Smith Mountain Lake

An introduction to Smith Mountain Lake: The “Jewel of Blue Ridge Mountains”

  • Overview
  • Accessibility
  • Brief history

Named for Virginia’s most visited freshwater reservoir, this picture perfect community epitomizes low-maintenance beauty at its best, with clear waters and a rocky shoreline dotted with pondweed, coontail, and waterwillow.

It comes as no surprise that the place attracts its fair share of out-of-towners each year. In 2017, Bedford and Franklin counties reported a 4% and 1% increase in tourism revenue, respectively.

And while there are no specific figures for SML, it’s worth noting that the lake’s roughly 500-mile shoreline encompasses three counties, including the two mentioned above.

Moreover, local events like the Antique & Classic Boat Show and Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival are a huge draw for tourists.

But SML is more than just a place to visit – it’s a place to set down roots. There are residents whose families have been here for generations and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Location and accessibility

Located in Virginia’s Roanoke Region, just southwest of Roanoke City, SML is bounded by Smith Mountain Lake Park and Bedford County to the north, Franklin County and Moneta to the southwest, and Pittsylvania County to the southeast.

There are several towns and cities within a 40-mile radius of SML:

  • Roanoke
  • Lynchburg
  • Moneta
  • Huddleston
  • Penhook
  • Hardy
  • Union Hall
  • Wirtz

It’s not uncommon for residents to commute to these towns and cities for work, school, retail, and entertainment.

Not that you’ll need to go far from home for leisure and opportunities – SML is a self-contained, self-sufficient community with first-rate amenities and services.

Smith Mountain Lake Airport is located about four miles southeast of Moneta. Despite being privately owned, the airport is open to the public and provides hangar rental and other services.

Roanoke–Blacksburg Regional Airport is located roughly three miles northwest of Roanoke. The airport offers flights to eight major cities with over 40 scheduled flights that depart and arrive on a daily basis. Major airlines and regional affiliates that serve the airport include:

  • American
  • United Airlines
  • Delta
  • Allegiant Air

Aside from passenger airlines, ROA can also accommodate charter operators, air taxis, airfreight carriers, and general aviation.

Other airports that provide access to SML include:

  • Lynchburg Regional Airport
  • New London Airport

Major highways and roads like Blue Ridge Parkway and Interstate 81 are located west of SML.

From Roanoke and I-81, there are four access roads leading to the community:

  • US 220 South – Rocky Mount and Route 40W – Route 122 North
  • US 460 East – Bedford and Route 122 South
  • Route 24 – Vinton – Route 122 South
  • Route 116 – Route 122 North

From the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can take the following routes to SML:

  • Route 130 (Natural Bridge) – Big Island and Route 122 South
  • Route 43 (Peaks of Otter) – Bedford and Route 122 South
  • Route 24 (Vinton)
  • Route 460 (Montvale)
  • US Route 220 South – Rocky Mount and Route 40W – Route 122 North

Travelers coming from North Carolina can take major highway routes to the south US 220 North and US 29 North.

Smith Mountain Lake history

The community was built around a reservoir, which generates power for the Appalachian Power Company. Construction on the Smith Mountain and Leesville dams on the Roanoke River started in 1960 and took about six years to complete.

From then on, SML quickly became a top attraction. Encompassing 40 miles, the reservoir offers countless opportunities for fishing, boating, and swimming. The forested areas surrounding it are also ideal for hiking and camping.

During the dam’s construction, a group of Smithsonian Institute archaeologists performed an excavation at the site and discovered remnants of Algonquin Native Americans who fished and hunted in the bountiful area.

Reformist and presidential adviser Booker T. Washington was born and raised in a historic plantation to the west of SML, where a memorial celebrating his life and impact on the Civil Rights movement stands today.

SML has also served as a backdrop to several movies, including 1991’s “What About Bob?”, which starred Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss, as well as 2012’s “Lake Effects”.

Today, guests can learn more about the community’s rich history at Smith Mountain Lake Visitors Center. The center features interactive exhibits on SML, including a scale model of the reservoir.

Waterfront living in Smith Mountain Lake: Real estate and lifestyle

  • Communities and real estate options

SML has grown as a community over the last few decades. Today, it is considered one of the most desirable places to live in Virginia because of the lifestyle and sense of identity of the area.

This growth can be seen in the housing market – what was once rural farmland has now turned into prime waterfront real estate, all thanks to the construction of the reservoir.

During its 1959 board meetings, the Appalachian Power Company envisioned an idyllic community. They predicted, quite accurately, that housing and recreational facilities would mushroom around the lake as soon as it was opened to the public.

Despite its tremendous growth and far-reaching reputation, however, SML has managed to retain its retiring and bucolic character. That’s why it’s been Virginia’s best-kept secret – until now.

Buyers will find a gorgeous patchwork of waterfront and off-water neighborhoods to suit every lifestyle:

  • The Water’s Edge – SML’s premier golf community brings you stunning lake and mountain views as well as access to 12 miles of unspoiled coves and peninsulas. Your options include custom single-family homes, townhomes, and home sites.

    Life in this community revolves around the well-appointed clubhouse and the private 18-hole PGA Championship golf course.

  • The Waterfront – Located on the northwest side of the lake, The Waterfront straddles Bedford and Franklin counties. Residents have access to eight-and-a-half miles of pristine shoreline as well as a community center, clubhouse, and PGA Championship golf course. Housing types include custom-built single-family homes, townhomes, and condos.
  • The Farm – Located across the Boardwalk near Westlake Corner, this luxury community brings you close to a community dock, boat storage area, and picnic pavilion, among other amenities. The Farm is quite exclusive, with just 63 properties, some of which are estate-style homes and waterfront cottages.
  • The Boardwalk – Spanning over 100 acres, The Boardwalk is the quintessential SML community with its Nantucket-style cottage homes nestled along four scenic miles of the lake’s shoreline.

    Aside from the 2000-foot boardwalk for which the community is named, residents also have access to a recreational center with tennis, croquet, and basketball courts in addition to chipping greens and a children’s playground.

  • South Harbour – Another exclusive community, South Harbour is comprised of just 48 properties, including waterfront cottages and estates. Located near Westlake Corner, it has a decidedly rustic feel, with Adirondack chairs, restored barns, and a historic red oak tree.
  • Waverly – This SML community in Moneta offers casual elegance in a natural, wooded setting. With just 100 homes, the majority of which are single-family, Waverly is as exclusive as it gets. Residents have access to 27 boat slips, parks, walking trails, and a splendid clubhouse overlooking the lake.
  • Park Place – This prestigious subdivision offers custom-built single-family homes and vacant lots on which to build your dream property. Residents have access to Franklin County Community Park, which features a sandy beach, fishing pier, picnic pavilion, playground, and walking trails.
  • The Cottages of Contentment Island – Enjoy the vacation lifestyle year-round at The Cottages, where you’ll experience contentment like no other. Here you’ll find luxury townhomes with hardwood floors, high ceilings, and open floor plans. Buyers can choose from two models, namely Cambridge and Somerset.

There’s truly no place like home in SML. Seize the rare opportunity to own a home in this exclusive area. Get in touch with me, Jane Sullivan Horne, here. As a luxury real estate expert with over 28 years of experience, I can help you navigate SML and its neighborhoods.

Smith Mountain Lake: Things to do

  • Recreational activities and attractions

Aside from waterfront estates, SML is known for one other thing – recreation. The community has become synonymous with leisure in Virginia because of its scenic beauty and natural bounty.

As an SML resident, you can enjoy these activities year-round:

Boating

Possibly the best way to explore SML, boating lets you explore over 20,600 acres of the lake’s surface. A day out on the water lets you admire views of the gorgeous waterfront cottages on the shores of the lake as well as the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. So bring your boat and rent a slip at any of the community docks around SML.

If you’ve yet to invest in one, you can always get a private charter for a tour of the lake and the surrounding areas:

You’ll also find several rentals offering pontoons, kayaks, standing paddle boards, tubes, and more:

Better yet, why not take sailing lessons? Be the captain of your own watercraft when you sign up for lessons at any of the following schools:

Enthusiasts can also join the Smith Mountain Lake Boating Association (SMLBA) to get the latest boating updates in SML in addition to gas and boat purchase discounts in the area. SMLBA also organizes fundraisers that benefit local charities.

Fishing

SML offers a plentiful catch to anyone who dives deep into its waters. The lake is widely regarded as Virginia’s premier fishery, with private and public boat ramps scattered across its shores. Franklin County also features an ADA-accessible fishing pier.

So cast your bait and wait for the fish to bite – the lake will reward you for your efforts – SML consistently ranks the top producers of bass citations in the state. It also hosts the ESPN Bassmaster Elite Series tournament.

In fact, Bassmaster Magazine ranked SML 16th among the best bass lakes in the Northeast Region in 2019.

  • Black bass is the most coveted trophy fish in SML.
  • SML is ideal for largemouth bass fishing, with extensive VDGIF electrofishing surveys by fishery biologists producing many largemouth bass weighing 2 to 4 pounds each spring.
  • Largemouth bass also make up the bulk of fish in the lake, far outnumbering smallmouth bass.

High densities of largemouth bass can be found in the following areas of the lake:

  • Upstream of Hales Ford Bridge, away from the dam
  • Roanoke River arm
  • Buoy B26 in the lake’s Blackwater River arm

Smallmouth bass can be found in higher quantities in the lake’s lower portion.

A guided fishing charter will help you make the most of your time on the water. Check Kenny’s Striper Guide Service for half and full-day fishing trips in SML.

You can also check the VDGIF site for more information on prime fishing spots in SML.

Golf

Golf enthusiasts are spoilt for choice in SML. The community is home to some of Virginia’s most celebrated golfing destinations, including:

  • Westlake Public Golf Course & Restaurant – This country club in Hardy offers world-class golf. Their Russell Breeden-designed signature golf course commands views of SML’s wooded forests, untouched coves, and gorgeous inlets.

    The golf shop sells gear and equipment while the on-site restaurant, The Westlake Grille, sells juicy burgers, homemade chips, and other tasty snacks.

  • Mariner’s Landing Golf Club – The 18-hole championship golf course is regarded is one of the best in the Roanoke-Lynchburg area. It holds a coveted place in the Roanoke Valley Hall of Fame for its unique layout.

    The club also hosts the Andrew Haley Memorial – Smith Mountain Lake Lions Junior Golf Tournament, one of most prestigious tournaments of its kind in the region.

  • The Water’s Edge Country Club – Here you’ll find an 18-hole PGA Championship Golf Course designed by renowned architect R.F. Loving, Jr. and renovated by Richard Mandell, another respected architect. Its layout is considered as one of the most challenging layouts in the region.
  • The Waterfront Country Club – This country club also boasts a PGA Championship Golf Course with wide fairways and manicured greens. The on-site golf shop has partnered with golf brand Titleist so that members can benefit from an exclusive rewards program.

You’ll also find miniature golf courses in and around SML:

  • Harbortown Miniature Golf – Enjoy a friendly match with family members at this 18-hole miniature golf course. Located in Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta, the mini golf course commands stunning views of SML. They also host fundraisers and seasonal family-friendly events like Trick or Treat for Halloween.
  • Hot Shots Family Entertainment Center – Play a round of golf at the par 40 miniature golf course with the kids then treat them to some wings, fries, burgers, and other tasty treats at Hot Shots.

    For the adults, the center offers football and baseball viewing packages with large screen TVs and a full-service bar. You can also join their weekly Cornhole tournaments.

Hiking

No trip to SML is complete without a day of hiking. So bring some good shoes, a water bottle, and a camera – and get ready for the hike of your life.

  • Appalachian Trail – Also known as A.T. to hiking enthusiasts, this trail stretches for over 2,200 miles into George Washington & Jefferson National Forest, parallel to Interstate 81, and with access points along Roanoke Valley in Blue Ridge.

    As one of Virginia’s most iconic hiking trails, A.T. welcomes over 2 to 3 million hikers each year. Highlights include McAfee Knob, which is perhaps the most Instagrammed feature of the trail.

  • Peaks of Otter – This refers to the three mountain peaks of the Blue Ridge Parkway, namely Flat Top, Sharp Top, and Harkening Hill. Some of the most popular hiking trails in Virginia can be found in the area, including Johnson Farm Trail and Abbott Lake Trail.

    Hike to the summit, get a glimpse of rural life at the restored Johnson Farm, and admire the beauty of Abbott Lake.

Parks

Ready to go camping? Pack your bags and head over to these parks, where you’ll find recreational facilities, picnic shelters, and camp sites.

  • Smith Mountain Lake State Park – Camp out at the state park, where you can enjoy a wide range of water-based activities like swimming, fishing, and boating. You can also explore miles of nature trails, get cozy inside one of the cabins, or roll out a blanket for a nice picnic.
  • Smith Mountain Lake Community Park – This community park spans 37 acres and was opened to the public in 2007. Here you’ll find an ADA-friendly fishing pier, a two-mile trail system, a playground, picnic shelters with BBQ grills, and a seasonal beach and swimming area with lifeguards.

Historic Places

Learn about SML’s rich heritage when you visit these places of historic interest:

  • Blue Ridge Institute and Museum – The museum’s immersive exhibits offer a rare glimpse into the traditions and way of life of the communities that have grown in and around the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail – This trail introduces guests to the traditional artists of Southwest Virginia and celebrates the region’s musical tradition, which includes string bands, blues, bluegrass, and more.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest – Step into Jefferson’s private retreat and gain insight into the life and times of the 3rd president of the United States. Explore the plantation, browse the exhibits, and listen to lectures about life in Poplar Forest.
  • Booker T. Washington National Monument – This monument celebrates the achievements and contributions of educator, orator, and political advisor Booker T. Washington, a Hale’s Ford native who went on to become a prominent figure in the African-American community.
  • The National D-Day Memorial – The memorial commemorates the bravery of the men and women who sacrificed their lives for country. A must-visit for anyone with an interest in American military history and World War II.

Wineries and breweries

Missed the annual Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival? Reach out to these local distilleries to enjoy SML wine and craft beer:

Shopping and dining

SML is a shopping destination in its own right, with boutiques, art galleries, souvenir shops, jewelers, and furniture stores selling both popular brands and one-of-a-kind items.

Here you’ll find vast commercial developments like Westlake Towne Center with retail and offices as well as vibrant downtown areas like Downtown Moneta, which is lined with stores and cafés.

You’ll also find an excellent selection of sports warehouses, marinas, and golf shops that sell all kinds of sports gear, fishing accessories, and boating and waterskiing equipment.

The restaurant scene is no less impressive, with local restaurants, bars, and cafés serving Italian, Mexican, and French cuisine.

For grab-and-go meals, there’s a wide assortment of fastfood chains and casual dining restaurants offering takeout in SML.

And then there are the farmers’ markets, where you can buy fresh and seasonal produce along with artisanal goods and homemade meals.

Click here for a list of restaurants in and around SML.

Conclusion

SML is no longer a secret – Virginia’s top summer destination is a wonderful place to live year-round. We’re proud of the community we’ve built here. The Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains welcomes you with open arms.

For more information on SML real estate, you can reach me, Jane Sullivan Horne, here. I have over 28 years of professional experience in SML real estate. But more than that, I’m passionate about helping buyers find the perfect home in SML. I can’t wait to hear from you.

Call me at 540.493.1690 or 800.858.4653. You can also reach me at Jane(at)JaneAtTheLake(dotted)com.