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4 Lakeside Getaways for Swimming, Fishing, Kayaking, and More

Rent a waterfront house and do whatever floats your boat.
Deep Creek Lake, three hours from DC, is the place to rent any type of watercraft—whether a jet ski or a pontoon boat.

Where the Action Is: Deep Creek Lake

Maryland’s largest lake is in a breathtaking Allegheny Mountain setting—which makes it particularly ideal during the height of summer. At an elevation of more than 2,400 feet, the temperatures tend to be 10 to 15 degrees cooler than in Washington.

While the scenery is peaceful, the lake isn’t always. On summer weekends, the water can be crawling with jet skis and speedboats, and you can rent just about any kind of watercraft—from a standup paddleboard to a 12-person pontoon party boat. If you hate just sitting around, it’s perfect: You can go tubing, wakeboarding, and waterskiing. Or head to the Deep Creek Splash Island Inflatable Water Park, a water obstacle course (20160 Garrett Hwy., Oakland; 833-277-5274).

Still, you can usually also find a quiet cove to go for a swim, especially at the southern end of the lake.

The surrounding towns of McHenry, Oakland, and Swanton don’t have much in the way of knickknack shopping—a mixed blessing—but all offer house and condo rentals, rustic cabins and lodges, cozy B&Bs, and economy hotels. A two-bedroom townhouse or cottage with lake access is about $1,500 to $2,000 a week in August, according to Railey Realty, while a six-bedroom house with a private dock might be $5,300 to $10,000.

The best place to stay if you’re visiting with kids is on the lake’s northern tip, near McHenry—about a three-hour drive from DC. The largest of the three towns, it’s also home to Wisp Resort (296 Marsh Hill Rd.; 800-462-9477), where in summer both resort guests and non-guests can ride the Mountain Coaster, a hybrid alpine slide and roller coaster; challenge themselves on the Flying Squirrel canopy tour’s five ziplines; or take a scenic chairlift ride to enjoy the mountain views.

At a glance:

Size of the lake: 3,900 acres.
Trip highlights: Boating, water sports, hiking, mountain and road biking, golf.
Boat traffic and noise level: Very noisy in the center of the lake, with lots of jet skis and powerboats.
Best places to stay: A lakefront house—Railey Mountain Lake Vacations handles more than 450 properties for rent—or Suites at Silver Tree, a four-star lakeside hotel (565 Glendale Rd., Oak­land; 800-711-1719).

Close and Quiet: Lake Anna

A 90-minute drive away, Lake Anna is Washington’s closest lake escape. Photograph by Ivan Smuk/Shutterstock.
A 90-minute drive away, Lake Anna is Washington’s closest lake escape. Photograph by Ivan Smuk/Shutterstock.

Want a getaway nearer to DC? Lake Anna, Virginia, is just an hour and a half away. It’s also a quieter spot than Deep Creek Lake to go sailing, waterskiing, and fishing.

Accommodations range from two-bedroom cottages to luxurious six-bedroom lakefront homes. For a week in August, expect to pay $1,300 to $2,500 for a three-bedroom cottage with lake access or $2,800 to $4,000 for a six-bedroom house with a private dock, according to Lake Anna Rental Properties.

The body of water itself has a split personality, as it’s divided into two parts to serve the operation of the North Anna Nuclear Power Station. (The lake was built in 1971 as a water supply for the plant.) The southern section is privately owned, the northern side open to the public. To boat on the lake, you must own or rent a house on the private side or else launch from Lake Anna State Park (6800 Lawyers Rd., Spotsylvania Courthouse; 540-854-5503) or one of the marinas that offer boat rentals on the northern end. During summer, it’s key to arrive early—the park turns away visitors when it fills.

With ten miles of shoreline, the park is a picturesque place to swim, picnic, and fish; it also has a pond that’s more accessible to children and the disabled. For a good workout, you can hike the Goodwin Gold Mine Loop, a seven-to-eight-mile combination of trails through the woods.

While water activities are the reason to head to Lake Anna, visitors can also enjoy concerts and exhibits at the Louisa Arts Center (212 Fredericksburg Ave., Louisa; 540-967-5200) or a wine-tasting at Lake Anna Winery (5621 Courthouse Rd., Spotsylvania Courthouse; 540-895-5085). For fun with the kids, there’s the Boardwalk on Lake Anna (200 Boardwalk Way, Mineral; 540-894-5011), with mini-golf and beach volleyball.

At a glance:

Size of the lake: 13,000 acres.
Trip highlights: Boating, swimming, fishing, hiking.
Boat traffic and noise level: Moderate.
Best place to stay: A lakefront house, which you can rent through Lake Anna Rental Properties, Airbnb, or VRBO.

A Hidden Gem: Lake Moomaw

Lake Moomaw, four and a half hours away, offers gorgeous mountain scenery—and quiet. Photograph by Fire at Will Photography/FOAP.
Lake Moomaw, four and a half hours away, offers gorgeous mountain scenery—and quiet. Photograph by Fire at Will Photography/FOAP.

Really want to get away from lots of other people? Consider Lake Moomaw, a four-and-a-half-hour drive from DC. The stunning mountain lake in the Alleghany Highlands of Virginia is surrounded by unspoiled, richly forested land. There are no houses and no development on the lake—only campgrounds. The closest towns, Covington and Clifton Forge, are 14 and 25 miles away. You’re in the middle of nowhere, or at least an approximation of it.

What you will find is a lot of outdoor activity, including fishing, horseback riding, swimming, and water sports. Bolar Flat Marina (7368-A Bolars Draft Rd., Warm Springs; 540-279-4144) rents all manner of boats, including motorboats and canoes. There’s also more than 100 miles of hiking and biking trails. From Bolar Mountain Campground (756 Twin Ridge Dr., Warm Springs; 540-839-2521), you can hike 11 miles round-trip, to the Islands Overlook Spur and Grouse Point Overlook, to check out some of the region’s best scenery. Meanwhile, Jackson River—which was dammed to form the lake—is an easy place to do some kayaking, with Class I and II rapids. Below the river’s Gathright Dam are six public areas providing access to 18 miles of navigable water.

Visitors who’d rather enjoy this slice of the rough without actually roughing it have one upscale option nearby: the Omni Homestead Resort, 30 minutes away (7696 Sam Snead Hwy., Hot Springs; 540-839-1766), lets guests sign up for a guided day trip to the lake.

At a glance:

Size of the lake: 2,530 acres.
Trip highlights: Boating, fishing, hiking, biking.
Boat traffic and noise level: Quiet.
Best places to stay: Greenwood Point Campgrounds or Bolar Mountain Recreation Area.

Secluded Coves and Rental Houses: John H. Kerr Reservoir

John H. Kerr Reservoir, three and a half hours away, has hidden coves to explore. Photograph by Sam Dean/Virginia Tourism Corporation.
John H. Kerr Reservoir, three and a half hours away, has hidden coves to explore. Photograph by Sam Dean/Virginia Tourism Corporation.

If bigger is better, Virginia’s John H. Kerr Reservoir—also known as Buggs Island Lake—is a good option. With more than 850 miles of shoreline, it’s so huge that its creeks expand across three counties in Virginia and three more in North Carolina. That adds up to a lot of lake to play on. There are plenty of coves to explore, many secluded lake houses, and more than 30 boat ramps.

The best and closest-to-DC place to stay is Occoneechee State Park, in Virginia (1192 Occoneechee Park Rd., Clarksville; 434-374-2210), a three-and-a-half-hour drive. You can camp there or stay in a two- or three-bedroom cabin with beautiful views of the lake. The park has its own marina, three docks, and boat rentals. There’s also 20 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails.

Three miles from the park, the town of Clarksville is a good place to stock up on supplies. You can grab a bite at the Lamplighter Restaurant and Lounge (201 Virginia Ave.; 434-374-0230), Cooper’s Landing Inn & Traveler’s Tavern (801 Virginia Ave.; 434-374-2866), or Buggs Island Brewing Company (110 College St.; 434-265-3343).

If you like to fish, be sure to visit the Philip St. Julian Wilson Bridge, which runs along Virginia Route 15 and crosses the lake near the town of Clarksville. Go at night when it’s lit up—it’s a hot spot in the evening for freshwater angling.

At a glance:

Size of the lake: 50,000 acres.
Trip highlights: Boating, fishing, hiking, biking.
Boat traffic and noise level: Variable, because it’s so large; the quietest spot is near the state park.
Best place to stay: Occoneechee State Park’s cabins and campgrounds.

This article appears in the July 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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