Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - South - Virginia - Blue Ridge Highlands - Central Virginia - Southern Virginia -

Also known as:  Jewel of the Blue Ridge

With emerald green shores, sapphire blue skies, topaz blue waters, and soaring surrounding mountains, it’s clear why Smith Mountain Lake is nicknamed “Jewel of the Blue Ridge.”

Nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia’s most popular recreational lake offers 580 miles of coved shoreline and 20,800 acres of beautiful lake to explore. The Appalachian Power Company created Smith Mountain Lake by damming the Roanoke and Blackwater Rivers. The 40-mile-long lake first reached its “full pond” level of 795 feet above sea level in 1966.

Although built for flood control and hydroelectric power generation using an unusual pumpback system from the adjacent Leesville Reservoir, “SML” is best-known for its exceptional recreational opportunities. From spring through autumn, you’ll find the lake dotted with boaters, anglers, jet skiers, water skiers, wake boarders, tubers, canoeists, and kayakers. Smith Mountain Lake stretches across three rural southwestern VA counties (Bedford, Franklin, and Pittsylvania).

Smith Mountain Lake enjoys a beautiful location in rural southwestern Virginia, complemented by convenient city-like amenities. Because of its natural beauty, well-developed tourism, and temperate four-season climate, the reservoir welcomes many visitors to its shores every year. In addition to vacationers, Smith Mountain Lake also is home to 18,000 permanent residents, including many retirees who have relocated from northern states. Five golf courses, some lakeside, attract both residents and visitors.

Smith Mountain Lake is among the USA’s top fishing destinations – a Bassmaster/ESPN fishing tournament host. Largemouth and striped bass are among anglers’ most-favored catches.

On a hot Virginia summer day, nothing beats diving into SML’s cool waters. You can do that from your dock or your boat, but many choose to absorb the sun and bathe in the lake from the well-equipped Smith Mountain Lake State Park. Boasting a large 500-foot long sandy beach, the park is a favorite among residents and visitors, offering a designated swimming area, dive platform, and concession stand. And though the beach is a park favorite, Smith Mountain Lake State Park also offers an informative visitors’ center, picnic areas, well-equipped cabins, primitive campsites, and miles of hiking trails.

Inquisitive minds will enjoy a trip to the Smith Mountain Dam Visitors’ Center; more than one million visitors have trekked through since the center’s 1967 opening. Check out the audio-visual presentation showing how the dam was built. Take a peek at a wall mural detailing Smith Mountain Gap before the area was flooded. Learn how the Smith Mountain Lake-Leesville Lake symbiosis creates electricity, and view photos and descriptions of local wildlife. The Visitors’ Center at the dam is free to enter; take an hour or two to get to know the inner workings of the reservoir.

Smith Mountain Lake is deepest at the dam, about 250 feet, with an average depth of about 55 feet. SML is the USA’s first major pumped-storage electric generation facility. Because of its unusual pump-back system, its water level varies by just two feet year-round, except during times of drought and flood.

SML is an angler’s paradise. Bassmaster ranks it among the USA’s 25 best bass fishing lakes. The lake has hosted several national professional fishing tournaments featured on ESPN, including the Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament. Anglers prize largemouth bass, striped bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, white perch, crappie, yellow perch, and catfish. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has stocked the lake annually with striped bass since its impoundment in 1963.

Nature lovers can’t get enough of Smith Mountain Lake, with its graceful blue herons, beautiful mountain views, and surrounding green forest. Booker T. Washington National Monument is minutes away. The lake is about 25 miles from “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway, a U.S. National Park System “unit” that hosts seventeen million visitors a year. Take your camera along for the ride, as unparalleled views unfold before you. Rolling valleys, mountain peaks, and soaring birds will swoop below you at every parkway lookout point, so come prepared to “ooh and ahh” at every vista.

Reasonable real estate prices and low property taxes attract retirees. Lakefront vacation home rentals in Bedford County – and condo rentals in Franklin County – attract vacationing families and couples seeking affordable romantic getaways.

Smith Mountain Lake’s exceptional offerings make it a perfect vacation destination, permanent residence, or anything in between. Whatever your pleasure – lakefront dining, fireside reading, or a glass of wine accompanied by a stunning sunset – Virginia’s most popular lake will far exceed your expectations.

NOTE: Smith Mountain Lake is the headquarters of Lakelubbers.

Find Smith Mountain Lake vacation lodging

Things to do at Smith Mountain Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • National Park

Fish species found at Smith Mountain Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Spotted Bass
  • Striped Bass
  • White Perch
  • Yellow Perch

Smith Mountain Lake Photo Gallery

  • Brian's Last Wipeout

  • Fishing Dock at Franklin County Park

Smith Mountain Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Appalachian Power

Surface Area: 20,800 acres

Shoreline Length: 580 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 795 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 788 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 800 feet

Average Depth: 55 feet

Maximum Depth: 250 feet

Water Volume: 1,140,000 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1966

Water Residence Time: 3.35 years

Lake Area-Population: 18,000

Drainage Area: 992 sq. miles

Trophic State: Mesotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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