia’s Alleghany Highlands.

It is part of the James River District in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.

Lake Moomaw reaches depths below 150 feet and is the second-largest lake in Virginia, with some 2,530 acres of surface area.

There’s lots of great fishing opportunities to be had here, and the area is equipped with picnic tables, grills, camping sites, restrooms, a boat ramp, and a fishing pier.

In addition to a massive lake to play in, Lake Moomaw also has tons of attractions close by, including Humpback Bridge, Island Ford Cave, and the Warm Springs Pools.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in the North Carolina Mountains to Visit

Lake Witten VA
Lake Witten VA, photo via

11. Lake Witten

750 Recreation Dr, North Tazewell VA 24630

Phone: 276-988-7250  

Official Website

Located just north of Tazewell in the heart of Appalachian Virginia, Lake Witten is part of a 300-acre nature lover’s haven, Cavitt’s Creek Park.

The 52-acre lake was constructed by the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, and it’s part of the state’s trout stocking program.

Aside from trout, the lake is known for having abundant populations of bass, catfish, and bluegills. So naturally the fishing is first-rate here.

Cavitt’s Creek Park also has primitive and full-service campgrounds, which are open to both RVs and tent campers, and there are numerous picnic shelters and hiking trails as well.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Lakes in the North Georgia Mountains


12. Mountain Lake

115 Hotel Cir, Pembroke VA 24136

Phone: 540-626-7121

Official Website

There are only two natural lakes in Virginia: One is tucked back in the swamps, and the other is Mountain Lake, which is perched at nearly 4,000 feet of elevation in the Alleghany Mountains.

Located in the Mountain Lake Wilderness Area, 8 miles from Blacksburg VA, the lake was made famous by the 1987 film, Dirty Dancing

The Mountain Lake Lodge (which still hosts Dirty Dancing-themed weekends several times a year) served as the  “Kellerman Resort,” and includes the historic lodge, cabins, restaurants, and pools featured in the movie.

Strangely, Mountain Lake dried up completely in 2008, leaving behind thousands of dead fish and puzzled scientists who couldn’t explain why. 

Thankfully, the Virginia lake mysteriously began refilling itself after heavy rains in the summer of 2020, in a process some experts suggest may happen roughly every 400 years! 

READ MORE: Tips for Tackling the McAfee Knob Hike Near Roanoke, Virginia

Best Lakes in VA - Sherando Lake
Autumn Reflections on Sherando Lake, photo by Bold Frontiers via CC BY 2.0

13. Sherando Lake

Sherando Lake Rd, Lyndhurst VA 22952

Phone: 540-291-2188  

Official Website

Located in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, the Sherando Lake Recreation Area is home to a small, but beautiful Virginia lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Encompassing 25 acres, the spring-fed Sherando Lake is flanked by hardwood forests that are well-regarded for wildlife, with birdwatching being a popular pastime.

The recreation area has nearly 50 campsites on 3 loops with a creek running through them. It can accommodate RVs and tent campers, as well as group camping.

There are also several short hiking trails, great fishing, and a beach, and the lake is inviting for swimmers.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Waynesboro VA (Augusta County)

Mary Gabbett at Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Virginia
Smith Mountain Lake State Park, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

14. Smith Mountain Lake

1235 State Park Rd, Huddleston VA 24104

Phone: 540-297-6066  

Official Website

Encompassing 1,248 acres, the land portion of Smith Mountain Lake State Park is much smaller than Smith Mountain Lake, which is the second largest lake in Virginia.

The lake itself covers 220,000 acres, occupying and transforming a vast section of the Roanoke River Valley.

Smith Mountain Lake is open to various water-based recreation, including a beach for sunbathing and swimming, boat rentals and ramps, and a public pier for fishing. Even ski boats and jet skis are allowed here.

Overnight facilities in the park include rental cabins, bunkhouses, and full-service campgrounds with 70 campsites (including 26 tent-only sites).

The park also has 13 hiking trails, lots of picnic areas, and a Discovery Center that’s great for kids.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Treehouse Rentals in the North Carolina Mountains

South Holston Lake VA
View of South Holston Lake from the South Holston Lake Dam, photo via Canva

15. South Holston Lake

19482 County Park Rd, Abingdon VA 24211

Phone: 276-608-1244

Official Website 

Washington County Park is located on the western shoreline of South Holston Lake, which stretches into Virginia from Tennessee and is known as one of the best lakes in that state. 

South Holston Lake is a 7,000+ acre reservoir operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the South Holston Dam accounts for 44 megawatts of electricity a day.

This lake is increasingly popular with avid anglers, as it offers trophy-size trout and a nationally regarded stronghold of smallmouth bass.

In Virginia, Washington County Park offers camping for South Holston Lake visitors. The birdwatching there is very good, as shorebirds and waterfowl breed along, and migrate over, the lake. –by Jonathon Engels; lead photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett


Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

After visiting North Carolina for the first time, Senior Writer Jonathon Engels and wife Emma spent 2 years exploring Western NC in search of a homestead property. They first lived in Brevard, where Jonathon taught writing at Blue Ridge Community College and extensively explored the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. For the last several years they have lived just off the BRP near Elkin, Southwest Virginia, and the NC High Country. The couple also volunteers with the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, the Elkin Valley Trail Association, and Reeves Downtown School of Music.