You don’t have to travel far to dip a paddle blade in a pristine and tranquil lake near Charlottesville, Va. Located on the city’s northeastern outskirts, the 450-acre South Fork Rivanna Reservoir is the largest body of water in the area, drawing paddlers of all types as an instant escape with its easy access.
Owned and operated by the city of Charlottesville as a water supply reservoir, the man-made lake is formed by the Rivanna Mills dam near the main paddling launch off state Route 29, creating 5 miles of flatwater as a playground for paddlers, rowers and anglers. With gas-powered motors prohibited, the miles of undisturbed, forested shoreline and secluded coves offer a perfect getaway for canoeing, kayaking and standup paddleboarding. While you’re not allowed to swim in the reservoir, since it’s municipal drinking water, you can paddle to your heart’s content, heading upstream past the University of Virginia’s Rowing Boathouse until you encounter the river current coming in from above—covering that distance is a six-hour round-trip excursion sure to unplug you from busy work weeks.
If you want to try your hand at fishing from either a canoe or a specialized fish kayak, you picked a great spot. The lake contains largemouth bass, bluegill, black and white crappie, redear sunfish and channel catfish. Try to catch them all for the Grand Slam. As evidenced by their limits, they’re plentiful: Largemouth bass have a harvest limit of five per day; sunfish 50; crappie 25; and catfish 20. While you can fish for them from shore, they’re even more fun to reel in from your paddlecraft. And reminder: You won’t have much competition from faster anglers as gas-powered boats aren’t allowed. More info: dwr.virginia.gov
Bring your binoculars with you and keep them handy. On your paddle you’re likely to glimpse great blue and the smaller green herons (likely out hunting small fish), belted kingfishers, Canada geese, a variety of ducks—and even bald eagles and ospreys as raptors have recently moved back to the Rivanna.