Discover the Deepest Lake in Virginia

Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia
© Noel V. Baebler/Shutterstock.com

Written by Cindy Rasmussen

Updated: August 1, 2023

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Key Points:
  • Smith Mountain Lake is the deepest lake in Virginia at 250 feet deep.
  • It is a manmade lake built between 1960 and 1963 by damming the Roanoke River.
  • The deepest body of water in the state is the John H Kerr Reservoir, much of which is located on the other side of the Virginia border in North Carolina.

Virginia is one of the original 13 colonies and known as the “birthplace of America” having the first permanent settlement, Jamestown. The varied landscape of the state has a little of everything from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean coastline. The Chesapeake Bay is on the eastern border and major rivers like the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James all flow through the state. Some of those rivers are so wide you think they are lakes, but there are plenty of good-sized lakes throughout Virginia.

When it comes to the deepest lakes, they are often some of the biggest lakes. Many times man-made reservoirs created by damming local rivers create the deepest lakes. Is the biggest lake in Virginia also the deepest lake? What about the best fishing? Does the deepest lake in Virginia have the biggest fish? Let’s find out all about the deepest lake in Virginia!

Infographic of Smith Mountain Lake
The deepest lake in Virginia, Smith Mountain Lake was built by damming the Roanoke River.

What Is the Deepest Lake in Virginia?

The deepest lake in Virginia is Smith Mountain Lake. The biggest lake in Virginia is also the deepest lake. Smith Mountain Lake is the biggest lake entirely in Virginia. The John H. Kerr Reservoir (also known as Buggs Island Lake) is larger than Smith Mountain but much of it is located on the other side of the Virginia border in North Carolina. Smith Mountain Lake is 32 square miles and the Kerr Reservoir is 77.2 square miles.

Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia is the deepest and biggest lake in the state.

Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia is the deepest and biggest lake in the state.

©Erin HG/Shutterstock.com

How Deep Is the Deepest Lake in Virginia?

The deepest lake in Virginia is 250 feet deep. For reference, if you were staying at a hotel with a rooftop pool that was on the 25th floor (sounds nice!) and you leaned over the edge and looked straight down it would be around 250 feet. The deepest point on Smith Mountain Lake is near the dam.

Smith Mountain Lake is deepest near its dam.

Smith Mountain Lake is deepest near its dam, reaching a depth of 250 feet.

©2265524729/Shutterstock.com

Where Is Smith Mountain Lake Located on a Map?

Smith Mountain Lake is in the Roanoke region of Virginia and within three counties: Franklin, Pittsylvania, and Bedford County.

It is around 40 miles southeast of the city of Roanoke, 40 miles southwest of Lynchburg, and 140 miles from Richmond. It’s about a four-hour drive southwest of Washington D.C. and approximately two hours north of Raleigh in North Carolina.

Animals That Live Around Smith Mountain Lake

The region surrounding Smith Mountain Lake is home to many different species of wildlife, all of which bring unique and important traits to the environment. Some of these animals include white-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, muskrats, beavers, and bears. While these mammals can make exciting sights for nature enthusiasts and hunters alike, one of the most popular reasons to visit Smith Mountain Lake is to experience its thriving population of fish.

Is Smith Mountain Lake a Recreational Lake?

Yes! Smith Mountain Lake is a popular recreational lake with homes, resorts, marinas, restaurants, and parks all along the shore. You can water ski, paddleboard, kayak, sail, and fish on the lake. There are several boat ramps to put your boat in or maybe you’d rather spend the afternoon sunbathing at the beach. Smith Mountain Lake State Park has a beautiful sandy beach right on the shores of the lake. A quick look at a map of the lake and you will see it is not a large oval lake but a sprawling lake with hundreds of coves, great for exploring and maybe finding your favorite fishing hole.

How Is the Fishing on Smith Mountain Lake?

The fishing on Smith Mountain Lake is excellent. Black bass are highly sought-after, as are largemouth and smallmouth bass. Largemouth bass are more common than smallmouth and during the summer you will want to fish 10-30 feet deep to find the biggest largemouth bass that prefers the deeper waters during the warmer months.

Striped bass (stripers) are also popular fish on Smith Mountain Lake. To find the biggest catches you will want to fish the lower main lake in the summer. Other fish on the lake include crappie, channel catfish, flathead catfish, white catfish, sunfish, and white perch.

Fishing on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.

Smith Mountain Lake is a great place to fish for black bass and striped bass, especially during the summer.

©Virginia State Parks / Flickr – Original / License

Are There Any Virginia State Fishing Records on Smith Mountain Lake?

There are not any current state fishing records on Smith Mountain Lake but there are a few good-sized fish caught in Virginia. For largemouth bass, the biggest ever caught in Virginia was a 16-pound 4-ouncer caught on Connor Lake by Richard Tate. His bass was caught back on May 20, 1985.

The biggest striper ever caught in Virginia was 53 pounds 7 ounces reeled in by James B. Davis from the Leesville Reservoir. Davis’ record-breaking striped bass was caught on March 16, 2000.

What Is the Most Recent Fishing Record in Virginia?

The most recent fishing record in Virginia to date was in September 2022. Michael Miller snagged a 6-pound Saugeye on the Staunton River on September 23, 2022. The Staunton River flows into the Roanoke River, which flows into the John H. Kerr Reservoir.

How Deep Is the John H. Kerr Reservoir?

The John H. Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake) is 100 feet deep at the dam. The reservoir was built back between 1946-1952 when the Roanoke River was dammed with the Kerr Dam. Now the lake spreads over 50,000 acres across the border into North Carolina.

John H. Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake) in Virginia.

John H. Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island Lake) in Virginia was built in 1946-1952 and reaches 100 feet deep at the dam.

©J. M. Pavlic III/Shutterstock.com

Why Is the Kerr Reservoir Also Called Buggs Island Lake?

Folks in North Carolina refer to the lake as “Kerr Lake,” named after the former North Carolina Senator John H. Kerr. While the name also applies in Virginia, some folks in Virginia call it Buggs Island Lake after Samuel Bugg who was an early settler in the area. Below the dam is Buggs Island, which was named after Samuel Bugg and during the building of the dam it was called the “Buggs Island Project.”

How Does the Deepest Lake in Virginia Compare to the Deepest Lake in the U.S.?

The deepest lake in the U.S. is Crater Lake in Oregon. Crater Lake is 1,949 feet deep! Compared to Smith Mountain Lake it is about 1,700 feet deeper. How does a lake get that deep? Crater Lake was formed at the top of an old volcano. The Mount Mazama volcano erupted more than 7,700 years ago and the top of the volcano collapsed forming a large, deep crater. The crater filled in with water and now we have the beautiful blue waters of Crater Lake. Unlike the finger-like Smith Mountain Lake, Crater Lake is pretty much a circle with two small islands. Wizard Island is the most recognizable island and you can take a boat tour out to the island where you can swim from the shore. Most activities are restricted on the lake to keep invasive species out of the crystal blue water.

Crater Lake National Park, National Park, Oregon - US State, USA, Wizard Island

Crater Lake in Oregon is the deepest lake in the United States.

©iStock.com/Kalichka


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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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