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11 Best Recreational Lakes near Charlottesville, VA

Whether one is seeking the quietude of a secluded lake or the vibrancy of a popular recreational hub, Charlottesville holds a treasure trove of choices. 

In the heart of Virginia, the charming city of Charlottesville is a gateway to a myriad of serene, recreational lakes. 

For the lovers of the outdoors, these waterscapes offer plenty of excellent options, each catering to a range of activities like kayaking, fishing, camping, and more. 

Whether one is seeking the quietude of a secluded lake or the vibrancy of a popular recreational hub, the region holds a treasure trove of choices. 

Chris Greene Lake stands out as the nearest haven for beach enthusiasts, offering a delightful sandy escape mere minutes away from Charlottesville. 

For an all-round experience with camping, yurts, rentals, beach, and motorboating, Lake Anna is probably the best option, although it requires a 50-mile drive.

Whatever is on your mind, Charlottesville offers a wide choice. Use the table below to compare the options and discover the best recreational lakes in the area!

Lakes near Charlottesville Comparison Table

1. Sherando Lake

Autumn color at Sherando Lake, near the Blue Ridge Parkway in George Washington National Forest, Virginia
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Sherando Lake
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 38 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Hiking, Nature Trips, Camping

Sherando Lake is a highly-rated recreation area in George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. It is perfect for family day trips or camping expeditions.

This 25-acre lake is spring-fed and doesn’t have any motorboats, which keep its waters crystal clear and ideal for swimming. Another great thing for swimmers, especially young ones, is the relatively shallow, sandy beach.

Although motorboats aren’t used on Sherando Lake, you can kayak, canoe, and SUP to all your heart’s desire. But apart from swimming, fishing is the most popular activity at the lake. 

Also, there is access to miles of hiking trails. For example, you can climb to Torry Mountain for the views or make a loop around the lake.

When it comes to multi-day trips, there is a developed campground with hot showers and electric hookups for RVs. And day-visitors will find several picnics tables and BBQ grills for quality time with family and friends.

Still, there are a few issues with this lakeside Eden. One, it’s a summer destination that operates from April to November only. And two, it gets crowded on holidays and weekends, especially when it’s hot.

2. Lake Albemarle

Storm Clouds over a Lake in Virginia
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Lake Albemarle
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 15 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Boating

Lake Albemarle is a 35-acre reservoir in Westover Hills. The best thing about this location is that it’s not well-known, making it a tranquil place with very few people if any at all.

The area is underdeveloped, too. There is parking and a boat launching ramp, and that’s pretty much it: no typical picnic tables or restrooms.

The use is restricted to electric motor boating, paddling, and fishing which is the most common recreation here. 

Camping and swimming are prohibited. Plus, you need an access permit to use the lake unless you already have a fishing or boat license. (see here for details)

It’s safe to say that this isn’t your typical recreation lake. It is best suited for fishing enthusiasts, kayakers, and people looking for a peaceful time in nature.

3. Charlottesville Reservoir

Foggy morning with trees reflecting in the water of a lake near Charlottesville VA
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Charlottesville Reservoir
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 7 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Boating, Hiking, Biking

Charlottesville Reservoir is a medium-sized lake just a stone’s throw away from the city. It’s the perfect natural gateway in the scenic Ragged Mountain Natural Area.

Facilities here are pretty limited. Apart from parking, there isn’t much else. Yet, you can access the water to go boating (electric motors only) or paddling, but swimming is prohibited.

Apart from rich and diverse animal life, the area is known for its fantastic set of trails. The most common option is the loop around the lake that is 7 miles long and takes approximately 3 hours to hike.

Considering the proximity to the city, Charlottesville Reservoir is an excellent outdoor destination, especially if you are into paddling or hiking.

4. Beaver Creek Reservoir

Beaver Creek Reservoir park of Charlottesville, Virginia. It is a famous recreation area for the local community.
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Beaver Creek Reservoir
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 12 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Boating (electric only)

Beaver Creek Reservoir is another fantastic fishing and boating lake near Charlottesville. It’s 104 acres in size and more developed than the previous option.

Facilities here include restrooms, a pier, a launching ramp, and a few picnic areas. And the natural setting is stunning yet so close to the city.

The most common activities at the reservoir are fishing and paddling. The lake is just screaming to be explored, so bringing a kayak or a canoe is a must. However, swimming isn’t allowed, and boat use is restricted to electric motors only.

Another disadvantage is the lack of campgrounds or hiking trails in the area. Still, it’s a highly-rated destination that shouldn’t be overlooked, and if you are looking for a peaceful lake gateway, Beaver Creek Reservoir is an excellent option.

5. Mint Springs Valley Park

Mint Springs Valley Park in Virginia
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Official Page: Mint Springs Valley Park
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 20 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Hiking, Picnic

Mint Springs Valley Park has a selection of fantastic lakes that offer water activities and swimming in summer. It is a very popular and top-rated location.

The park itself has plenty of facilities like playgrounds, a sand volleyball court, miles of hiking trails, and a beach. 

Also, you can hire kayaks to explore the shoreline and enjoy a picnic or a BBQ. There are tons of activities here, especially in summer when the swimming season is on.

Another popular recreation on the lake is fishing. It is one of a few places near Charlottesville that gets stocked with trout, but you need some luck to hook one (or skill).

Apart from the crowds in summer and the lack of camping, the lake doesn’t have many disadvantages. It’s one of the best family-friendly locations within 30 minutes drive from the city.

6. Chris Greene Lake

This photo was taken at the Greene Lake Park in Charlottesville, VA.
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Chris Greene Lake
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 12 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Hiking, Picnic, Boating (electric only)

Chris Greene Lake is a similar recreation area as Mint Spring Valley Park. The 53-acre reservoir is an excellent family destination, especially in summer when the beach is open and swimming is on.

What makes the lake special is the designated dog park with water access where dogos can go for a swim too.

Apart from that, there are picnic areas, a boat ramp, a fishing pier, restrooms, and a few miles of trails. And during the summer, you can even hire kayaks and canoes here.

Like Mint Spring Valley Park, there aren’t many criticisms about this location. And if you travel with a dog, this is definitely the top spot.

7. Walnut Creek Park

  • Official Page: Walnut Creek Park
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 14 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Hiking, Picnic

Walnut Creek Park has a 45-acre reservoir known as Walnut Branch. It’s located south of Charlottesville, just 25 minutes away. 

Similar to the above two options, the park offers a beach for swimming that is open during the summer season. Plus, you will find picnic areas with grills, playgrounds, a boat ramp, and a kayak rental.

However, what makes this location unique is a wide selection of hiking and mountain biking trails that make various loops in the park. 

In fact, there are over 15 miles of trails here. The terrain is moderate in difficulty, and you can easily manage the distance thanks to a wide selection of paths. 

Despite the number of activities and high ratings, the park rarely gets crowded. It’s another excellent option near Charlottesville.

8. Bear Creek Lake

Bear Creek Lake State Park Beach in Virginia
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Bear Creek Lake
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 50 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Boating, Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Hiking, Camping

Bear Creek Lake is a 40-acre reservoir that is part of the aptly named state park. It’s one of only a few lakes on the list with campgrounds, making it an excellent choice for multi-day trips. 

The park is well developed, and in addition to campsites, you can stay in cabins, too. Also, there are playgrounds, picnic spots, a kayak rental shop, and miles of multi-use trails. 

And in summer, you can relax on the sand beach and cool down in refreshing water. There are plenty of activities here.

The only criticism of this destination is the cramped campground where campsites are too close to each other. So, getting noisy neighbors can spoil your trip.

9. Lake Anna

lake anna state park beach virginia
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Official Page: Lake Anna State Park
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 50 miles (1h)
  • Activities: Swimming, Boating, Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing, Hiking, Camping

At 13,000 acres, Lake Anna is the largest reservoir near Charlottesville and one of the most popular lake destinations in the state.

The lake is vast and offers a selection of facilities like marinas, campgrounds, beaches, and hotels. Yet, one of the best ways to explore the lake and its numerous coves is by visiting Lake Anna State Park.

It’s a well-developed place with not just campgrounds but also cabins and lodges. And when it comes to recreation, there is no shortage of activities. From swimming, fishing, and kayaking, to hiking and biking, you will be spoiled for choice.

What makes the area unique is its gold mining heritage. The park has a gold mining exhibition and offers an opportunity to try panning for gold which is always fun.

However, with so many activities, the park attracts crowds, especially in summer when the beach is buzzing, and the boats shoot across the lake. So if you are looking for a tranquil getaway, this option isn’t the best.

10. Lake Orange

a beautiful lake in virginia during summer
Source: dreamstime
  • Official Page: Lake Orange
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 34 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Boating, Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing

Lake Orange is a 124-acre reservoir some 50 minutes from Charlottesville. It’s an excellent option for fishing or paddling, but not swimming.

In fact, swimming is prohibited here, as well as sailing, hunting, and gasoline boats. Still, the restricted use means there are fewer people at the lake, and one can enjoy the peaceful setting.

Despite that, the lake has plenty of amenities and is not as wild as it may seem. For example, there are picnic tables with BBQ grills, a food store, restrooms, fishing piers, and a couple of boat ramps. Everything you need to enjoy the fishing trip!

11. Rivanna Reservoir

  • Official Page: Rivanna Reservoir
  • Distance from Charlottesville: 7 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Boating, Fishing, Kayaking, SUP, Canoeing

Rivanna Reservoir is also a fishing lake, but at 450 acres, it’s a lot larger than Lake Orange and also much closer to home.

However, it’s completely undeveloped. Apart from a single boat ramp, there are no other facilities. And even the parking area is tiny and requires upgrading. 

Still, if you are into fishing or paddling, it’s a decent option a stone’s throw away from home. And you can enjoy it in the evenings rather than having to take the whole day.

The restrictions here are similar to other fishing lakes in the state – no swimming and no gasoline motors. 

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