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Cool Off with Shenandoah Valley Water Fun

Aerial View Of Kayakers And Mountains By Synaptic Visuals

Summer is a magical time of year to be outside in the Shenandoah Valley, but sometimes it can get downright muggy. Fortunately, lakes, rivers, streams, and natural areas in and around our communities offer a range of water-themed activities like swimming, paddling, fishing, and relaxing. Here are our localities’ best bets for summer fun on the water during the Valley’s hottest weather!

Paddling in the Water

If you’re looking for the best places to drop in your kayak, canoe, or paddleboard, look no further. The North Fork of the Shenandoah River flows through beautiful Shenandoah County and features eight public access points for paddlers and fishermen. Two are located in Woodstock’s Seven Bends State Park, a thousand acres of natural land that hugs the river. Paddle, fish, or explore the park’s hiking and biking trails before cooling off with a treat from Sugar Creek Snowy and Sweet Creamery.

Waynesboro is another prime spot for water fun. Visitors can splash in the large public pool in Ridgeview Park. The park also provides access to the 4-mile stretch of the South River known as the Waynesboro Water Trail. The water trail runs through the city and connects several parks with launch access for canoes, kayaks, and tubes, which can be rented from Rockfish Gap Outfitters. Adventurers that get out at Constitution Park can have a picnic or walk to over a dozen downtown restaurants like The River Burger Bar and Basic City Beer Co. Waynesboro is also home to Virginia’s first designated urban trout fishery. Award-winning South River Fly Shop can help prepare you for a fishing trip with gear, lessons, or guide services.

A red and a yellow kayak sitting along the water bank of the South River, with various people standing in the distance
Kayaks along the bank of the South River

Fishing in the Lakes

Speaking of fishing, we also have the best spots around the Shenandoah Valley where you can catch your next one. Deep in George Washington National Forest, 118-acre Switzer Lake Reservoir holds the water supply for the city of Harrisonburg. Swimming and gas-powered boats aren’t allowed, but a boat launch makes it easy to explore and fish with a canoe or kayak. Cold, deep water makes trout thrive in this put-and-grow fishery. Shallow Lake Shenandoah is another excellent fishing spot where fishermen can catch largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, carp, channel catfish, and musky from the shore or from non-motorized boats. Finally, Rockingham County’s portion of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River is one of Virginia’s premier smallmouth and largemouth bass fisheries. Fuel up after a day on the water at Thirsty’s Burgers or Cave Hill Farms Brewery.

A kayak on the water of Switzer Lake Reservoir at sunset
Kayaking on Switzer Lake Reservoir

Dry River, which runs along US Rt. 33 west of Harrisonburg, is considered one of the best wild brook trout streams in Virginia. 14 miles of the stream are open to the public with pull-offs and access points, including Harrisonburg’s 27-acre Riven Rock Park. Kids will love wading in the water, netting minnows, and skipping stones. Pick up your picnic lunch at Lola’s Deli, Heritage Bakery, or another local shop, and make a day out of it. The park has trails, horseshoe pits, picnic shelters, individual picnic areas, and a comfort station. 

Named for Staunton’s Captain William Purviance Tams, the “Father of Gypsy Hill Park,” Lake Tams offers some surprisingly good catches for a small pond in the city. The 2.5-acre stormwater retention pond is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish. Lake Tams is easy to access with clear and gently sloping banks. It’s home to two annual fishing derbies and is perfect for introducing your youngest family members to fishing. After you fish, head to Gypsy Hill Park’s nearby duck pond, a picturesque enclosure where you can feed ducks, geese, and swans. If you visit Staunton on a weekend, take advantage of the wealth of outdoor dining options including Remedy Burger and Shenandoah Pizza & Taphouse located along Beverley Street during Shop and Dine Out in Downtown

A young boy holding a carp fish, standing in front of Lake Tams in Gypsy Hill Park
A Carp caught at Lake Tams in Gypsy Hill Park

Relaxing on the Shore

If you’d rather relax, kick back on the grassy beach at Bryce Resort’s 45-acre Lake Laura. This Shenandoah County gem has deep-water diving platforms and onsite kayak, canoe, paddleboard, paddle boat, and tube rentals. After your lazy beach day, catch a meal or a drink at nearby RHouse Wine & Cafe or Swover Creek Farm Brewery. Looking to stay for a peaceful weekend? Reserve a site at Edinburg’s family-owned Creekside Campground and enjoy wading and fishing in Stoney Creek.

Relax all day or weekend at Sherando Lake Recreation Area. The area has a campground, bathrooms with showers, and miles of hiking and biking trails running through the national forest. Known as the Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the 25-acre spring-fed lake is the star of the show. Not only is it incredibly beautiful, but it’s also a wonderful place to swim, paddle, fish, and play. Adults can spread blankets in the shade as kids frolic on the big, sandy beach and in the roped-off swimming area. Fish from bank, boat, or fishing pier. El Gran Puerto and Micali’s Trattoria are nice places to dine on your way back from the lake.

Various people scattered along the beach at Sherando Lake Recreation Area on a sunny day
Beach-goers relaxing at Sherando Lake Recreation Area

Shenandoah Valley lakes, rivers, and streams provide chances to cool off and revel in being outdoors. Plan your trip today and spend a hot summer afternoon enjoying one of our natural bodies of water.

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