Visitors to Smith Mountain Lake can easily spot trailhead parking as they venture into the depths of the park. On the approach to the visitor center, a large parking area, information kiosk, picnic tables, and trailhead signs welcome the hiker.
Chestnut Ridge Trail begins across the road with a trail sign greeting its visitors. It's an easy, level trail (1.5-mile) that travels on a ridge above the lake. The trail is fairly beaten, so one need not worry about getting lost on the peninsula. The mixture of plant life can keep the botanist busy identifying running cedar, lots of moss, beautiful rhododendron, dogwood, Southern lady fern, white pine, and a host of other grasses, shrubs and trees.
When beginning the trail, bear right at the first fork. Eventually you'll come to a junction leading back to the parking lot or to the overlook, which is more of an extended lookout from the tip of the peninsula. Panoramic views are quite photogenic. My midweek trip rewarded me with a sighting of four wild turkeys, one white-tailed deer, and a chorus of songbirds fluttering overhead. Powerboats didn't break nature's harmony.
On the return loop, you can't miss the remnants of an old cedar cabin.
More serious hikers should check with park staff regarding trails at nearby Peaks of Otter and the private site of Westvaco.
Directions: From Lynchburg, VA, Travel south on U.S. Highway 29 for 6 miles. Turn west (right) onto Rt. 24. Travel 15 miles to Rt. 707 and turn left. Travel 1 mile. Turn left (south) onto Rt. 43 and travel 2 miles. Turn right (west) onto Rt. 626 and travel 11 miles to the park entrance. After passing the contact station, make a left onto Interpretive Trail Road. Follow until you reach trailhead parking. Signage is excellent.
Elevation: 600 feet
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
Distance: 1.5 miles
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Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia
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