The History of Smith Mountain Lake

The Roanoke River runs through southern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. In the 1920’s an idea was proposed to dam the river to generate electricity but it wasn’t until 40 years later that the Appalachian Power Company completed the two dams which make up the unique project which created Smith Mountain Lake. Construction on the Smith Mountain and Leesville dams began in 1960 and was completed in 1963. Hundreds of workers cleared several hundred thousand cubic yards of mountainside and about 175,000 cubic yards of concrete was poured to build the project.

When all said and done, combined together, Smith Mountain and Leesville Lakes are around 60 miles in length and contain about 25,000 surface acres and 600 miles of shoreline. In 1966 Smith Mountain Lake reached its normal water level and it has been a vacation destination for thousands ever since.


To learn more about this amazing undertaking please visit the

Smith Mountain Lake Dam and Visitor Center.


At the Visitor Center overlooking the Dam, you’ll enjoy learning how electricity is generated in a pumped storage and hydroelectric project. There are hands-on exhibits and computer models to try, a theatre with audio-visual presentations, and a three-dimensional terrain map, which shows the lake area as if viewed from an altitude of 25,000 feet. Outside the Visitors Center there are overlook areas providing spectacular views of the dam, gorge and lake plus picnic facilities with charcoal grills located near the base of the dam.” “One of the most interesting places to visit at the Lake is American Electric Power’s Smith Mountain Lake Dam.




The Blue Ridge Parkway

Passing right through the Roanoke and Smith Mountain Lake areas, the Blue Ridge Parkway, also known as “America’s Favorite Drive” is an experience unlike anything else you will find. Its a slow-paced and wonderfully relaxing drive that reveals breathtaking vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountain landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway spreads out for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals, and providing opportunities for enjoying all that makes this region of the country so special.



Click here to view Popular Historic Sites at Smith Mountain Lake

Smith Mountain Lake’s surrounding counties are rich with history, heritage and culture. Read on for a guide to SML’s nearby historical sites, museums, and attractions.



Looking For Other Adventurous Activities to Checkout around the Smith Mountain Lake Area?

Use this informative page to guild you through the 7 Natural Wonders of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains!



Surrounding County Information


Bedford County
While in Bedford, be sure to take a walking tour of the historic Centertown District, which includes a meeting house, court house, and museum.

Franklin County
While in Franklin County, take some time to walk through its county seat, Rocky Mount, and take in the sites and historic buildings. Franklin County is also the boyhood home of Confederate General Jubal Early. Currently, there is a fund raising campaign in place to restore the General’s boyhood home to its original condition. More information about this historic restoration can be found here.

Pittsylvania County
While in Pittsylvania County be sure to visit Virginia’s only two streetcar diners, a Greek Revival courthouse (c1853), and lots of Victorian era architecture (c1777).