It’s no secret Smith Mountain Lake is a vacationer’s paradise. Visitors flock here to enjoy the scenic mountain views, sparkling water and abundance of recreational opportunities. Many likely spend at least part of their vacation time dreaming about what it would be like to call SML home.
As a full-time resident here for nearly 25 years, I can attest that living at the lake is pretty darn great. The pace of life is unhurried with little need to worry about traffic, crowds or an outrageous cost of living.
Ours is a friendly, welcoming community comprised of proud natives and grateful transplants. While some are lucky retirees, others (like yours truly) have sought out SML as a place to work and raise their families—all while enjoying the best of what the lake area offers in four distinct seasons.
If you’re thinking of making a permanent move to Smith Mountain Lake, I’ve compiled a few thoughts on what you may want to take into consideration. While this is certainly just the tip of the iceberg, I hope it provides valuable insight.
Lay of the land
First, let me share some SML basics and explain a little local lingo. The lake was created 50 years ago to generate electricity via a hydroelectric facility, and to manage downstream water flow. It is 40 miles long with approximately 500 miles of shoreline, which means multiple river channels and lots and lots of coves to explore.
Smith Mountain Lake’s shoreline borders three different counties—Bedford, Franklin and Pittsylvania—which is why you’ll often hear locals refer to various regions of the lake as “the Bedford side,” “the Franklin side” and “south side.” There’s no right or wrong “side” as each has its own advantages based on personal preferences and priorities.
Most of the western shorelines of SML are in Franklin County, which is where you’ll find abundant commercial development, primarily in the area known as Westlake Corner and at Hales Ford Bridge. Living on this side of the lake is ideal for those who value being close to amenities such as a movie theater, retail shops, home and garden outlets, an ABC store, restaurants and healthcare (mostly Lewis-Gale and Carilion Clinic facilities, including an urgent care center).
Westlake Towne Center is home to a large, upscale Kroger that carries a wide variety of products foodies find appealing, including plentiful organic offerings. There’s also a huge selection of wine and beer (regular and craft) with on-site expert Lonnie Bryant happy to hook you up with recommendations. On Tuesdays, seniors earn an extra five percent off their purchases. You’ll find a full-service pharmacy at Kroger, as well as across the street at CVS. Two Dollar General Stores—one at Westlake Corner and one further south on Scruggs Road—are convenient spots to pick up household goods, groceries and other necessities.
At Hales Ford Bridge, which connects Franklin and Bedford counties, you’ll find Bridgewater Plaza, a hub for small-scale, eclectic shopping (gifts, clothing, accessories, art) and dining that’s accessible by car and boat. For major shopping or commuting to work, Rocky Mount and Roanoke are most convenient. Rocky Mount has a Wal-Mart (approximately 20 minutes from Westlake), but if you need a Target fix, you’ll have to drive about 45 minutes to the Valley View Mall area of Roanoke.
A number of established residential developments are easily accessible from Scruggs Road, including the lake’s oldest golf course community, The Waterfront Country Club, and several maintenance-free neighborhoods (more on that later).
Most of the eastern shoreline of SML is in Bedford County, which offers similar amenities, though not quite as plentiful. Here you’ll find healthcare provided primarily by Lynchburg-based Centra, a number of stand-alone retail outlets and restaurants, as well as Downtown Moneta, a planned residential and commercial development with several shops, eateries and other businesses. Other popular local destinations include Diamond Hill General Store, which includes a deli, wine shop, gift shop and garden center, and Moneta Farm & Home Center for supplies related to home, garden, docks, pets, horses and more.
Most residents on this side of the lake do their grocery shopping at a nice, well-stocked Food Lion located conveniently on Moneta Road (Route 122). You’ll find all the necessities here, including a deli, bakery, ample wine and beer selections, and a pharmacy. Nearby is a Dollar General, a new ABC store and a Benzer Pharmacy. For the big stuff, Bedford has a Wal-Mart (about 20 minutes from the aforementioned Food Lion shopping center). Lynchburg has abundant shopping choices, including a Target about 45 minutes away.
While housing is generally more remote, this side of the lake is home to Mariners Landing, a popular resort community that offers a variety of home and condo choices, as well as a golf course, pools, beach area, fitness facility, restaurant and boat docks.
The south side of the lake, often referred to as Southlake, is accessible from Route 40 (Old Franklin Turnpike) and is ideal for those looking for a more secluded Smith Mountain Lake existence, as well as convenient access to Danville, Martinsville and North Carolina. Development here is primarily in Franklin County with a small amount of shoreline in Pittsylvania County, including access to Smith Mountain Dam.
Southlake has limited commercial development but is home to a Dollar General, a locally owned general store, several nurseries, gift shops and convenience stores. Locals love Carl’s Place, a combination convenience store and short-order grill that’s a hot spot daily for biscuits, breakfast platters and burgers. Yum!
For grocery and other shopping, those who live on the south side of the lake travel to Westlake Corner, Rocky Mount or Gretna, all of which are about 20-25 minutes away. For bigger needs, Roanoke, Lynchburg and Danville are roughly equidistant.
Residential development is secluded on the south side; however, it is home to The Water’s Edge Country Club, a private golf course community where you’ll find some of the lake’s most spectacular homes. Nearby Contentment Island is another popular waterfront neighborhood.
Smith Mountain Lake offers a wide variety of housing options —from modest condominiums to functional townhomes to luxurious mansions. Off-water properties or those with limited lake access are generally more affordable than lakefront options, which can vary significantly in price based on the home’s size, age, slope of the lot, amount of waterfrontage, water depth and whether it has an existing dock.
SML has a number of resort and country club communities with a wide array of amenities such as on-site swimming pools, fitness facilities, restaurants, golf courses, tennis and pickle ball courts, equestrian facilities and shared docks. The most established include The Waterfront, The Water’s Edge, The Westlake, The Boardwalk, Bridgewater Bay, Bridgewater Pointe, Lands End, Contentment Island, Mariners Landing, Bernard’s Landing and Vista Pointe.
Many of these communities offer maintenance-free options if you’re ready to leave the burden of lawn maintenance and other home-related chores behind. Also available is Runk & Pratt, a senior living facility in the heart of Westlake Corner that offers independent cottages, as well as full-service age-related care.
Ultimately, what type of housing you choose comes down to cost and market availability. To determine that, you should consult with a qualified real estate professional. There are many experienced and reputable agents here who can provide in-depth information to help you make the most informed buying decision. Ask around for referrals or consult with the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce.
One thing you won’t have to worry about when making a permanent move to Smith Mountain Lake is how you’ll fill your days. During the warmer months, there are tons of outdoor activities to enjoy, including hiking, biking, fishing and boating.
My husband and I don’t own a boat, but we take advantage of the generosity of friends who do whenever possible. Our group particularly enjoys anchoring in a quiet cove and floating the afternoon away before heading to Portside Grill & Bar for chicken wings and a bucket of beer. Portside, a local favorite that’s only open in season, is one of about 20 restaurants accessible by water. On weekdays, boat traffic is considerably lighter, often to the point where you feel you have the lake all to yourself.
If you don’t have access to a boat for outdoor activities, there are a number of companies that rent by the day or week. In addition, the SML State Park (Bedford County) and SML Community Park (Franklin County) have public fishing piers, beach access for swimming, and miles of scenic hiking and biking trails available for a small fee. Golf is also popular at SML, with two private courses and two public courses open year-round (weather permitting) and dozens more within an hour’s drive.
Community service is a big part of life at SML with many residents involved in faith-based and secular outreach programs. Lake Christian Ministries, the Agape Center and SML Good Neighbors are just a few of the organizations that keep volunteers busy year-round. Other opportunities exist at local schools, churches, hospitals, fire and rescue squads, historic sites, humane societies (and other animal-related groups) and more.
Smith Mountain Lake also prides itself on having a thriving arts community with ample opportunity to enjoy—and participate in—visual, performing and literary arts. The Smith Mountain Arts Council helps facilitate programs for those interested in writing, singing, acting, painting, songwriting, dancing, musical performance, photography and more. Book clubs are also really popular here. Smith Mountain Lake has two convenient libraries—one at Westlake Corner and the other near Downtown Moneta.
Beyond artistic pursuits, there are clubs galore at SML. You’ll find active groups for professional and service organizations, including Rotary, Lions and Civitan clubs. If politics is your thing, consider SML Democrats or the SML Republican Women’s Club. Of course, you’ll also find plenty of outdoor-related groups such as the SML Boating Association, the SML Striper Club and the SML Chapter of the Antique & Classic Boat Society. The Smith Mountain Lake Association is a large organization that advocates for a safe and healthy lake through a variety of programs spearheaded by volunteers.
Fitness facilities also are plentiful at Smith Mountain Lake. There are YMCA branches at Westlake Corner and Downtown Moneta, a Zumba studio, as well as several private fitness centers and personal trainers. Also opening in 2017 is Carilion Wellness at Runk & Pratt, an 18,000-square-foot facility geared toward the needs of active seniors. In addition to functional training, group classes and aquatic therapy, Carilion Wellness offers nutritional counseling, health screenings and educational opportunities related to health and diet.
This and that
Most businesses are open year-round and rely on locals to carry them through the winter, so consider shopping and dining local whenever possible.
A number of barbers and hair salons as well as spas, massage facilities and nail salons dot the SML landscape. There are also several beloved veterinarians ready to care for your pets.
Finding a spiritual home shouldn’t be difficult as the lake area offers dozens of churches in many denominations, including Baptist, Brethren, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and more. Several Jewish synagogues and Greek Orthodox churches are located in Roanoke and Lynchburg.
Ready to move to Smith Mountain Lake? Great! There’s just one more thing worth mentioning: Expect friends and family to want to visit more often once you call Smith Mountain Lake your permanent home.
Some photos were provided by: Andie Gibson and The Willard Companies