99 Free or Low Cost Things to Do at Smith Mountain Lake (2024)

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The Smith Mountain Lake region offers a wealth of free and budget-friendly activities for residents and visitors of all ages.

From exciting water excursions to enriching cultural experiences, this insiders’ guide highlights 99 low cost or free things to do at Smith Mountain Lake, plus exciting bonus ideas in the surrounding region. Happy exploring!

1. Capture memories at nearby LOVEworks

Painted loveworks letters highlight Smith Mountain Lake monuments
Photo by Andie Gibson

There are four LOVEworks sculptures at Smith Mountain Lake and numerous others scattered around the region, including in Bedford, Rocky Mount, Boones Mill, Hurt and Altavista. These clever creations are part of the Virginia is for Lovers tourism campaign and make a great backdrop for your insta-worthy shots. Be sure to post using #loveva and #smlinsiders.

2. Feed the fish for Make-a-Wish

Kids throw popcorn to the huge carp that gather around the dock at Bridgewater Marina
Photo by Andie Gibson

Visit Bridgewater Marina to buy $1 bags of popcorn to feed the huge, hungry carp that gather at the docks. All proceeds support Make-A-Wish Greater Virginia. This Smith Mountain Lake tradition dates back more than 30 years and is a favorite for all ages. You can stand on the docks and watch as the fish eagerly compete for the popcorn kernels.

3. Immerse yourself in history

Interior walls depict the life of Booker T. Washington
Photo by Heather Snyder

Booker T. Washington National Monument is an expansive, interactive park dedicated to the famous African-American educator and statesman who was born into slavery on the property. Catch the introductory film, then walk easy, scenic trails that meander through the old farmstead (complete with farm animals) and along a babbling creek. For special events, tours are led by volunteers in period costumes. The park is free with donations accepted.

4. Escape to SML Community Park

Get in touch with nature at Smith Mountain Lake Community Park. The kids will love the colorful playground, easy walking trails and sandy beach for swimming. The beach is open only in season and there is a small charge for beach access. Kids under 3 are free. An inviting pavilion is perfect for a picnic and watching boats go by. It sits at the base of the extended fishing pier, which is handicap-accessible and features sturdy safety railings.

5. Connect with nature at SML State Park

While there is a small entry fee, pretty much all of the awesome programming at SML State Park is free, along with the hiking and biking trails and a fishing pier. You can also enjoy ranger-led hikes, as well as boat and canoe tours, junior ranger programs, fishing lessons, arts and crafts, nature expos, concerts and more.

6. Hike to the top of Smith Mountain

A hiker takes in the view of Smith Mountain Lake from the top of Smith Mountain.
Courtesy of Freddie Hodges

Explore the Smith Mountain Lake Cooperative Wildlife Trail/Management Area, owned by Appalachian Power, which offers numerous hiking options. Trails on either side of the Smith Mountain Project lead to scenic viewpoints overlooking the dam and the lake. Insiders’ tip: Best hiking time is very early spring when views from the ridge trail are not blocked by vegetation and snakes are still hibernating.

7. Bolster your brain power

Satisfy your “How does it work?” curiosity and learn why the Smith Mountain Project is a fascinating renewable energy solution to the region’s power needs. The Vipperman Visitors Center overlooking the Smith Mountain Dam has hands-on exhibits and audio/visuals that illustrate how the dam was built nearly 60 years ago. It’s an enlightening excursion for all ages, with attractive picnic areas on the property.

8. Discover fresh finds a local farmers’ markets

A number of seasonal markets can be found around the Smith Mountain Lake region, including the Westlake Farmers’ Market, Moneta Farmers’ Market and Harvest Moon Marketplace. Park and browse free while trying to resist taking home at least a token haul of fresh fruits and veggies, jams, jellies and homemade baked goods.

9. Uncover the world of alpacas

Fuzzy alpaca chows down on some grass.

For classic family entertainment, explore a local alpaca farm or retail shop. These agritourism spots offer a chance to learn about these gentle creatures and the importance of alpaca fabrics. Many farms in the area provide educational tours and fun activities for visitors of all ages.

10. Uncork some fun at local wineries

Smith Mountain Lake is home to five wineries that offer tastings as well as occasional events and live music: Hickory Hill Vineyards, Fables & Feathers Winery, Brooks Mill Winery, Ramulose Ridge Vineyards and Wind Vineyards. There are numerous others around the region if you’re up for venturing further out.

Explore Bridgewater Plaza

  1. Sample fudge at Gifts Ahoy
  2. Visit Fun ‘n Games Arcade
  3. Climb the rock wall and play carnival games at Lucky Duck
  4. Play a round at Harbortown Mini-golf
  5. Snap a selfie with the giant moose at Moosie’s restaurant
  6. Pick up magazines, brochures, maps and more at the SML Visitor Center
Colorful arcade games await kids at Fun N Games at Bridgewater Plaza
Photo by Andie Gibson

On-Water Activities

  1. Embark on a wildlife-watching adventure
  2. Swim at a sandy beach at one of SML’s islands
  3. Fish off the pier at SML State Park or SML Community Park
  4. Take a wildlife-spotting cruise
  5. Worship at the Boat Church
  6. Take a sightseeing tour on the Virginia Dare
  7. Cruise to the Craddock Creek Lighthouse
  8. Rent a paddleboard, canoe or kayak and enjoy leisurely paddle
  9. Swim off the boat or float with a noodle in a quiet cove
  10. Check out a sailing regatta in the spring and fall
  11. Organize a boat raft up with friends in a secluded cove
  12. Plan an outing to a lakeside eatery by boat or jetski
  13. Take a sunset cocktail cruise
  14. Stargaze by boat
  15. Camp lakeside under the stars on an SML island
  16. Boat to a section of the lake you’ve never been before
  17. Organize a float-in at your dock or in a quiet cove
  18. Wakeboard or wakesurf via cable at Blackwater Junction Wake Park
  19. Track down the Ice Cream Boat for a tasty frozen treat

Off-Water Activities

  1. Stop by SML Wines for free wine tastings from 4 to 6 p.m. every Friday
  2. Check out the live music scene at one of SML’s many bars and restaurants
  3. Attend a concert or event at Wind Vineyards
  4. Visit a local distillery for a dose of spirits and history
  5. Visit Moneta Park for hiking, biking, wildlife watching and disc golf
  6. Pack a picnic and enjoy it lakeside at SML Community Park or SML State Park
  7. Play putt-putt or throw axes at Hot Shots
  8. Take your pup on one of SML’s dog-friendly hikes
  9. Visit Spring Valley Farm for horse and camel rides and a petting zoo
  10. Indulge in a creamy, frosty treat at Homestead Creamery in Burnt Chimney
  11. Sneak in a workout at a local fitness facility
  12. Join a pickleball group
  13. Take a yoga class
  14. Play cornhole on Tuesday nights at Hot Shots
  15. Volunteer with a local charitable organization
  16. Play classic lawn games such as badminton, croquet, jarts and bocce
  17. Roast marshmallows lakeside
  18. Take a class at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Center
  19. Pamper yourself with a manicure, pedicure, facial or massage
  20. Sign the kids up for a local vacation bible school
  21. Join one of the many clubs and organizations around SML such as the SML Photo Club, SML Newcomers, Rotary Club, Lions Club and Civitan Club
  22. Spend some time cleaning up along the shoreline
  23. Attend a sports, music or theatrical event at SML Christian Academy
  24. Test your knowledge at a trivia night at one of our local watering holes, including Mango’s Bar & Grill and Magnum Point Marina
  25. Tee it up at one of SML’s two public golf courses, Copper Cove and Mariners Landing
  26. Play Texas Hold’em on Thursday nights at Hot Shots
  27. Catch a free family flick at SML/Moneta Library

Arts and Culture

Exterior showing the sign for Westlake Cinema at SML, VA.
Courtesy of The Willard Companies
  1. Take in the latest movies at Westlake Cinema
  2. See working artists in action at Art Visions Gallery & Studio
  3. Experience live music at The Coves Amphitheater
  4. Visit the Emerson Creek Pottery outlet store
  5. Attend a concert by local musicians such as the SML Steel Drum Band, SML Harmeneers, SML Boomer Band, Lakeside Strummers and Lakeside Singers
  6. Join one of the many book clubs at the lake and/or the Lake Writers, part of the Smith Mountain Arts Council (SMAC)
  7. Attend the annual SMAC Art Show
  8. Sign kids up for the SMAC Arts Camp
  9. Get your groove on at a SMAC coffeehouse featuring members of the Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association
  10. Catch a drama or comedy performance by The Lake Players
  11. Sing or just enjoy the fun at a karaoke night at Mango’s, Hot Shots or Portside
  12. Check out the lineup at the Harvester Performance Center (not inexpensive but occasionally hosts free or low-cost concerts)

Smith Mountain Lake Events

Find details on Smith Mountain Lake events here and here.

  1. SML Business Expo (April)
  2. Portside BBQ Battle (May)
  3. SML Triathlon (May)
  4. Tom Maynard Memorial Poker Run (May)
  5. Portside Island Jam (June)
  6. SMLA’s A Day at the Lake (June)
  7. Lake Quilters Guild Quilt Show (June)
  8. Hook, Lines and Singers Songwriters Festival Open Mic Competition (May-June)
  9. Smith Mountain Arts Council Expo (May)
  10. Juneteenth Celebration (June)
  11. Independence Day fireworks and festivities (July)
  12. Beastlake 5K and Obstacle Course (July)
  13. Pirate Days (July)
  14. Labor Day weekend concert and fireworks at EastLake Community Church (September)
  15. SML Antique and Classic Boat Show (September)
  16. SML Walk to End Poverty (September)
  17. SML Wine Festival (September)
  18. SML Charity Home Tour (October)
  19. SML Fall Chili and Craft Festival (November)
  20. SML Lighted Boat Parade (November)
  21. SML Turkey Trot (November)
  22. Santa Around Bridgewater Plaza (November)
  23. Bedford Festival of Trees (December)
  24. Come Home to a Franklin County Christmas (December)
  25. Bedford Christmas Parade (December)


Explore Bedford

Colorful fall leaves reflected in Abbott Lake at Peaks of Otter, Virginia
Peaks of Otter | Prathibha Veeru via flickr
  1. Hike the Peaks of Otter or Falling Creek Park
  2. Visit a pumpkin patch (fall) or an orchard for pick-your-own fruit (spring and summer)
  3. Explore Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s summer home
  4. Tap into the Bottled in Bedford Craft Beverage Trail
  5. Visit quaint art galleries, retail stores and antique shops in the downtown area
  6. Pay tribute to our soldiers at the National D-Day Memorial and the Bedford Boys Tribute Center
  7. Explore the 60-acre Liberty Lake Park for walking trails, playgrounds, a skate park and fishing pond
  8. Visit the Bedford Museum & Genealogical Library
  9. Attend a performance of the Little Town Players

Explore Rocky Mount

Farmers market vendor hands an apple to a small boy
Courtesy of Town of Rocky Mount
  1. Visit the Rocky Mount Farmers’ Market
  2. Explore Waid Park for scenic hiking, disc golf, a bike skills loop, fishing, a kayak/canoe launch, playground and picnic shelter
  3. Hike the Grassy Hill Natural Area Preserve’s 6.6 miles of easy trails
  4. Visit the Franklin County History Museum
  5. Check out the town’s vibrant music scene at venues such as The Alley Cat and Living Proof Beer Company
  6. Discover one-of-a-kind craft cocktails behind the hidden door at Anastasia’s Speakeasy

Venture Farther Out

  1. Cruise the incredibly scenic Blue Ridge Parkway
  2. Delve into the history of traditional Appalachian music by driving the Crooked Road Music Trail
  3. Tour the Blue Ridge Institute and Farm Museum in Ferrum
  4. Explore the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville
  5. Visit Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Park
  6. Check out the Science Museum of Western Virginia, Hopkins Planetarium, Center in the Square, Mill Mountain Theater and the Pinball Museum in Downtown Roanoke
  7. Head to Lynchburg to visit Amazement Square and the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Center
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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