The 10 Best Virginia Lakes for Swimming

Written by Lev Baker
Updated: July 2, 2023
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Key Points

  • June, July, and August are the ideal months in Virginia for taking a refreshing dip.
  • Smith Mountain Lake is a sprawling water haven that stretches across 40 miles, offering an extensive 500 miles of picturesque shoreline.
  • Claytor Lake is a fantastic destination for outdoor enthusiasts and is known as one of the best fishing lakes in Virginia.

Virginia is home to some of the best swimming spots on the East Coast. But let’s look further than the gorgeous coastline and head inland to the state’s lakes. While this southeastern state may boast just two natural lakes, don’t be fooled by their scarcity. Virginia has a hidden treasure of man-made lakes that will leave you spellbound. 

Whether you’re seeking calm waters or thrilling adventures, the abundance of artificial lakes ensures the swimming experience remains unparalleled. In this article, I will review the 10 best Virginia lakes for swimming. 

Sherando Lake Recreation Area is affectionately known as the jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Best Season For Swimming In Virginia

When it comes to swimming in Virginia, the ideal season for taking a refreshing dip is during the summer months. June, July, and August offer the warmest temperatures, creating a perfect environment for an enjoyable swimming experience. January, unfortunately, takes the title of being the coldest month of the year, making it less than ideal for swimming enthusiasts. So, unless you are looking to challenge yourself with a freezing cold plunge, avoid Virginia lakes in the winter.

However, if you’re looking for the ultimate swimming experience, August stands out as the best month with its pleasant weather conditions. 

1. Lake Moomaw

Lake Moomaw, Bath County, Virginia

One of the best swimming lakes in Virginia is Lake Moomaw.

©Michele M Cook/Shutterstock.com

Lake Moomaw is a hidden treasure located in the stunning Appalachian Mountains of western Virginia. This little-known gem is a nature lover’s dream, offering an array of exciting activities and awe-inspiring sights. 

Dive into the crystal-clear waters of this unspoiled mountain lake for a refreshing swim or soak up the sun on its inviting shores. Two sandy beaches await your arrival: one near Bolar Mountain Campground, complete with convenient amenities like restrooms, picnic tables, a playground, and plenty of parking, and another at Coles Point on the southern end of the lake.

Whether you’re into swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, or simply floating on a tube, Lake Moomaw’s cool waters cater to all water enthusiasts. Remember to stay close to the shore to steer clear of any motorized boats and ensure your safety. 

Explore the extensive network of hiking trails, embark on a thrilling boating adventure, cast your line for some fishing fun, or experience the joys of camping in the breathtaking George Washington National Forest.

Conveniently situated in western Virginia, just a four-hour drive from Richmond, Lake Moomaw is within reach for a memorable getaway.

2. Smith Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake Virginia State Park panorama under cloudy sky with trees and lake reflection.

A particularly picturesque lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains is Smith Mountain Lake.

©Noel V. Baebler/Shutterstock.com

Smith Mountain Lake is a sprawling water haven that stretches across 40 miles, offering an extensive 500 miles of picturesque shoreline. Its stunning location, surrounded by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, has earned it a reputation as one of Virginia’s most scenic destinations.

This captivating park is an absolute paradise for water enthusiasts, providing a wide range of activities to enjoy. From swimming and renting boats to accessing a convenient boat ramp and an inclusive fishing pier, there’s something for everyone. 

Families can relish in the joys of picnicking, explore the visitor center, be entertained at the amphitheater, participate in special programs, camp, hike along miles of scenic trails, and even stay in cabins equipped with boat docks.

Beyond its inviting waters, Smith Mountain Lake is renowned for its exceptional bass species, attracting anglers from far and wide. 

The lake’s prime location also ensures easy accessibility, only around 40 miles from both Lynchburg and Roanoke and a mere 140 miles from Richmond.

3. Kerr Lake

John H. Kerr Resevoir (Buggs Island Lake) near Clarksville, VA with a railroad bridge crossing the Roanoke River in the distance.

Kerr Lake is a massive man-made reservoir in Southern Virginia.

©J. M. Pavlic III/Shutterstock.com

Another of the best swimming lakes in Virginia is Kerr Lake. Here, nature’s beauty and the sun’s warmth invite you to embrace the great outdoors. This recreational paradise is located on the North Carolina and Virginia border, offering a wide array of exciting activities for everyone. So whether you’re looking to swim, catch a fish, cruise on a boat, or simply seek peace while camping, Kerr Lake has everything you need.

With its impressive 800-mile shoreline, there are countless spots to launch your boat and explore the glistening waters. Then, after an exhilarating day on the lake, take a moment to cool off with a refreshing swim. Whether you prefer the designated swimming areas or a secluded cove to drop anchor, the deep blue waters of Kerr Lake will leave you feeling refreshed and radiant in the sunlight.

While at Kerr Lake, don’t forget to cast your line and reel in the catch of the day while surrounded by the serene beauty of your surroundings.

Conveniently situated 110 miles from Richmond and just 45 miles from Raleigh, North Carolina, Virginia, Kerr Lake is the ideal destination for an unforgettable outdoor adventure. So pack your bags, bring your spirit of exploration, and prepare to create lasting memories at Kerr Lake.

4. Lake Anna

Aerial view of Lake Anna Virginia in autumn

Lake Anna is one of the largest and best swimming lakes in Virginia.

©ButtermilkgirlVirginia/Shutterstock.com

As one of Virginia’s largest lakes, Lake Anna has become a popular choice for swimmers. Boasting more than 200 miles of shoreline and spanning over 13,000 surface acres, Lake Anna is a top-notch recreational destination that maintains its rural charm.

Although the park doesn’t offer boat or equipment rentals, you’ll find plenty of options for accommodation. Rent a cozy cabin or a comfortable lodge, or choose from the available campsites, yurts, or camping cabins.

Visitors from Washington, D.C., and Richmond often flock to Lake Anna for a memorable vacation experience. However, keep in mind that boat traffic can get heavy during summer weekends, especially around the 4th of July.

With its inviting warmth, expansive shoreline, and clear blue skies, Lake Anna is an excellent place to swim in Virginia. The state park offers a public swimming beach where you can bask in the summer sun, relax with a good book, and then plunge into the lake for a quick swim.

It’s worth noting that due to the lake’s use for cooling the power plant, the water is warmer than other lakes in Virginia, ensuring a delightful experience. The distance between Richmond and Lake Anna is approximately 66.07 miles, with a travel time of about 70 minutes.

5. Philpott Lake

An image of Philpott Lake in Bassett, VA

Philpott Lake is a large reservoir with more than 100 miles of shoreline.

©Gage Craig/Shutterstock.com

Another one of the best lakes to swim in Virginia is Philpott Lake. Located in Southwest Virginia, Philpott Lake serves as a serene natural refuge from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Imagine a sprawling lake region in Southwest Virginia, encompassing an immense area encircled by almost 20,000 acres of untouched wilderness. It’s a sight to behold, with the awe-inspiring Blue Ridge Mountains gracing the horizon. 

Philpott Lake is the idyllic destination for a delightful day (or more!) of boating, fishing, and swimming, accompanied by stunning landscapes unique to this part of the state.

During warm summer days, the crystal-clear waters of Philpott Lake beckon irresistibly, providing a refreshing oasis. The lake boasts numerous sandy swimming beaches, perfect for adults seeking a nostalgic retreat reminiscent of their cherished summer camp memories. There are six designated swimming areas dotting the shoreline, so you’ll get to choose your pick of the best location.

Visitors of all ages can find something to love at Philpott Lake. The Bowens Creek Recreation Area features a sandy beach and playground that will surely delight kids, while avid runners can traverse the scenic 4.5-mile Dogwood Glen Trail before taking a refreshing dip at the Salthouse Branch Recreation Area. 

Notably, Philpott Lake is conveniently situated near Richmond, VA (190 miles), Raleigh, NC (130 miles), and Greensboro, NC (60 miles), making it easily accessible for a memorable getaway.

6. Sherando Lake

Autumn on Sherando Lake Recreation Area in the George Washington National Forest.

As a gorgeous spring-fed lake, Sherando Lake is what many call the jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

©Paul Brady Photography/Shutterstock.com

Sherando Lake Recreation Area, affectionately known as the jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a beloved destination for families seeking a relaxing and fun-filled getaway. With its shaded surroundings in the thick woods, Sherando Lake offers the perfect setting for picnics and leisurely strolls. The highlight of this 25-acre spring-fed lake is undoubtedly the sandy beach, where visitors can unwind by jumping in the water and soaking up the sun’s warmth.

In addition to its natural beauty, Sherando Lake boasts a range of amenities and attractions that cater to diverse interests. Multiple trailheads are available for adventure enthusiasts, providing access to scenic hiking routes. 

The lower lake, spanning 24 acres, is ideal for swimming, camping, and picnicking. Meanwhile, the upper lake, built later for flood control, primarily serves as a fishing spot.

With 65 family campsites and group sites, the campground offers ample accommodation options. Modern amenities, such as flush toilets, a trailer dump station, showers, and drinking water, ensure a comfortable stay. For water enthusiasts, the swimming facilities include a shaded grass area, a sandy beach, and a bathhouse with showers.

Located just 1 hour and 41 minutes (106.4 miles) away from Richmond, Sherando Lake is a true gem waiting to be explored and enjoyed.

7. Lake Arrowhead

Lake Arrowhead Recreational Park near Luray, VA

An abundance of picnic shelters makes Lake Arrowhead one of the best for swimming in Virginia.

©Rob Jump/Shutterstock.com

Lake Arrowhead is an amazing lake for swimming situated within the serene Lake Arrowhead Park, nestled amidst the captivating Shenandoah Valley just below the renowned Skyline Drive. 

This scenic destination boasts a stunning white sand beach, complete with seasonal lifeguards and a convenient concession stand. The park itself offers an abundance of picnic shelters, inviting visitors to relax and enjoy the picturesque surroundings. 

Spanning 34 acres, the relatively small lake is full of opportunities for recreational activities with its clear waters and gently sloping banks. Nature enthusiasts can explore the captivating nature trail that encircles the lake, while those seeking more adventure can rent kayaks and canoes during the appropriate seasons. 

Access to the lake is made easy by a well-maintained concrete boat ramp and courtesy dock. Anglers will find exceptional fishing spots along approximately 70% of the shoreline. Additionally, a large swimming area awaits, featuring a pristine white sand beach where visitors can cool off and bask in the sun. 

Lake Arrowhead awaits just a short 2-hour and 16-minute drive from Richmond, Virginia, promising a delightful getaway for all.

8. Lake Gaston

scenic view of Lake Gaston

As a popular area to buy a summer home in Virginia, Lake Gaston offers great swimming.

©KHilliard/Shutterstock.com

Lake Gaston remains a hidden gem within the southeastern United States, particularly when it comes to swimming. Positioned on the border of Virginia and North Carolina, this magnificent lake stretches for approximately 35 miles, encompassing over 20,000 acres of water and boasting an impressive 350 miles of shoreline.

While fishing has long been a popular pastime at Lake Gaston, it is also a dream destination for vacation homes. The lake offers many water activities, including boating, swimming, water skiing, and wakeboarding, ensuring endless excitement and enjoyment for visitors.

For those seeking to explore the waters, Holly Grove Marina provides convenient boat and kayak rentals, while Lake Gaston Americamps offers a wonderful lakeside camping experience. Whether you’re an angler or a water enthusiast, Lake Gaston will cater to your desires.

Safety is a priority, and while wildlife exists in the area, it can be easily managed by taking necessary precautions. That said, year-round swimming is mostly safe and accessible in Lake Gaston.

Located just an hour and thirty-two minutes away from Richmond, Virginia, Lake Gaston is an easy day trip.

9. Claytor Lake

Claytor lake in Southern Virginia near Blacksburg in Dublin, Virginia

Secluded around three and a half hours from Richmond, VA, is Claytor Lake.

©Rui Serra Maia/Shutterstock.com

Claytor Lake is a fantastic destination for outdoor enthusiasts and is known as one of the best fishing lakes in Virginia. It is also an excellent place for camping, picnicking, and hiking. It is renowned for its superb sport fishing opportunities and excellent boating facilities. The park boasts a well-equipped marina, complete with supplies, docking slips, fuel, refreshments, and boat rentals, catering to the needs of boating enthusiasts.

Visitors can choose from three lodges and 15 cabins strategically positioned to offer breathtaking views of the expansive 4,500-acre lake.

History buffs will appreciate the informative exhibits at the Howe House, which provide interactive insights into the lake’s ecology and the surrounding areas.

Additionally, guests can rent bikes to explore the surroundings and take advantage of the universally accessible fishing pier, seasonal snack bars, picnic shelters, and playgrounds. The park’s sandy beach, with lifeguards on duty, is a great spot for swimming and unwinding.

With a drive time of approximately 3.5 hours from Richmond, Claytor Lake is a convenient and captivating destination for anyone seeking outdoor adventure and natural beauty.

10. Cave Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake sunset

Cave Mountain Lake is a perfect place for a refreshing summer swim.

©Tangie Marie Bush/Shutterstock.com

Last on the list of best Virginia lakes for swimming is Cave Mountain Lake. This picturesque destination has been a beloved retreat for families across generations, offering a perfect blend of rustic beauty and nature. So whether you’re a day visitor or a camping enthusiast, Cave Mountain Lake has something for everyone.

Enjoy a refreshing swim or soak up the sun while picnicking on the serene shores. While boats are not currently permitted, you can still have a blast with non-motorized kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, gliding across the calm waters. 

Fishing enthusiasts will be delighted with the opportunity to cast their lines from the shoreline, enjoying the peaceful rhythm of the lake. Don’t miss the exciting kids’ fishing event held each May, bringing families closer to nature and creating unforgettable memories.

Immerse yourself in nature as you explore the surrounding hiking trails, ranging from leisurely walks around the lake to invigorating full-day hikes along nearby ridges. 

With easy access from I-81 and close proximity to the historic downtown of Lexington, Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area invite you to unplug, unwind, and reconnect with the beauty of the natural world.

Summary of the Best Virginia Lakes for Swimming

RankLakeLocationFamous For
1Lake MoomawAlleghany HighlandsClearest Water
2Smith Mountain LakeBedford & Franklin CountiesSecond Largest Lake In Virginia
3Kerr LakeHalifax, Charlotte, & Mecklenburg CountiesExcellent Fishing
4Lake AnnaOrange, Spotsylvania & Louisa CountiesHistory
5Philpott LakeFranklin, Patrick, & Henry CountiesAmazing Views 
6Sherando LakeAugusta CountyFamily Picnic
7Lake ArrowheadPage CountySandy Beach
8Lake GastonMecklenburg & Brunswick CountiesFishing & Water Recreations
9Claytor LakePulaski CountySport Fishing & Boating
10Cave Mountain LakeRockbridge CountyPeaceful Atmosphere

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Lev is a writer at AZ Animals who primarily covers topics on animals, geography, and plants. He has been writing for more than 4 years and loves researching topics and learning new things. His three biggest loves in the world are music, travel, and animals. He has his diving license and loves sea creatures. His favorite animal in the world is the manta ray.

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