Central Virginia’s Best Flatwater Paddling

Explore 6 pristine paddling lakes within 20 miles of Charlottesville.

Twenty miles isn’t much…just 352 football fields. For Virginia paddlers measuring that distance from Charlottesville, a 20-mile driving radius is all that’s needed to find numerous worthwhile options for flatwater paddling tours in every direction. Short drives and plentiful access mean that you can launch your kayak, canoe, or SUP for a relaxing float or a focused workout—and still get back home or to work with time to spare. With that magic perimeter in mind, here are the best publicly accessible lakes near Charlottesville for paddling and enjoying active time on the water.

Lake Albemarle

Head off the beaten path to this little-known, 35-acre reservoir in Westover Hills to avoid crowds. Hit it on a weekday and you might even have it to yourself. But don’t expect fancy amenities. It’s relatively underdeveloped, with just parking and a boat ramp—no picnic tables or even restrooms. While it doesn’t allow camping and swimming, its tranquil waters are suitable for paddling in all its forms, as well as electric-motor boating and fishing. If you don’t already have a fishing or boat license, pick up an access permit here. More info: dwr.virginia.gov 

Charlottesville Reservoir

Located just 7 miles from the city in the beautiful Ragged Mountain Natural Area, medium-sized Charlottesville Reservoir is a quick and easy escape to a paddling playground. As with Albemarle, its facilities are limited (no swimming, and electric motors only), with just a parking area and boat ramp, but that’s all you need for a great day out on the water. It also boasts a nice trail system for when you’re back on land and ready for your legs to do some work, too. Hint: For the best scenery, hike the 7-mile-long loop around the lake. More info: charlottesville.gov


Beaver Creek Reservoir

Just 12 miles west of Charlottesville lies another nearby crown jewel of the region: Beaver Creek Reservoir, whose 104 acres serve up a surprisingly natural setting so close to the city. This one is more developed, with a pier, boat ramp, picnic areas and restrooms, but still no swimming and only electric motors. While there aren’t any hiking trails in the immediate area, the surrounding roads offer gravel riders in particular with excellent options to explore the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Meanwhile, paddlers have enough room to roam the scenic waters by SUP, kayak or canoe—while getting you home in time for chores or celebrating with your friends. More info: dwr.virginia.gov

Mint Springs Valley Park

While a little farther away than the others (20 miles from town), Mint Springs Valley Park is well worth the extra drive. The 520-acre park offers a series of lakes for paddling and swimming and is one of the most developed lake areas in the region. Amenities include reservable picnic shelters, a playground and sand volleyball court, 5 miles of hiking trails, restrooms, swimming beaches, plus a kiosk for kayak rentals. Angler bonus: It’s one of a few lakes in the area that gets stocked with trout. More info: albemarle.org

Walnut Creek Park

Branch out of your routine and head to 45-acre Walnut Branch Reservoir is Walnut Creek Park. Located 14 miles south of Charlottesville, it includes (similar to Mint Springs) a swimming beach, picnic and grilling areas, playgrounds, a boat ramp, and kayak rentals. It also has some of the region’s best, family-friendly hiking and mountain biking trails (totaling more than 15 miles), arranged in a stacked loop system that circle the lake and traverse the wooded 525-acre park. More info: albemarle.org

Chris Greene Lake

This 53-acre Chris Greene Lake is another ideal option for paddling with the family, complete with swimming beaches, picnic areas, boat ramp, fishing pier, restrooms, paddlecraft rentals, and about 5 miles of trails for hiking. And dog owners rejoice: It also has a designated dog park where your pooches can also cool off with a swim. More info: albemarle.org

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.