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12 Gorgeous Recreational Lakes near Harrisonburg, VA

Most lakes around Harrisonburg are fairly small reservoirs used as sources of drinking water. Yet, many are excellent recreational spots with swimming, kayaking, camping, and fishing.
ItIsWild.com: Best Lakes near Harrisonburg Virginia

Harrisonburg has a wide selection of recreational lakes. However, many of them are relatively small and serve as a source of drinking water for various towns.

As a result, none of the options on the list allow fast-paced sports like wakeboarding or waterskiing. Lake Anna, located 73 miles southeast of the city, remains the nearest playground for boaters.

Still, the cozy reservoirs around Harrisonburg offer swimming, fishing, kayaking, and camping, giving you plenty of adventure options.

And the best thing is, most of the lakes on the list are within an hour’s drive. Check out what Harrisonburg has to offer!

Lakes near Harrisonburg:

  1. Newman Lake
  2. Silver Lake
  3. Lake Shenandoah
  4. Switzer Lake
  5. Staunton Reservoir
  6. Todd Lake
  7. Beaver Creek Reservoir
  8. Lake Arrowhead
  9. Lake Laura
  10. Brandywine Lake
  11. Mountain Run Lake
  12. Lake Pelham
Lakes near Harrisonburg Virginia Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Newman Lake

JMU Stadium in Harrisonburg Virginia
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Newman Lake
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 4 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Picnics

A popular feature at James Madison University, a little south of downtown Harrisonburg, is Newman Lake. This 9.7-acre body of water greets those who enter the campus at the Newman Lake Gate entrance on Bluestone Drive, near Interstate 81. 

When the campus first expanded into this area, once known as “Back Campus,” a narrow stream named Sieberts Creek ran through its lowlands after flowing into the east side of the campus.

Newman Lake took shape in 1967 after this section of Sieberts Creek was impounded. Originally 11 acres in size, the dam’s size was reduced to allow for the construction of Sonner Hall and structures along Greek Row. 

Certain traditions have evolved around and within the lake. Nursing school graduates began making it a tradition to “go jump in the lake” in 1982. Mama ducks and their ducklings attend swimming classes in the lake before waddling throughout campus.

The university prohibits boating and swimming in the lake, though summertime fishing has been allowed, depending on water quality levels. A fountain added in 1996 increases the aesthetic beauty of this campus destination. 

2. Silver Lake

silver lake in Virginia
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Silver Lake
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 5 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

A visit to Silver Lake, five miles southwest of downtown, offers a chance to see a place that has recently celebrated an important anniversary. 

Two hundred years ago, in 1822, a mill on the southern shore of Silver Lake was built. At that time, the spring-fed lake had a smaller size. Crews channeled the lake that gets about two million gallons of spring water each day so it could power the mill. 

The subterranean source of the springwater is at the north end of this 12-acre lake. 

The lake offers roadside access but no other facilities. Parking and boat access are prohibited on the dam area of the lake near the mill that impounds the water. 

Aside from some clumps of cattails, the lake’s surface is generally unimpeded by forest or other excessive vegetation.

Simple roadside pullouts allow for parking near the lakeside. Fish commonly caught in the lake include trout, sunfish, carp, and largemouth bass.

3. Lake Shenandoah

Lake in Virginia on a sunny day
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Lake Shenandoah
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 6 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

A drive six miles south of the heart of the city, Lake Shenandoah is a popular body of water that has recently experienced some challenges. 

An impounded lake managed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, this usually-36-acre body of water has long been a popular fishing destination for local residents. 

With a pier, boat ramp, and bank fishing access, residents brought rods and reels to enjoy time along the lake. 

Flood damage along the northern spillway in early 2020 encouraged state officials to lower the lake level by five feet to prevent any damage to the dam. Upon inspection of the dam, officials decided a better course of action involved reconstructing the dam rather than repairing it. 

Work is ongoing, with lake levels lower than expected. Workers repositioned the boat launch areas and floating pier to allow for continued access during construction.

Boating and kayaking are possible, but lower water levels and long-term drainage and sediment concerns have caused problems. 

Those visiting will still find the popular 1.5-mile loop trail by the lake for enjoyable wildflower viewing. Popular fish in Lake Shenandoah include bluegill, crappie, muskellunge, channel catfish, common carp, and largemouth bass.

4. Switzer Lake

Switzer Lake in Virginia
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Switzer Lake
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 21 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Camping, Picnics

A 118-acre lake located 21 miles northwest of the city, Switzer Lake also serves as a water source for Harrisonburg. 

At 2,362 feet above sea level, this body of water – also known as Skidmore Reservoir – is slightly more than 1,000 feet higher than the city, within a beautiful mountainous area of George Washington National Forest a short distance from the West Virginia border. 

The remote location, transparent water, and mountain views make this an attractive destination. Forested mountains surround the site, with the shoreline undeveloped and most of the reservoir’s northern side available for fishing along the shore. 

Although gas motors are prohibited, electric motors are allowed to launch into this deep, cold-water trout habitat. Other fish include bass, catfish, crappie, sunfish, and pike.

While in the area, visitors may want to drive a few additional miles to enjoy the three-mile High Knob Hike that begins at the state line. The hike to High Knob, 4,107 feet above sea level, offers commanding mountainous views in all directions.

5. Staunton Reservoir

  • Website: Staunton Reservoir
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 27 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Hiking, Picnics

A drive 27 miles west-southwest of the city provides access to Staunton Reservoir, another scenic body of water. 

Planning for this 15-acre impoundment of the North River within the Jefferson National Forest and George Washington National Forest began in 1923, as the city of Staunton – 25 miles southwest of Harrisonburg – sought a source of drinking water. 

Nowadays, drinking water flows from the dam area through a tunnel system beneath Lookout Mountain.

The dam preserves a reliable water source for the city and offers an area for fishing. For most of its history, fishing was prohibited along Staunton Reservoir

Authorities recently permitted bank angling, though watercraft or other human contact with the water are not allowed. A free day-use area is available for those who wish to cast a line from the bank.

Fish within the Staunton Reservoir include bluegill, sunfish, channel catfish, trout, rock bass, and smallmouth and largemouth bass.

6. Todd Lake

  • Website: Todd Lake
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 25 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Hiking, Camping, Picnics

Located 25 miles west of Harrisonburg, the Todd Lake Recreation Area within the George Washington National Forest includes 7.5-acre Todd Lake

Located along a section of the Skidmore Fork, this lake, its sandy beach, and a nearby campground in this 21-acre recreation destination are open seasonally from May through October.

Hiking, mountain biking, boating, and swimming are popular summertime diversions. The Trimble Mountain Trail offers a four-mile journey into forested areas to enjoy wildflowers and birdwatching, with a shorter trail also available that encircles much of the lake. 

Non-motorized boats are permitted in deeper portions of the lake. The most common fish caught in Todd Lake is pike. 

7. Beaver Creek Reservoir

Beaver Creek Reservoir in Virginia
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Beaver Creek Reservoir
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 52 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

Located on the northwestern outskirts of Charlottesville, Beaver Creek Reservoir is a 45 to 55-mile drive from Harrisonburg. A journey to Beaver Creek Reservoir offers other outstanding recreation and mountain access opportunities in this area of Virginia. 

Crews created the 104-acre reservoir in 1964 as a source of water for the municipality of Crozet, a town a couple of miles to the west of Beaver Creek Reservoir.

Beaver Creek Park, a 219-acre park surrounding much of the impoundment, offers boating, fishing, and excellent mountain views. Common fish found within the reservoir include channel catfish, largemouth bass, and bluegill. 

Those who wish to enjoy a leisurely drive during their visit to Beaver Creek Reservoir can take a detour near Waynesboro either before or after their time at this location. 

Access to the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park and its impressive Skyline Drive is available by turning north toward the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station

Those heading south past milepost 0 can begin an equally scenic journey along the upper portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

8. Lake Arrowhead

Lake Arrowhead in Virginia
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Lake Arrowhead
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 39 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics

Lake Arrowhead is accessible by traveling approximately 40 miles to the northeast beyond the municipality of Luray. 

The town manages the 134-acre Lake Arrowhead Recreation Park with its multiple picnic shelters, horseshoe pits, playground, sporting fields, and scout camping area. 

A one-mile trail encircles Lake Arrowhead – a 39-acre impoundment with boating and fishing opportunities.

The USDA Soil Conservation Service constructed an earthen dam in 1971 for flood control purposes. The town owns the lake, and the state’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries oversees the stocking of fish at this location at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

The Page Valley Bass Anglers, a local angling group, has also become involved in adding fish attractors.

Anglers enjoy fishing for bass, northern pike, bluegill, walleye, sunfish, crappie, and catfish. Midnight catfishing is offered on occasion, as well. 

A nice tourist attraction to visit in Luray, just eight miles away, is Luray Caverns.

9. Lake Laura

  • Website: Lake Laura
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 30 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics

A drive 30 miles north of the city offers an opportunity to visit Lake Laura. Bryce Mountain Resort owns this 44-acre impoundment in southwestern Shenandoah County. Since 1991, the state has managed the fishery that captures the Big Stony Creek headwaters. 

Although most of the shoreline around Lake Laura is in private hands, a boat launch area and shoreline fishing area near the dam are open to the public.

Private boats may access Lake Laura, though no gasoline-powered motors are permitted. Some areas may experience seasonal closures. 

Commonly found fish in Lake Laura include crappie, walleye, pumpkinseed catfish, bluegill, northern pike, and largemouth bass.

10. Brandywine Lake

a lake in West Virginia on a sunny summer day
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Brandywine Lake
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 27 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Hiking, Camping, Picnics

A drive 27 miles northwest of the city and approximately 8 miles beyond Switzer Lake takes visitors into West Virginia to enjoy Brandywine Lake

Located approximately two miles east of the West Virginia town of Brandywine and 4 miles from the state line, the Brandywine Recreation Area, managed by the US Forest Service, has seasonal facilities open from mid-May into December, offering camping, hiking, mountain biking, swimming, boating, and fishing.

A central focus for most visitors is the ten-acre Brandywine Lake. Anglers enjoy their quest to hook the game species in this park, including common carp, bluegill, bass, brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout. Other fish found here are creek chub and white suckers.

11. Mountain Run Lake

A lake in Virginia during pink sunset
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Mountain Run Lake
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 62 miles (1h 20min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

A drive of approximately 60 miles east, to the opposite side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offers an opportunity to visit Mountain Run Lake

Located a few miles west of Culpepper, Mountain Run Lake Park occupies a prominent area along the northeastern corner of the 75-acre lake. Culpeper County Parks & Recreation recently assumed ownership of this park.

The views of rolling hills along the Blue Ridge, birds that migrate through the area, and the always-inviting lake entice visitors who come to this park. 

Waterfowl found along the shoreline include the double-breasted cormorant and pied-billed grebe, as well as migrating killdeer, goldfinch, blackbirds, and pine warblers. 

A pier and narrow boat launch are available for those who wish to fish. Electric-powered boats are permitted for anglers who wish to cast a line for largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, brown bullhead, channel catfish, and redear sunfish.

12. Lake Pelham

A medium-sized lake in virginia
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Lake Pelham
  • Distance from Harrisonburg: 61 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Hiking, Picnics, Rentals

Another body of water in Culpepper worth visiting is Lake Pelham. Located a few miles away from Mountain Run Lake, this 255-acre reservoir serves as the town’s source of water supply. 

Although some developments are located near the lake, the area still retains some of its forested character, including sloped shore banks.

Lake Pelham is well-known by locals as the go-to location for crappie and channel catfish. Some anglers believe this is one of the top channel catfish sites in Northern Virginia. 

Yellow perch, bluegill, largemouth bass, and pumpkinseed sunfish are also found here. 

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