The story below is from our July/August 2015 issue. For the full story download our FREE iOS app or view our digital edition for FREE today!
Who better than a 20-year resident to provide the prescription for getting the most out of your visit to the lake this summer? (Nobody.)
When people find out I’ve lived at Smith Mountain Lake for more than 20 years, their response usually goes something like this: “You’re so lucky!”
And they’re right.
In addition to scenic beauty and friendly, engaging residents, the lake area offers a wide range of on-water and off-water activities that are fun for all ages. There’s boating, fishing, water sports, parks and beaches, lakeside dining and, my personal favorite, quiet R&R (think lounging on the dock with a good book).
But you don’t have to live at SML to soak up its awesomeness. For most in the Roanoke Valley, drive time to the lake ranges from 30 minutes to an hour. That means you can plan a one-day adventure, weekend getaway or extended stay without breaking the bank.
Summer and fall are great times to explore Smith Mountain Lake, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2016. Following are a few of my top recommendations, but for a more comprehensive list of ideas, be sure to log on to visitsmithmountainlake.com.
Visit Bridgewater Plaza
Truly the central hub of SML, Bridgewater Plaza offers a variety of retail shops, a full-service marina, arcade, over-the-water mini-golf course and six restaurants, including several with outdoor lakeside seating. In addition, there’s a midway with carnival-style games, bungee trampoline and rock-climbing tower to keep the kids entertained.
For the grownups, Mango’s Bar & Grill is the place to be weekend evenings during the summer season for outdoor music by top local acts such as Fuzzy Logic, Dragonfly and Seven Mile Ford. Bridgewater Plaza also is where you’ll find the official SML Visitor Center, packed with brochures, maps and publications to help you find everything you need, from real estate to restaurant recommendations. bridgewaterplaza.com, visitsmithmountainlake.com
Get Out on the Water
There truly is no better way to experience the lake than to get out on it. Local marinas have everything you need to get started, including rentals of boats, personal watercraft, canoes, kayaks, wakeboards, water skis, paddleboards, towables and inflatables. Houseboats are another popular option. Available through Parrot Cove Boat Rentals and Sales (parrotcove.com), houseboats sleep 6-10 and come with standard amenities such as kitchen, bathroom with shower, heating and air. Many also are equipped with waterslides, grills and outdoor furniture. Of course, if you want an economic, hassle-free way to see Smith Mountain Lake, book a cruise aboard the Virginia Dare, a 63-foot replica of a 19th century side-wheeler. This SML icon, which is handicap accessible, offers a variety of sightseeing options for individuals, groups and private charters. Cruises run about two hours and include lunch, dinner or Sunday luncheon and start at $10 for kids and $20 for adults. Reservations are required. vadarecruises.com
Fish with a Pro
SML is among the most fishing-friendly lakes you’ll find in the region. There are crappie, sunfish, flathead catfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, but most fishermen seek out the lake’s prized striped bass (yum!). The best way to ensure a successful day on the water – whether you’re a novice or advanced angler – is to hire a professional guide. Most offer half-day and full-day outings for adults and youth starting at around $300. Rates generally include bait, tackle, reels and gas. You’ll need to bring snacks, water, a hat, sunscreen and a valid Virginia fishing license (available in most tackle shops, marinas and online at dgif.virginia.gov). For a list of professional guides, log on to visitsmithmountainlake.com/list and search “fishing.” If you’d like to angle on your own, SML State Park (Bedford County) and SML Community Park (Franklin County) offer public piers, but you still need a fishing license.
Whether you go for breakfast, lunch or dinner, there’s just something special about dining near the water. Smith Mountain Lake has more than 20 eateries that offer views of the lake – from short-order grills (perfect for a busy day out on the water) to upscale restaurants that make a great choice for special occasions. All are accessible by car and boat. For breakfast, I recommend Mitchell’s Restaurant or Bay Roc Marina Café (oh, the biscuits). For a quick bite at lunch, it’s hard to beat the selection at Bridgewater Plaza – Chopsticks, Moosie’s, Mango’s, Pizza Pub or Oar Knot Deli, followed by a frozen treat at the Ice Cream Cottage. Portside Bar & Grill is a local favorite (open in-season only) with a limited menu of casual fare and cold beer in a Key West-themed atmosphere (you may want to leave the kiddos home). For dinner, check out Jake’s Place (great pizza and nachos), Waller’s (frequent acoustic music) or The Landing Restaurant (gourmet fare, top-notch service and laid-back live entertainment in the adjacent bar).
Catch Some Live Music
Retail business choice isn’t the only thing that’s improved dramatically at Smith Mountain Lake over the years. SML is now a hub for live music of all genres – from bluegrass to jazz, Americana to classic rock. A number of area restaurants schedule live music nearly every weekend during the summer season, often outdoors and lakeside. Music lovers who are willing to venture a little further down the road should check out the lineup at Rocky Mount’s Harvester Performance Center. Top national and regional acts that have played the Harvester include Carolina Chocolate Drops, Indigo Girls, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Rodney Crowell, Restless Heart, Suzy Bogguss, and the Bacon Brothers. Check out the full schedule at harvester-music.com.