Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia's most popular lake, offers superb recreational activities, 500 miles of shoreline, a wide variety of water sports, and affordable lakefront real estate. Known locally as "SML," it is the "Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains". This insiders' guide by 17-year lake residents includes Smith Mountain Lake vacation and relocation information. It's a comprehensive guide - laid out as a continuous webpage so that you can print it out and bring it along when you visit the lake. Except for two ads from SML's top real estate professional, the links on this webpage are unpaid - selected for their value to vacationers and to retirees considering SML.
SML self-catering vacation rentals are offered by the week, long weekend, and month - directly from homeowners and from vacation rental property managers. Rental rates vary by season, size of rental, and included amenities. Most are bargains when compared to other lakefront, oceanfront, and resort vacation rentals in the USA. For vacation lodging, call an SML real estate company, or check online at Homeaway, VRBO, or AirBnB. Restaurants are plentiful, and there are two large supermarkets, so you won't go hungry!
Peak-season (June-August) rates for Smith Mountain Lake waterfront vacation rentals run from $400-$4000/week, with size and amenities (rather than geographic location) the primary determinant of cost. During peak season, you'll typically need to check in and out on a Saturday, rent for a full week, and supply your own linens.
Mid-season (4-6 weeks preceding and following summer) you can expect warm pleasant weather, fewer visitors, modest discounts from peak rates, flexible check-in and check-out dates - plus weekend and daily rate options.
Low-season (generally mid-October through mid-April) you can expect mild weather, fewer visitors, discounts of 20%-50% on your vacation rental, flexible check-in and check-out dates - plus weekend, daily, and monthly rate options.
Many SML lakefront vacation rentals include a dock; ask if you need one for your boat. Public boat launching ramps are usually nearby. If you can't bring your own boat, marinas rent pontoon boats starting at $160/day. Most other power boats cost more - including PWCs (Seadoo, WaveRunners, etc.) and ski boats.
SML is a beautiful and friendly place to visit all-year-round. If you're visiting for one week or longer, we recommend a vacation home rental. For shorter stays, consider these other lodging options, where summer non-holiday rates are the highest rates shown:
Houseboat rentals are also popular. Most have a 3-day minimum and a peak-season weekly rate of $1200-$2900 (plus gas) depending on size and length of rental. Try Parrot Cove Boat Rentals. For youth camping, weddings, large conferences and retreats, consider the 4-H Conference Center with 400+ beds and 120 acres on the waterfront. Bernard's Landing and Mariner's Landing also accommodate large conferences and retreats. SML State Park Cabins go quickly and should be booked well in advance.
Why is there a gorgeous, 40-mile long, 20,600 acre lake, with 500 miles of shoreline, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of rural southwestern Virginia? Because Smith Mountain Lake was created to generate electricity, and to help manage water flows downstream. The damming of the Blackwater and Roanoke Rivers formed this reservoir in a filling process that began on September 24, 1963 - and ended almost 2.5 years later on March 7, 1966. SML turned 50 in 2016!
SML's surface covers 32 square miles. Its highest normal water level ("full pond") is 795 feet above sea level. There is typically very little seasonal variation in the water level. The daily variation for electricity production is 12-24 inches. During severe drought conditions, including 2007 and 2012, lake levels have fallen by five feet. Under extreme flood conditions, the water level could reach just a few feet below the top of the Smith Mountain Dam, which itself is 802 feet above sea level. (The US Army Corps of Engineers publishes a daily water level report that is also available graphically over time.)
Surrounded by mountains, Smith Mountain Lake's deepest point is about 250 feet, near the dam itself. Its "average" depth is 55 feet (for more stats, see Lakes for Vacation and Recreation - Lakelubbers). Outside the lake's many coves in its main channel, 80-150 feet is typical. Water purity is excellent. Water temperatures invite swimming from May through September.
SML residents are friendly and helpful, and are exceptionally talented and generous volunteers of their time and money to local causes.
Many retail stores and services are available around the lake. Most are located on or near Rt. 122, about five miles north and south of Hales Ford Bridge. There are two large, modern supermarkets, dozens of restaurants, a dozen banks, a dozen marinas, a YMCA, two libraries, physicians, dentists, veterinarians, real estate brokers, attorneys, accountants, and scores of independent retail stores. An urgent care center and a medical evacuation helicopter are located at Westlake, near the intersection of Routes 122 and 616. A second helipad is six miles away, at the Scruggs Volunteer Fire Department. Full-service hospitals, including a regional heart and trauma center, are 30-45 minutes away from the lake in Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Rocky Mount.
The west end of SML, including the unincorporated town of Moneta, is closest to Roanoke, Virginia (population 100,000). The east end, including Huddleston, is closest to Lynchburg, Virginia (population 70,000). Both Roanoke and Lynchburg are within 30-60 minutes drive time for most lake residents. Both small cities provide convenient "big-city" amenities like shopping malls - and modern regional airports where you can park your car inexpensively within a five-minutes' walk of the terminal, and be driving home (with your checked luggage) 20 minutes after your plane arrives.
Smith Mountain Lake is home to about 22,000 permanent residents. It covers parts of three Virginia counties: Franklin County, Bedford County, and Pittsylvania County. Average air temperatures are 73F in summer and 41F in winter. Annual rainfall averages 43 inches. Annual snowfall averages 10 inches; most snowfalls melt in a day or two.
For more tourism and relocation/retirement information, and for advice about business conditions and opportunities at the lake, call the 750-member SML Regional Chamber of Commerce at 540-721-1203.
The lake offers a wide range of housing types and real estate prices. It's a great time to buy, with a few bargains still available at prices that haven't been seen since 2005. Top realtors can show them to you by land or boat. Lakefront studio condo resales start at about $60K - while about 200 single-family lakefront homes, on gently-sloping lots with SML's best views, sold in 2017 for $1 million to $3 million.
With 500 miles of shoreline, you can find a first or second home in a quiet cove with just a few neighbors in sight - or retire to a well-planned community with shared or private amenities that include swimming pools, fitness facilities, boat slips with powered boat lifts, and golf courses.
In January 2018, SML's real estate market included about 300 lakefront and lake access homes for sale; many more will be listed as summer approaches*:
If you prefer to build your own Smith Mountain Lake home, about 300 lakefront lots are available. About 35 do not include the 100 feet of lakefront required to build a dock:
* Home and lot data provided by Glenda McDaniel, GRI, using RVAR statistics and other information.
Smith Mountain Lake real estate is diverse and affordable, especially when compared to similar real estate on the USA's coasts. You can buy a furnished home, and move in "tomorrow." For about $80K, you can buy a 300-400 square foot lakefront "studio" or 1BR condo with a lakeview. For $225K, you can get a 20-year-old 1200 square foot lakefront condo or townhouse. For $300K you may be able to snag an older 2BR-3BR lakefront home with 1,500 square feet, located on a shallow cove or a steep lot - or a modern, 2BR, 1,200 square-foot condo with a great view, boat slip, and golf privileges. $500K-$700K can buy you a well-maintained 3BR-4BR lakefront home with 3,000+ square feet, a dock with two boat slips and powered lifts, one acre of land and 200+ feet of waterfront. $750K+ buys a large and luxurious lakefront home with a mountainview and a deepwater dock, in a premium development with its own golf course. $1+ million buys one of the lake's 6,000+ square-foot luxury homes - possibly one that was featured on a recent SML Charity Home Tour.
Before you buy, check the lake depth at the dock. If a dock and the surrounding water don't have a depth of at least 9-10 feet at "full pond", you may be unable to use your boat during extended droughts, when water levels can drop by five feet or more. It can also be difficult to climb down (and back up) from a fixed dock to a floating dock ("floater") during drought; ask to see how access to your boat will be provided.
Looking for an undeveloped lot? SML's lakefront is 75%-80% developed, but undeveloped lakefront lots are still available. You can pay $50K for a lot with water access, $100K for a steep lot with an inspiring lakeview, or $250K or more for a large lakefront lot that may already include a $50K dock. For a bit more, you can buy a waterfront lot with a coveted view of the Smith Mountain "gap."
If you consider buying a lot or home without a dock, ask your real estate buyer's agent (or attorney) to carefully check the dock-building regulations. You will need at least 100 feet of waterfront to add a new dock on your lot. It's also possible that an existing dock was never properly permitted or that it was not built according to its approved plan. In that case, expensive remediation may be required before you can use the dock - or even before you can buy the property.
Nearly all Smith Mountain Lake homes are built above the "100-year flood plain", 802 feet above sea level. 800 feet is the highest level ever recorded, in 1987. Lakefront properties with gentle slopes from 802 feet down to "full pond", 795 feet above sea level - plus a full view of the Smith Mountain "gap" at the dam - generally command the highest prices.
If you're planning to buy a condo or house, and then offer it as a vacation rental to help pay the mortgage, be sure to first check county, subdivision, and homeowner association rules and regulations. Vacation rental restrictions and prohibitions are increasing as the popularity of vacation rentals grows. Bedford County (on the north side of SML) is much more friendly to vacation rentals than Franklin County.
If you need high-speed Internet, fast cellular service, and cable TV access, Franklin County (on the south side of SML) is your best bet. In Bedford County, both can be hard-to-find. Cellular phone service, including Verizon's LTE and AT&T's 3G, is accessible on much of the lake - but you should definitely test it yourself. Ask the homeowner or your realtor which services work there, and borrow their phones if necessary to test them. Ask to see the homeowner's cable TV, cellular, and Internet bills. There are many homes at every price point in all three counties surrounding the lake where high-speed Internet is still just a dream. The lake's three county governments are working with providers, trying to change that.
If you want to buy or rent real estate, or book a vacation rental, dozens of experienced professionals can help you to find your "perfect SML vacation or retirement home." Call any of these brokers with SML offices:
Until 2007, the rapid pace of development had residents and three county governments scrambling to protect the lakefront environment and to provide new infrastructure. The recession slowed development and reduced those pressures, but new construction is again underway.
Lake water quality is preserved as responsible new home construction retains natural waterfront buffers of native trees and vegetation that filter lake pollutants like lawn fertilizers and pesticides. SML water quality is excellent, largely due to the vigilance of organizations like Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) and Tri-County Lake Administrative Commission (TLAC).
In 2005, all three lakefront counties passed new regulations that forbid the feeding of waterfowl within 500 feet of the lake, to help control water quality. In 2007, Franklin County began a program to enforce regular five-year maintenance and pump-out of septic systems near the lake. Boaters are forbidden to dump wastes of any kind into Smith Mountain Lake. SMLA has recorded and publicized water quality test results continuously since 1987 - a database that is unmatched by any other major lake in the USA - supported by dozens of residential volunteers and by generous Ferrum College faculty and their students.
Aggressive invasive weeds pose a major threat to most U.S. and Virginia lakes, but not to Smith Mountain Lake. The three counties surrounding SML initially responded with funding for targeted chemical treatments to limit weeds' spread. In 2013, sterile grass carp (voracious consumers of hydrilla and other invasive weeds) were introduced to the lake - in controlled numbers carefully calculated to limit their effect on desireable native vegetation. That program has been very successful; grass carp are added each year as needed, in weed-impacted areas.
Invasive, non-native zebra mussels are a threat, migrating southeast from the Great Lakes and hitchhiking nationwide on trailered boats from infested lakes. SML so far remains free of these noxious pests, which have no natural enemy or chemical treatment; they cannot be remediated. Virginia is one of just 17 states that remain uninfested, and is surrounded by states that are - except for mussel-free North Carolina. SMLA is investigating the most effective means to block their arrival - and other aquatic invasive species (AIS). Invasive species are illegal to transport here; visitors should "Clean, Drain, and Dry" all trailered boats before launching in SML. Better yet, rent a mussel-free boat at one of SML's marinas!
Lakefront residential property taxes in all three lakefront counties are about 1/2 of 1% of fair market value; a $500,000 property is taxed at about $2,500/year. Properties are reassessed once every four years. The 2011 and 2015 county assessments of lake-area homes were reduced - following a 25% to 75% increase in 2007. Throughout Virginia, there is no reduction of taxes for primary homes or for low-income or retired homeowners. Taxes are assessed at fair market value, and everyone in a county pays the same property tax rate.
There is no local "town level" of government at Smith Mountain Lake, so the three lake-surrounding county governments face new demands for public services like law enforcement, traffic safety enforcement, road improvements, and trash removal, plus new infrastructure needs like public water and sewage. The lake's first public water line was laid by Bedford County in 2005; Franklin County became a partner and extended it across the county line. Bedford County began construction of sewage lines and a treatment facility in 2005; Franklin County sharing some costs and continues to explore feasibility.
The three county governments and Appalachian Power Company control lake development. Ferrum College and volunteer organizations like SMLA and TLAC monitor water quality. Some local residents and organizations want to establish an additional local level of taxation and control - a special tax district or a town of Smith Mountain Lake spanning all three lakefront counties, to support an increase in tax-based services provided around the lake. The result would be dedicated funding for critical needs like water quality, at the expense of higher taxes. Most residents have opposed a lake-based tax district.
To better understand SML development issues:
Among the lake's many water activities are power boating, canoeing, sailing, parasailing, swimming, fishing, water skiing, wakeboarding, and jet skiing. SML's lakefront includes seven free public boat launching sites, plus paid launches at more than a dozen marinas. Some lakeside developments maintain their own private ramps. A map of free public launches is included below in "Boating".
Off-water you'll enjoy sightseeing that includes many spectacular views of Smith Mountain Lake's gently mountainous 500-mile shoreline. Five challenging golf courses surround the lake. The SML State Park includes many miles of hiking trails. The lake also offers picnicking, camping, hunting, antiquing, shopping, and relaxing. Restaurants at waterfront and nearby offer everything from pizza and sandwiches to prime rib buffets and gourmet cuisine.
Well-maintained, winding roads with often-narrow shoulders make bicycling unsafe. (Drivers: Please pay careful attention to the road ahead at all times.)
Most land and water activities are available at the State Park or within a short drive ... so rent a lakeview or lakefront vacation home, and enjoy yourself for a week or two!
Blackwater Junction is a cable park that offers an active water sports lifestyle in a safe, healthy, family friendly, and environmentally conscious setting. Located just off SML, the complex offers wakeboarding and wakeskating for riders of all skill levels. Franklin County, 456 Bethel Lane, Union Hall, Virginia.
Hot Shots family entertainment center features a miniature golf course, bumper boat pool with water blasters, and a large selection of video and arcade games. Refreshments, pizza and sandwiches are also available. Summer hours: 10AM-10PM daily. Franklin County, 67 Village View Ln., Moneta. 540-719-1547.
Harbortown Miniature Golf Course is located over the water. Summer hours: 11AM-10PM daily. A game arcade is located nearby. Franklin County, Bridgewater Plaza at Hales Ford Bridge. 540-721-5959.
Westlake Safari Mini Golf features miniature golf with food available at the adjacent Joe's Restaurant. Summer hours: 11AM-9PM daily. Franklin County, 130 Scruggs Rd., Moneta. 540-721-2422.
Many marinas and independent operators offer Smith Mountain Lake boat rentals. You'll find pontoon boats starting at $160 for 8+ hours, plus ski boats, PWCs, powered fishing boats, runabouts, houseboats, and more. If you bring your own boat, you can launch it at private marinas - check our map of free public boat ramps. Either way, bring your fishing gear, water skis, or wakeboard - and plan a day of water sports and sightseeing on the water.
Several churches near Smith Mountain Lake operate websites that describe their worship programs and services.
To view lakefront scenery and homes from the water (April-December), you can cruise the Virginia Dare, a 19th century side paddlewheeler. The 2-hour cruise, which starts near the State Park, covers 10 miles of the easternmost shores of SML, including Smith Mountain Dam. Lunch or dinner are available onboard; there's also an inexpensive sightsee-only option. 540-297-7100.
Sailing is popular at the lake, especially near the dam - where the water is "widest" and winds are strongest. If you're not already a sailor, you can learn to sail at Smith Mountain Lake Sailing School (Pete Phillip, Director, 540-719-0009).
Virginia's notorious Franklin County moonshiners were popularized in the 2012 movie "Lawless." Today, even the Feds can't help but like us. You will need your ID (legal, please) to try the goods.
Franklin County Distilleries birthed and bottles White Label Corn Whiskey in the Moonshine Capital of America, Franklin County, Virginia. It builds on the brand that bootleggers built, and offers a true taste of history in every bottle. 5156 Highway 220, Boones Mill. Call 540/721-5215 to arrange a tasting. Don't worry, they won't tell the Feds - or your Ma and Pa.
Sunken City Brewing Company is Smith Mountain Lake's own microbrewery. The brewery's name honors Virginia towns in Franklin County that were flooded to create SML in 1963. Its signature brew is "Dam Lager" and they have a tasting room. Rt. 122 in Westlake, 200 yards south of Kroger. Bottoms up!
Brooks Mill Winery is a small farm fruit winery located near SML in Wirtz. They produce wines from blueberries, pears, apples, peaches, and cherries. Call 540/721-5215 to arrange a tasting.
The lake community supports a wide range of interests. Many of these interests are promoted by not-for-profit community organizations - including antique boating, the arts, ballroom and square dancing, contract and duplicate bridge, fishing, gardening, piloting, quilting, Scouting, water skiing, yacht racing, and much more.
May: Attend the Smith Mountain Lake Beer & BBQ Festival, on the first Saturday each May. Route 122 & Route 608, Downtown Moneta, Virginia. Details, tickets: 540-721-1203.
September: Get your tickets now for the 30th Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival, Sept. 29-30, at Crazy Horse Campground (off Scruggs Rd.) This year features 30 wineries and over 80 crafters and food vendors. Proceeds support local charities.
October: Plan now to attend the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour, starting on the second Friday every October. This three-day event features eight beautiful waterfront homes. The proceeds support local charities.
October: The SML Rotary Club's charity fundraiser Nite at The Races, Saturday 5:30PM-10:00PM, on the third Saturday every October, features simulated horse racing, funny money, great food, dozens of valuable prizes, a "Kentucky Derby" Ladies Hat Parade, and camaraderie. Visit the website to reserve tickets, name horses, or advertise in the event program.
For more upcoming lake events, check the SML Events Calendar from the SML Regional Chamber of Commerce.
WSLK 880 is the lake's only broadcast radio station; it's 880 on your AM radio dial and will let you know "what's happening" at SML, anytime during its broadcasting hours (dawn to dusk).
The Laker Magazine is Virginia's "Luxury Lake Lifestyle Magazine" and a great source of more information about SML.
Smith Mountain Lake Farm Alpacas allows you and your family to see and touch Alpacas. You'll also learn about champion bloodlines and the business of alpaca breeding and investing. Call to reserve a 90-minute tour. Franklin County, Morewood Rd., Hardy, Virginia. 540-719-0281 or 860-307-2143.
Smith Mountain Lake stocks striped bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass - and is home to crappie, catfish, and muskellunge. Elusive walleyes breed naturally in small numbers. SML and its neighbor Leesville Lake hold two Virginia state freshwater fishing records - a 53 lb. striped bass and a 2 lb. 6 oz. Roanoke bass.
Bassmaster rates SML among the USA's best bass lakes. In 2017, it ranked 14th in the field of 25 top bass fishing lakes in the Northeastern Division, which stretches from Virginia to Maine. ESPN has sponsored and nationally broadcast the Blue Ridge Brawl Pro Tournament (a Bassmaster Elite Series Event) at Smith Mountain Lake - and has awarded more than $1 million in prizes here.
There are more than a dozen guides who can help you to catch gamefish at SML. Fishing guides include Captains Spike & Kathy Franceshini (540-297-5611), Captain Dale Wilson (540-874-4950), Captain Kenny Short (540-493-9541), Captain Daniel Bertiaume (540-521-8235), Captain Todd at Shad Taxi (540-797-2528), and Captain Dewayne Lamb (540-721-1175).
If you plan to fish here, a Virginia State Fishing License is required. You can buy and print one online today at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries - or buy one in person at the Kroger store at Westlake near the intersection of Rt. 616 (Scruggs Rd.) and Rt. 122 (Booker T. Washington Hwy.)
Golf is a prime attraction at the lake. Two private waterfront golf courses serve residents of The Waterfront and The Water's Edge subdivisions. Three public and semi-private golf courses serve vacationers - and SML residents who live outside those subdivisions:
The Franklin County YMCA at the lake opened in 2008. It offers full cardio and strength training, free weights, circuit training, personal training, aerobics, aerobics classes, raquetball, indoor tennis, tennis lessons, a full gym with walking track, basketball and raquetball training clinics, a masseuse, childrens' programs, children's summer camp, a nursery, and more. Visiting YMCA "AWAY" members are welcome for up to twelve days. For others, your first visit is free. Extended access for lake vacationers is available to families by the week, or to individuals by the day. This YMCA is located in LakeWatch Plantation off Rt. 122, between Westlake and Hales Ford Bridge, near the Bank of Botetourt. 293 Firstwatch Dr., Moneta, Virginia. 540-721-9622.
The Westlake Carilion Wellness Center (Franklin County) offers a full complement of fitness equipment and classes, plus an aquatics center with swimming pool, therapy pool, and hot tub. For families visiting Smith Mountain Lake or considering permanent membership, short-term memberships are available; call for details. 157 Westlake Rd., off Rt. 122 (near Kroger), Moneta, Virginia. 540-719-3150.
Westlake Cinema offers a four-plex movie theater with stadium seating, 3D features, Dolby Digital Surround Sound, and headphones for the hearing impaired. Franklin County, 84 Westlake Road (Westlake Towne Center), Suite 117, Hardy, Virginia. 540-721-6326
Looking for restaurants -- or America's best ice cream -- at SML? You'll find three dozen sit-down restaurants, plus a few more that serve "fast food" for optional take-out. Many are seasonal (summer-only) and most are closed at least one day per week; always call to confirm hours. Restaurants are listed alphabetically; those with $$$$ are most expensive:
See our Smith Mountain Lake Restaurant Directory for a complete list of nearby restaurants.
We think that this small local dairy makes America's best ice cream, and the National Ice Cream Retailers Association awarded their chocolate a blue ribbon (first place) in 2016. Homestead's ice cream cones are large and reasonably priced. Cones are available at the dairy in Burnt Chimney (Wirtz), and at a food trailer (summer weekends) located at the "General Store" on Rt. 616 in Westlake (Moneta). You can also buy $5 quarts at the dairy, and at some local food markets (including Kroger). This is a treat that you won't want to miss when you visit Smith Mountain Lake. [No, we have no connection to the dairy.]
Even though Smith Mountain Lake is the second largest lake in Virginia, SML State Park is not just for water enthusiasts. In addition to traditional water sports like swimming, fishing, boating, and boat launching, State Park guests enjoy hiking, camping, picnicking and more.
The State Park was established in 1967. Construction began in 1975 and the park was opened to the public in 1983. There's a visitors' center with many interesting exhibits, including one detailing the history and folklore of Smith Mountain Lake.
There are also hiking trails, fishing (which requires a Virginia Fishing License), swimming at a 500-foot-long beach, picnic areas, 50 primitive campsites, cabin rentals, and assorted programs such as night hikes, canoe trips and wilderness skills training. The park totals 1,506 acres with 16 miles of lakefront.
Location: SML State Park is located in Bedford County, Huddleston, Virginia, on the northern side of the lake, off Rt. 626 (Smith Mountain Lake Parkway). Call 540-297-6066 or 800-933-PARK.
The 37-acre Smith Mountain Lake Community Park opened in June 2007. Funded by Franklin County Parks and Recreation, it provides a family oriented, ADA equipped facility for fishing and family recreation. Its partly-covered fishing pier is the largest at SML, and is located in a spot known for striped bass. There's also a hiking trail, picnic shelter, and limited parking. Additional park features include a free public beach, bath house, and 100+ parking spaces.
The Rotary Club of Smith Mountain Lake created and maintains a playground within the park that provides equipment for children, including those of ADA families.
There's no park admission fee but a Virginia Fishing License is required to fish anywhere at Smith Mountain Lake, including the park pier. Strict enforcement of fishing regulations, noise, litter, speeding, and traffic laws is provided by VDGIF and by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office.
Location: Franklin County's park is located on the south side of the lake, off Rt. 616 (Scruggs Rd.). From Rt. 616, turn left on Rt. 949 (Bluewater Dr.), right on Saunders Farm Rd., right on Winding Waters Rd., then left on Parkway Dr. Follow Parkway Dr. to the park.
Another popular attraction at SML is Appalachian Power Company's Smith Mountain Dam Visitors' Center. More than one million people have visited since its opening in May of 1967. At the Center, you can see an audio-visual presentation that shows how the dam was built. There's also a wall mural, showing Smith Mountain Gap - now filled with water - before construction of the dam.
Models of the Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville dams describe the pumped storage principle. There are many more exhibits that show you how the dams produce electricity, offering an educational experience for people of all ages.
There's no admission fee for the Center. April-October, exhibits are usually open Sunday Noon-4:30PM and Tuesday-Saturday 9AM-4:30PM (closed on Monday and holidays). At other times of year, exhibits are usually open Tuesday-Saturday 9AM-4:30PM (closed on Sunday, Monday, and holidays). Please call to confirm hours. Reservations can be made for group tours.
Location: Smith Mountain Dam Visitors Center is located at the eastern edge of the lake in Pittsylvania County, off Rt. 908 at 2072 Ford Rd., Sandy Level, Virginia. Follow Rt. 626 to Rt. 751, where you'll see a sign to Smith Mountain Dam Visitors Center. Call 540-985-2587 for hours and detailed directions.
While visiting Smith Mountain Lake, you can also drive the Blue Ridge Parkway; three entrances are located near the lake. The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most frequently visited park in the USA's National Park System. Seventeen million visitors travel its road and enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway every year.
Within the 470-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway are eleven visitor centers, plus cabins, lodges, restaurants, campgrounds, picnic areas, trails, overlooks, and private facilities. Park visitors can enjoy hiking, waterfalls, beautiful nature life, including wildflowers in the spring and beautifully colored trees in the fall, cultural and historical demonstrations, photography, guided walks and tours, traditional mountain music programs, birdwatching, and bicycling.
Location, Northern Entry: From Moneta, Virginia, follow Rt. 122 north to Bedford, then Rt. 43 northwest until it intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Location, Central Entry: From Moneta, Virginia, follow Rt. 122 north toward Bedford, then Rt. 24 west until it intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Location, Southern Entry: From Moneta, Virginia, follow Rt. 122 south to Rocky Mount, then Rt. 220 north until it intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Many lake visitors stop to see the Booker T. Washington National Monument. The monument is one of only twelve African-American history sites of the 425 National Park Service units in existence. It was constructed in June of 1957 by Presidential Proclamation. The park commemorates the life of Booker T. Washington. It's a unique experience that allows the American public to view what slavery was like and how the plantation system worked. Located on the old Burrough's plantation, it allows people to see how unkindly most slaves were treated.
Booker Taliaferro Washington was born a slave on the Burrough's tobacco plantation in 1856 and died in 1915. After being freed at age 9, he left the plantation to pursue an education. He is now remembered internationally as an educator, author, orator, college president, and spokesman for African-Americans.
The Booker T. Washington National Monument includes preserved plantation buildings - slave quarters, a tobacco barn, a smokehouse, and a tool shop. There are also farm animals - pigs, ducks, turkeys, geese, chickens, and cows - for children (and their parents) to enjoy. The monument is open year-round from 9:00AM- 5:00PM, excluding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.
Location: Franklin County, Virginia, 12130 Booker T. Washington Hwy., Hardy, Virginia 24101. 540-721-2094.
June 6, 1944 forever changed the course of history. Yet in the United States, there was no National Memorial to D-Day ... until the summer of 2001, when the architecturally stunning National D-Day Memorial opened in nearby Bedford, Virginia.
The National D-Day Memorial Foundation is a nonprofit educational organization established to maintain a memorial complex for the nation's remembrance of D-Day. The Foundation exists to memorialize the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the Allied Armed Forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
The multi-million dollar memorial is a moving tribute to the thousands of young men who gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy France to ensure freedom and democracy worldwide. Bedford Virginia was chosen as the home for the memorial because Bedford lost the most men per capita of any United States municipality on D-Day. Take your camera, and be sure to capture the beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains - including the Peaks of Otter - from the grounds of the Memorial.
Location: The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford County, Virginia, about 30 minutes' drive north of Smith Mountain Lake. The memorial is located at the interchange of State Routes 460 Bypass and 122, in the city of Bedford, between Roanoke and Lynchburg, Virginia. 540-586-DDAY.
When you boat at SML, please be careful and courteous. The Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries is an excellent source of information about safe boating, boating laws, and public access ramps. Here are some highlights for new boaters at SML ...
SML is free of most non-native, aquatic invasive species (AIS), and we want to keep it that way. You can help by NOT allowing weeds, zebra mussels, and other noxious aquatic hitchhikers to come to the lake with you - on your boat or boat trailer. You are our first line of defense. Here's a brochure that Texas uses to explain how to Clean, Drain and Dry your boat and trailer.
Several companies on SML's shoreline rent power boats - pontoon boats, deck boats, ski boats, PWCs, fishing boats, house boats, and more. Many also sell marine gas and rent kayaks, paddle boards, tubes, skis, wake boards, knee boards, and more. See our list of boat rental companies at Smith Mountain Lake Boat Rentals for details.
Smith Mountain Lake is Virginia's busiest recreational freshwater body. In 2006, the Virginia Assembly increased funding for enforcement of boating safety and noise laws; Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) increased the number and visibility of patrols on the lake's 20,600 acres. In 2007, the Virginia Assembly passed a law mandating safe boating education for operators that has been phasing in, by age group, over several years.
All Virginia boat operators must show proof that they have received safety education. An attempt to exclude boaters older than 42 from the safety education requirement is opposed by SMLA and the SML Chamber of Commerce. An SML legislator, Sen. Bill Stanley, is a leader in the effort to weaken the law. The weakening legislation was defeated in 2015, but may be reintroduced in 2017.
SMLA successfully lobbied for the boater safety education mandate, but their request for boating speed limits failed to pass the Virginia legislature in 2007 and 2008. There are no boating horsepower limits on SML.
If you bring your boat to SML, please first clean your boat, boat trailer, and bait box - to prevent fouling Smith Mountain Lake with invasive weeds or zebra mussels that you may have picked up on another body of water. Invasive weeds can quickly grow so thickly that they prevent navigation near boat ramps and in shallow coves. Don't wash your boat near the water because hitchhiking weeds, weed fragments, or zebra mussel eggs ("veligers") can wash into the lake. Instead, power wash your boat and trailer at a car wash away from the lake - there are several off-water car washes nearby. And don't forget to thoroughly clean your bait box and lures to remove all plant materials. SML is currently free of zebra mussels, and we want to keep it that way!
A detailed map of SML (like the waterproof map shown below) will help you to locate six public access boat ramps on Smith Mountain Lake. You can also click on the map links below for details, but the navigation markers referenced below are visible only on printed lake maps.
Boat ramps/launches are listed in order from the most northern launch on the Roanoke River (at navigation marker R87) to the most southwestern launches on the Blackwater River (B12) and Bull Run (BR3). Here's a map of all public access boat ramps/launches.
If you need to gas up your boat while cruising SML, here's where to go. Call each marina first for hours, map directions, and updated gas prices.
Be sure to buy (and carefully study) your waterproof map of SML - $9 (plus $1.75 postage) from the Smith Mountain Lake Association (540-719-0690) - before you go boating, or you may not be able to find all of these marinas. You can also buy the latest map (updated in 2006) from some local marinas.
Many marinas are not open on weekdays, and just a few SML marinas are open year-round. Some marinas are open only during peak-season summer weekends. Be sure to call each marina first to confirm hours of fuel availability. Never run out of gas unless you have paddles, strong muscles, a marine radio or cell phone, lots of patience, and a tow rope aboard.
These marinas with boat gas are listed by nearest Smith Mountain Lake Marker number, starting from north to south on the Roanoke River, then up the Blackwater River and Gills Creek. Study your SML map. Most marinas offer 89 octane gas for boat use. Gas prices vary substantially by marina, and are typically 20 to 50 cents higher than off-water gas prices.
If a listed marina has closed, or an unlisted marina should be added, or marker directions are "way off", please call us to request an update at 540-721-3327. Remember that you are responsible for verifying all listed info before you go boating on Smith Mountain Lake!
Built and operated by Appalachian Power Company, Smith Mountain Lake and Dam (the "Smith Mountain Project") was first conceived in 1924. But many considered the project impractical until the pouring of concrete at Smith Mountain Gap began in June 1961. By November 1962, Virginia roads and bridges that would be affected by the lake had been rebuilt. On September 24, 1963, the Smith Mountain Dam was closed and the lake began to form. Two and one-half years later, on March 7, 1966, the 20,600-acre Smith Mountain Lake reached full-pond at 795 feet above sea level.
Smith Mountain Dam is 235 feet tall, 816 feet long, and 30 feet thick. Its five hydroelectric power-generating units produce 656,000 kilowatts. The first four units cost $66 million in 1964; the fifth unit cost $37 million in 1979.
The operation of Smith Mountain Dam uses two natural resources, water and coal, through a process known as pumped storage. Water from Smith Mountain Lake goes through turbine generators in the Smith Mountain Dam powerhouse and produces electricity. Instead of the "used" water rushing downstream, much of it is caught by the Leesville Dam, a smaller dam below Smith Mountain Dam. The water is then pumped back into Smith Mountain Lake and used again. Some passes through turbine generators in Leesville, making more electricity.
Since electricity demand is highest on weekdays, generation usually takes place then. Then, at low demand times - nights, holidays, and weekends - water is pumped from Leesville back to Smith Mountain Lake. The power to pump water comes mostly from American Electric Power via transmission lines. Since power plants work most efficiently near their full load levels, the pumped storage benefits the Smith Mountain Lake Dam power plant by keeping loads high.
If you're traveling by car, there are many ways to reach the lake. Most approaches involve challenging mountain roads that can be treacherous for the uninitiated, especially at night. Here's a route that's not the shortest possible - but it's nearly free of bad curves. Follow I-81 toward Roanoke, then I-581 east approximately 7 miles to State Rt. 24 (I-581 Exit 6). Follow State Rt. 24 east for about 22 miles until you reach State Rt. 122. Follow State Rt. 122 southwest about 6 miles to Moneta. Moneta is just north of the only major bridge that crosses Smith Mountain Lake and offers easy access to any part of the lake.
If you enjoy driving winding mountain roads, consult a map and try approaching Moneta daytime via Rt. 43 (toughest), Rt. 116 "Windy Gap", the Blue Ridge Parkway to its Virginia Rt. 24 exit, or Rt. 634 "Hardy Road" (easiest).
For a map and driving directions, start with this interactive map: Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia - courtesy of Google.
If you plan to arrive by private airplane, there's a general aviation airport, Smith Mountain Lake Airport (airport identifier: W91), with a 3,100-foot paved runway. It's located in Bedford County on the north side of the lake, about 2 miles from SML State Park, at 1090 Cutlass Rd., Moneta. Contact: Joe Borgess, Owner/Operator. 540-297-4500.
Also check W90 (New London Airport), north of Smith Mountain Lake in Forest Virginia, near Lynchburg.
If you're not flying your own plane, three commercial airports are nearby. Roanoke Virginia Airport (ROA, 50 flights daily) is located 30-75 minutes northwest of SML. The smaller Lynchburg Virginia Airport (LYH, 12 flights daily) is located to the northeast, 30-75 minutes from the lake. The Greensboro NC Airport (GSO, about 60 flights daily), aka Piedmont Triad International Airport is located 75-120 minutes south of Smith Mountain Lake. Airport drive times vary widely because the lake itself is 40 miles long. Be sure to check airfares at all three airports.
For tourism and relocation information by regular US Mail, contact the SML Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center at 540-721-1203. Funded by more than 700 members, the SML Chamber is expertly staffed year-round to answer your questions about living, working, operating a business, and vacationing at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia. The Chamber operates the SML Visitor Center in Bridgewater Plaza on the south side of Hales Ford Bridge (Rt. 122).
Wikipedia: Smith Mountain Lake includes more historical background, discussion of the contentious Shoreline Management Plan, and more.
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This year, our Insiders' Guide is 20 years old. It was first developed by Brian Raub and Erin Raub in 1998, just a few weeks after their first SML visit. It is updated frequently by Brian Raub and Lisa Raub, who moved themselves and their Internet businesses here in 2001. Either of us is willing to talk with you about the benefits of relocating your business to Smith Mountain Lake, including very low taxes, high quality of life, and exceptional recreational opportunities.
There is no charge for SML tourism businesses to be included on this webpage.
All text is Copyright © 1998-2018 Brian Raub and Raub's Internet for Business LLC. All rights reserved.
Photos are Copyright © 1998-2018 Brian Raub, Raub's Internet for Business LLC, and Ted Pratt. All rights reserved.
Contact: Brian Raub
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Website Created Aug/16/1998; Last Updated Feb/10/2019.