Tucked into the rolling mountains of Southwest Virginia are miles of sparkling lakes, creeks, and rivers waiting to be explored. Load your boat, stock the tackle box, and paddle your way across the state with our guide to Southwest Virginia’s most memorable adventures on the water.
Flatwater and Fishing
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Franklin County, Smith Mountain Lake features more than 500 miles of beaches and shoreline for all the flatwater kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding you can handle. Book a fishing charter to hook that trophy striped bass or head to nearby Philpott Lake for excellent largemouth fishing. While you’re there, paddle the 25-mile Philpott Lake Blueway to check out interpretive points that reveal the history and geology of the area.
To the west, Bark Camp Lake is stocked with northern pike, bass, bluegill, rainbow trout, and catfish. Paddle out of the lakeshore campground to explore the 45-acre lake’s coves and tributaries. Or set up base camp at High Knob Lake, elevation 3,800 feet, to paddle and fish the cold waters of this four-acre gem.
The Majestic New River
There’s endless opportunities to float, splash, and soak in the sun on the exposed rock islands and beaches of the wide and gentle New River. Kayak, canoe, or tube the class I-II riffles of the Upper New, with loads of public access points and boat-in campgrounds for trips from a couple hours to a couple days.
Family-friendly Claytor Lake divides upper and lower sections of the New River, and Claytor Lake State Park is a prime spot to rent kayaks, canoes, hydro bikes and pedal boats. Take your stand-up paddleboarding to the next level with rentals, lessons, and guided full moon, sunset, and yoga paddles at the park. Anglers will love the prime bass fishing on Claytor Lake and the world-class bass, muskie, and walleye fisheries on the New. The four-county region is home to the Blue Ridge Highlands Fishing Trail, with 18 fishing destinations stretching from Wytheville to Abingdon.
Follow the northerly flow of the New River to the class I-III waters of the Lower New in Giles County. Paddle the 37-mile New River Water Trail past dramatic bluffs looming above the river. Pools and eddies alternate with whitewater coursing over rock ledges, offering something for every level of boater. You’ll find plenty of campgrounds and public access points for day trips and overnights, and outfitters offer kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, and tubing rentals, shuttle service, and guided fishing expeditions along the trail.
Whitewater and the Grand Canyon of the South
Head to Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area for classic creek boating on the stocked trout waters of Whitetop Laurel Creek. Drop into the 12-mile section from Creek Junction to Damascus along the Virginia Creeper Trail for class II-IV whitewater. Fly-fishing peaks on Laurel Creek in the cooler months but there’s opportunity for a trophy catch any time of the year.
The biggest water in the state is found on the Virginia-Kentucky border in Breaks Interstate Park. Technical class II-IV whitewater on the Russell Fork River flows through a deep canyon for classic creek boating all year. Weekend dam releases in the fall draw expert kayakers from around the world for intense, class V runs through the gorge. The Russell Fork is also the largest tailwater trout fishery in the region.
Remote, High-Altitude Lakes
Savor the solitude and wilderness beauty of Southwest Virginia’s high-elevation lakes on paddleboard, kayak, and canoe. You can rent or launch your own boat at Hungry Mother State Park to access this 108-acre fisherman’s paradise. If off the beaten path is more your style, head to remote Laurel Bed Lake and Hidden Valley Lake for pristine waters and wilderness views in every direction. At an elevation of 3,600 feet, the terrain looks a lot more like Canada than the southeastern U.S., with plentiful populations of smallmouth, rock bass, and trout for anglers.
Floating the mild current of the Clinch River is a journey back in time. Early explorers, Daniel Boone among them, lived and traveled along the 135-mile river. Today, it’s home to the greatest concentration of rare and imperiled freshwater animals in the U.S.—up to 46 species, 24 of which are in danger of extinction. The seven Hometowns of the Clinch make an ideal base camp for exploration on the river and multiple launch points make it easy to plan anything from half-day to overnight paddles. Local outfitters offer tubing, kayaking, canoeing, and shuttle service. Natural Tunnel State Park offers five to seven-mile guided paddle trips on the Clinch, including a canoe/snorkel combo for a closer look at the river’s diverse aquatic life. Sport fisherman will find thriving populations of walleye, smallmouth, largemouth, rock and spotted bass, sauger, muskie, and a variety of panfish.
Self-guided kayak trips and shuttles are also available on the family-friendly North Fork of the Holston River. Fish the North Fork for smallmouth bass; the South Fork for rainbow and brown trout and white bass during their annual spring migration; and the rock bluffs and shale banks of South Holston Lake for smallmouth bass, black bass, walleye, sunfish, crappie, and catfish.
After all that paddling, who doesn’t need a little chill time? Take a dip in the Devil’s Bathtub, a natural water slide emptying into an idyllic swimming hole off the short but technical Devil’s Fork Loop Trail. Or hike two miles up Little Stony Creek to the towering rock walls of 69-foot Cascade Falls for a refreshing dip in the pool below. Dismal Falls' impressive 40-foot-wide cascade tumbles over multiple rock ledges. The water flow is most impressive in winter and spring when water levels are high.
Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated in partnership with Southwest Virginia and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.