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If you love boating--and the mountains--then you need to head for Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake. Located in central southwest Virginia, 215 miles from Washington, D.C., this popular boating destination provides the perfect reason to head for the mountains.

Smith Mountain Lake was formed back in the 1960s, when Appalachian Power Company (now American Electric Power) built a dam on the Roanoke River. Smith Mountain Dam is 816 feet long and 227 feet wide and the resulting lake (which first reached its full depth in 1966) provides 22,000 acres of recreational water and 500 miles of shoreline!

The lake has grown to become a four-season residential and vacation paradise, with the water, shoreline, services, amenities, and surrounding towns and attractions providing a perfect place for boaters to visit (and live). The climate around Smith Mountain Lake definitely has four seasons, with boating most popular during crisp spring, hot summer, and colorful fall days. “Each season combines the area’s natural beauty with recreational activities, events, and all the amenities of a resort, residential, and business community,” says Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce/Partnership.

There are 20 marinas and boat docks listed in the excellent Newcomer and Visitor Guide, as well as four popular public boat ramps. Thus, there’s lots of places to get your boat--or one of many rental boats--on the water! The Newcomer and Visitor Guide also lists 25 places for boat rentals, repairs, and sales, as well as several non-marina businesses that can provide services and repairs (like the interesting Virginia Canvas Works--www.virginiacanvasworks.com).

Houseboat rentals are also extremely popular on Smith Mountain Lake, with a variety of companies able to accommodate practically any houseboat hankering. Two good possibilities include: Adventures on Houseboats (www.adventuresonhouseboats.com) and Parrot Cove Boat Rentals and Sales (www.parrotcove.com).

Once on the water, the possibilities are almost endless. Along with cruising the stunning shoreline and enjoying the mountain vistas, boaters and their passengers can enjoy fishing, water skiing, wakeboarding, and more.

The fishing is particularly plentiful. Several record fish have been caught in the lake, with popular catches including: striped bass, crappie, flathead catfish, largemouth bass, musky, and smallmouth bass. Many local fishing guides are available to help land the big ones.

No matter what the pursuit, safety is definitely emphasized on and near the lake. “We educate our boaters to have the most safe and enjoyable trip,” says James Clayton, operator of Saunders Parkway Marina (www.parkwaymarina.com).

The Smith Mountain Lake Boating Association (www.smlba.com) is another excellent resource for visiting boaters. They sponsor safe boating educational classes throughout the year and also organize the annual boat poker run in May. There’s also an Antique and Classic Boat Society chapter (www.woodenboats.net), with monthly meetings and an annual in-water show each August.

Of course, a boating destination is only as good as what’s available on shore. Smith Mountain Lake accommodates visiting boaters with a wide variety attractions, activities, events, shopping, dining, and even varied accommodations options for those choosing to stay on land.

Land-based activities (often reached by boat) include: Smith Mountain Lake Park (1,000 acres that include a beach, fishing pier, hiking, and more); Booker T. Washington National Monument (Washington’s birthplace and a glimpse into the life of the famed orator and educator); the National D-Day Memorial in nearby Bedford; and the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum (traditional life and culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains). There are also several local wineries, five gorgeous golf courses, and a 112-person sidewheeler cruise boat that features food and boating fun (with someone else serving as captain or mate!).

Events are also a big part of the Smith Mountain Lake scene. Some popular possibilities include: many fishing tournaments; the D-Day Celebration; poker runs; several fireworks celebrations during the July 4th period; a wine festival; and a Holidays boat parade.

Boaters who would like an insider’s view of lake boating should contact Capt. Bill at Smith Mountain Water Taxi (540-537-0053). He can provide a tour of the lake or shuttle small parties to dinner, tee times, lake nightlife, and more. He can also perform designated driver duties on your personal or rented vessel for a safe boat ride home. Now that’s friendly Smith Mountain Lake boating!

The Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce/Partnership Visitors Center is located at 16430 Booker T. Washington Hwy. #2, Moneta, VA 24121. They can be reached by phone at 800-676-8203 or 540-721-1203, as well as through their great website: www.visitsmithmountainlake.com.