Smith Mountain Lake Ice Cream Boat: A Sweet Summer Tradition

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The Smith Mountain Lake Ice Cream Boat is a one-of-a-kind attraction and a beloved summertime tradition here at Smith Mountain Lake. 

Young and old keep an ear out for the calliope-like tune that signals this popular pontoon is nearby, ready to pull up to your dock or alongside your boat to serve up cool, creamy treats. 

Whether it’s ice cream sandwiches bringing up nostalgic vibes, a refreshing fudgsicle or the always crowd-pleasing drumstick, the SML Ice Cream Boat never disappoints.

How to find the ice cream boat.

A purple sky serves as the backdrop for a run of the SML Ice Cream Boat.
Photo by Star City SkyCams

History of the SML Ice Cream Boat

The brainstorm of brothers and SML natives Travis and Ryan Burke when they were just 15 and 12 respectively, the Ice Cream Boat first began cruising SML’s waters with its cargo of beat-the-heat treats back in 2000. 

The business proposition was simple and logical: What self-respecting parent or grandparent would hesitate to spring for refreshing ice cream delights for their crowd of little ones?

Cleverly, the Burke brothers hit on the idea of broadcasting a classic ice-cream-truck-style tune over an on-board speaker system to let potential customers know the boat was in their vicinity. 

See the SML Ice Cream Boat and hear its distinctive tune in the video above.

Whether out on the water, swimming at a beach or hanging out on a private dock, lake lovers know that cheerful music means a cool summer treat opportunity is not far away . 

Though the venture began as a summer job during their student years, the brothers managed to keep it running well into young adulthood. Today, Travis and his wife Alison are at the helm from Memorial Day weekend through September when boat traffic is at its height.

How to Find the Smith Mountain Lake Ice Cream Boat

Cue the music: The Ice Cream Boat is headed downriver from Hales Ford Bridge, ducking into coves where years of experience suggest customers will be waving a colorful noodle, towel or life jacket to attract the boat to their dock. 

But there are several other ways to connect with frosty indulgences for your crew. Out on the water, you can listen for the music (kids, it seems, are born sensitized to the sound; adults will have instant flashbacks to their childhoods), head in that direction, and carefully approach for a fendered tie-up. Here again, a noodle or towel wave will make obvious your intent to come alongside.   

Any kid or older techie in your group can use his or her smartphone to access, which offers a GPS tracker of the boat via the FollowMee app. Download it in the App Store or on Google Play

friends enjoying ice cream from the ice cream boat on Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.
Photo by George Chaconas

Travis recommends refreshing the app every 10-15 minutes to guide your vessel to where you can spot them and maneuver into sight, waving a bright object to confirm intent to nuzzle alongside and hook up with your frozen favorites.

The Burkes also keep plenty of treats on board for your four-legged friends, who go just as crazy as the kids do when they hear the music of the Smith Mountain Lake Ice Cream Boat.

And if you’re looking for a collection of stunning Smith Mountain Lake sunset photos, head over to the Ice Cream Boat Facebook Page where you’ll find an album with more than 300 of them dating back to 2017. 

The Cherry on Top of Your SML Experience

From its humble beginnings as a summer job for the inventive Burke brothers, the Smith Mountain Lake Ice Cream Boat has grown into a beloved summer tradition that brings together generations of lake lovers. 

This distinctive vessel is more than just a convenient on-water treat service: It’s a symbol of our joy-filled SML lake life, delivering a nostalgic melody that connects young and old and a classic touch-of-summer experience that’s at the heart of countless memories.

With various ways to connect, from flagging them down on the water when you hear the familiar tune to refreshing the tracking app, having your summer days sweetened has never been more accessible. 

So, whether you live here or are just visiting our little slice of heaven, remember: summer at Smith Mountain Lake isn’t complete without at least one – and preferably many – encounters with the SML Ice Cream Boat.

Other Smith Mountain Lake articles you may enjoy:

SML Insider Jerry Hale, Freelance Writer

Jerry Hale

freelance writer

When he’s not writing about the Smith Mountain Lake, you might just find Jerry out wake surfing or just idling through its coves, practicing guitar or banjo on his deck at the Cottages of Contentment Island, playing steel drums or volunteering with LCM, Trinity Ecumenical Parish, Neighbors Helping Neighbors or the SML Charity Home Tour. 

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