Smith Mountain Lake
Insiders’ Guide 2023

Smith Mountain Lake is a refreshingly different destination in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia renowned for its scenic natural beauty, rural charm and amazing recreational activities.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly vacation spot, a remote work retreat or an idyllic location for a permanent or second home, Smith Mountain Lake is hard to beat for so many reasons!

Sailboats lined up at SML Yacht Club with Smith Mountain in the background
Photo by Jayson Firebaugh | Star City SkyCams

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staying here

Smith Mountain Lake Vacation Home Rentals

Search for Smith Mountain Lake house rentals, cabins or hotels

In a hurry? Use our handy interactive map to search for SML vacation properties at a glance, then quickly book SML home rentals and hotels with ease.

SML self-catering vacation rentals are offered by the week, long weekend, month and longer – directly from homeowners and from vacation rental property managers.

Rates vary by season, size of rental and included amenities. Most are bargains compared to other lakefront, oceanfront and resort vacation rentals in the USA. Some Smith Mountain Lake house rentals include a dock for your boat (or the one you can rent while you’re here).

Free SML Lodging eBook

Plan your stay the easy way with our FREE Ultimate Guide to Smith Mountain Lake Lodging eBook! In it, you’ll find comprehensive info on booking the best:

  • Rental homes, condos, cabins and cottages
  • Resorts and conference centers
  • Hotels, motels and lodges
  • Bed and Breakfast Inns
  • Houseboats
  • Campgrounds

PLUS, links to our favorite vacation planning resources to make your next trip to Smith Mountain Lake the best ever!


alternate accommodations

Other Places to Stay at Smith Mountain Lake

In addition to Smith Mountain Lake house rentals, our region offers a variety of other options for lodging, including cabins, hotels, resorts, houseboats and bed and breakfast inns. We break it all down and offer expert recommendations on our extensive SML lodging page and as a free, downloadable eBook.


when to go

Tourism Seasons at SML

peak-season:

June-August rates for most waterfront Smith Mountain Lake vacation rentals run from $700-$15,000 per 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, and rent for a full week.

mid-season:

In the 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, in mid-October through mid-April, you can expect mild weather, fewer visitors, discounts of 20-50 percent on your vacation rental, flexible check-in and check-out dates – plus weekend, daily, and monthly rate options.

sunset photo of Smith Mountain Lake

Life at Smith Mountain Lake

Surrounded by mountains, Smith Mountain Lake’s deepest point is about 250 feet below full pond, near the dam itself. Its “average” depth is 55 feet (for more stats, see this extensive Smith Mountain Lake article on 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. Fishing tournaments abound – from local and regional events to Bassmaster pro tournaments televised on ESPN.

SML’s surface covers 32 square miles. Its highest normal water level (“full pond”) is 795 feet above sea level. It holds about 200 billion gallons. 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 seven feet above full pond to the top of the Smith Mountain Dam, which itself is 802 feet above sea level. Check the current Smith Mountain Lake level.

SML 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.

Smith Mountain Lake is home to about 22,000 permanent residents. You’ll find SML residents are friendly and helpful, and are exceptionally talented and generous volunteers of their time and other resources to local causes. The surrounding counties generally vote Republican, but the state of Virginia is dominated by Democrats thanks to its proximity to Washington, D.C.

The west end of SML, including the unincorporated town of Moneta, is closest to Roanoke, Virginia (population approximately 100,000). The east end, including Huddleston, is closest to Lynchburg, Virginia (population about 85,000).

photo of lakefront dock at Smith Mtn Lake
fall leaves at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

Both Roanoke and Lynchburg are within 30-60 minutes’ drive time for most lake residents. Both cities provide convenient “big-city” amenities like large shopping malls, big-box stores and a wide variety of restaurants.

Both cities also have modern regional airports where you can park your car within a five-minute walk of the terminal, and be driving home (with your checked luggage) 20-30 minutes after your flight hits the tarmac.

Many retail stores and services are available around the lake. Most are located on or near Rt. 122 (Booker T. Washington Highway in Franklin County and Moneta Road in Bedford County), a few miles north and south of Hales Ford Bridge.

There are two large, modern supermarkets, dozens of restaurants, banks, marinas and churches, fitness facilities, 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.

Regional and community hospitals, including a regional heart and trauma center, are 30-45 minutes away from SML in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Bedford, Gretna and Rocky Mount. Exceptional teaching hospitals (the University of Virginia and Duke) are 2 to 2.5 hours away.

Smith Mountain Lake in the Movies

Several movies have been filmed at Smith Mountain Lake. The independent film Lake Effects (2012) is an inspiring tale of a young L.A. corporate attorney raised on and later returning to SML. What About Bob? (1991) features Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. In the film, a psychotherapist has a breakdown after a compulsive patient follows him on his family lake vacation, which was identified in the movie as New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee. Lawless (2012) exaggerates Prohibition-era bootlegging violence in Franklin County, long acknowledged as “the moonshine capital of the world.” You can read more about Smith Mountain Lake’s starring roles in this insightful blog post from our sister site, LakeLubbers.com.

For more tourism and relocation/retirement information, and for advice about business conditions and opportunities at the lake, contact the SML Regional Chamber of Commerce at 540-721-1203.


on and off the water

Family Fun Year-round at Smith Mountain Lake

Visiting Smith Mountain Lake is a real treat, especially for outdoor lovers. Among the lake’s many water activities are power boating, canoeing, sailing, swimming, fishing, water skiing, wakeboarding, wakesurfing, standup paddleboarding and jet skiing.

SML’s lakefront includes six free public boat launching sites, plus paid launches at more than a dozen marinas. In addition, some lakeside developments maintain their own private ramps. Get more details from our directory map of boat ramps and local marinas.

Photo by Kathleen Riordan

Off-water you’ll enjoy sightseeing that includes many spectacular views of Smith Mountain Lake’s gently mountainous 500-mile shoreline, plus peaks and ridges along the nearby Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway.

Four challenging golf courses surround the lake (two private, two public).

The SML State Park and Franklin County’s Smith Mountain Lake Community Park both include public access beach areas and miles of hiking trails. Smith Mountain Lake beaches are also available at a number of vacation rental homes.

The lake also offers picnicking, camping, hunting, antiquing, shopping, and relaxing. Restaurants on the 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!

Smith Mountain Lake Directory Information

At Smith Mountain Lake, you’ll find a wide range of businesses open year-round and friendly merchants eager to help you.

Lodging Options at SML

adirondack chairs on a lake deck

Restaurants at SML

food and drinks on outdoor table

Things to do at SML

man kayaking on the lake

SML Boat Rentals

family on a recreational boat

Public Boat Ramps

man launching boat from trailer

Real Estate Directory

lakefront homes and docks

SML Gifts & Apparel

Churches at SML

closeup of man reading the bible

Smith Mtn Lake FAQS

view of smith mountain lake

getting on the water

Boating on Smith Mountain Lake

When you boat at SML, please be careful and courteous. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources is an excellent source of information about safe boating, boating laws, and public access launches/ramps. Below are some important highlights for new boaters at SML.

Photo credit: Andie Gibson

Boating Courtesy and Safety at Smith Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake is Virginia’s busiest recreational freshwater body of water. In 2006, the Virginia Assembly increased funding for enforcement of boating safety and noise laws; Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries) 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. If you don’t have a valid Virginia boater’s license and plan to rent rent from an SML marina, you must present a valid driver’s license so you can be temporarily licensed by watching a safety video and completing an in-person orientation.

  • Safety Equipment: You are required by law to carry this safety equipment in your boat: a wearable and properly-sized personal floatation device for each rider; a whistle or horn, a fire extinguisher, a flat throwable flotation cushion, your boat rental agreement (if applicable) and your boat registration certificate. Children under 13 are required to wear a personal floatation device. If you violate any of these safety equipment laws, prepare to pay a fine and processing fees.
  • No-Wake Coves: In a no-wake cove (indicated by no-wake buoys) you are required by law to operate your boat at your boat’s lowest possible navigable forward speed. If you don’t, prepare to pay a fine and processing fees.
  • Other Rules and Regulations: Please review Virginia boating regulations carefully before you boat at SML! Read them online or grab a copy at any marina.
  • Boating Violations: To report boating violations, call the Virginia Wildlife Crime Line at 800-237-5712 from 7AM-5PM daily. Be sure to record the boat registration number before you call. A description of the boat’s operator and passengers will help, as will a second witness (preferably not related to you).
  • See also: Virginia Boating Safety Courses

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 currently no boating horsepower limits on SML.

Boat Rentals and Sales at Smith Mountain Lake

Several companies on SML’s shoreline rent and/or sell 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. For more information, see our list of boat rental companies.

Smith Mountain Lake Public Boat Launches / Ramps

Public boat launch ramps are plentiful here, so getting on the water won’t take all day. Visit our SML public boat ramps and marinas page for a complete list.

Smith Mountain Lake Marinas

Full-service marinas around the lake are a great place to park your watercraft and enjoy a lake day from land. Many marinas here are also a great place to rent watercraft, fill up your gas tank, get snacks or even a stop at a restaurant to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Visit our SML public boat ramps and marina map page for more details.

Smith Mountain Lake Custom Wood Maps

This stunning, personalized lake house sign will add a special touch to your Smith Mountain lake home, cabin or cottage! Each order is custom designed with your exact specifications and sent to you for review before production begins. Available in multiple sizes and frame options!

wood map art of Smith Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake Development

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 the Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) and Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission (TLAC).

All three lakefront counties forbid the feeding of geese and other waterfowl within 500 feet of the lake to help control fecal coliform. Franklin County enforces regular five-year maintenance and pump-out of septic systems near the lake. Boaters and homeowners may not dump wastes of any kind into the lake, including fallen leaves.

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 students.

smith mountain lake marina boats

Three counties border Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia

photo of a smith mtn lake residential community home

Residential property taxes in all three lakefront counties are about 50-62 cents per $100 of fair market value; a $500,000 property is taxed at about $3,000/year. Properties are reassessed once every four years. The 2019 Franklin County assessments of lake-area homes increased by 3% compared to 2015. Throughout Virginia, there is no reduction of taxes for primary homes or for low-income or retired homeowners. Homes are assessed at fair market value, and everyone in a county pays the same property tax rate.

There is no “town level” of government at here, so the three lake-surrounding county governments provide safety and public services and infrastructure needs. Private wells and septic systems are most common, but public water and sewage system availability is growing. The lake itself is a growing source of public water.

Here are some ways to better understand SML development issues:


behind the scenes

How the Smith Mountain Dam Works

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.

Photo by Kathleen Riordan

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.


RELOCATION PRIMER

Smith Mountain Lake Real Estate

Smith Mountain Lake offers a wide range of housing types and real estate prices, on the water and off. From one-bedroom starter condos to magnificent waterfront estates, you’re sure to find the perfect spot to call home here. Read more.

Smith Mountain Lake shoreline with waterfront homes
Photo by Andie Gibson

Considering a move to SML? Visit our Real Estate Agent Directory for a list of experienced professionals that service the entire SML area.

Get an up-close and personal look at gorgeous lakefront homes

Take a tour of eight of the lake’s most beautiful waterfront homes by attending the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour. On Columbus Day weekend every year, hundreds of volunteers welcome many thousands of visitors (by car or boat!) to the three-day event, which raises funds for eight local charities. Mark your calendar … and bring your friends and family for a close-up view of some exceptional properties!

Getting to Smith Mountain Lake, VA – Driving & Airport Info

If you’re traveling by car, there are many ways to reach the lake. Most approaches involve mountain roads that can be challenging, 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).

Smith Mountain Lake Map

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: 540-297-4859.

Warren Theis and Lisa Raub, refueling Warren's 1966 Mooney at Smith Mountain Lake Airport. Photo Copyright 1999 by Brian Raub

You can also check W90 (New London Airport), to the north of the lake in Forest Virginia, near Lynchburg as an alternative airport.

If you’re not flying your own plane, three commercial airports are nearby. Roanoke Virginia Airport (ROA, 40+ flights daily) is located 30-75 minutes northwest of SML.

The smaller Lynchburg Virginia Airport (LYH, 5 flights daily to and from Charlotte, NC) 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 the lake.

Airport drive times vary widely because the lake itself is 40 miles long. Be sure to check airfares at all three airports.