Martinsville, Virginia


The Secrets of the Smith

The Secrets of the Smith

There is a secret treasure hidden on the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southern Virginia, and it is less than a day’s drive from five major cities in Virginia and North Carolina. The beautiful Smith River has it all: paddling, fishing, hiking, and more. Come for the relaxation and adventures of the river and stay for the festivals, music, events, food and fun!

Rising on the eastern face of the mountains near Lovers Leap and flowing through the valleys in Patrick, Henry and Franklin counties; the beautiful Smith River is wild, scenic, and provides miles of recreation. The remote sections of the Smith above Philpott Lake are seldom travelled but can be paddled in a canoe or kayak, while the lower river from Philpott Dam to the North Carolina line can be enjoyed by novice and experienced paddlers and fishermen. The river is held back by Philpott Dam at the northwestern corner of Henry County, creating 3,000 acres of lake enabling a variety of recreation that is enjoyed by visitors throughout the year. Philpott Lake is a boating and fishing paradise with 100 miles of pristine shoreline, full service marina, camping, world class walleye and smallmouth bass fishing and incredible vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lake paddling is also offered at the nearby facilities of Fairy Stone State Park and Beaver Creek Reservoir.

Slip back to a simpler time in a nearby getaway, wet a line, float lazily down the river, hike, bike or explore history and nature. The Smith River Valley has it all. Spend the day on a beautiful lake, or let the river carry your canoe or kayak along. Although close to modern conveniences, you can be transported to century-old mill towns, historic railroads and river navigation structures, a prehistoric stone fish weir, and experience the timeless beauty of nature and wildlife here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In the scenic gorge below the dam, paddlers take advantage of the flow during hydropower generation and anglers benefit from the superb trout fishery supported by the 50-degree water. Many varied river trips are possible on the scenic miles that follow through small towns across the valley. From the base of Philpott Dam to the Henry County line there are 11 public river access locations available for boating and angling or just wading and relaxing. During hydroelectric power generation, the dramatically increased flows and cold water create river conditions between Philpott Dam and the Bassett Access point that challenge intermediate and more experienced paddlers. The water release schedule can be obtained 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling (276) 629-2432. Below Martinsville Dam, the river travels another twenty miles through rural settings and historic regions on its way to Eden, North Carolina, where it is slowed once more by the historic Spray Dam before reaching its confluence with the Dan River. 

Aside from fishing for wild brown trout on one of the premier streams in the country and paddling through beautiful scenery, you may be surprised to find that there’s much more to experience in the Smith River Valley. Come to the area for special events such as NASCAR racing at Martinsville Speedway, Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival, tournaments at Smith River Sports Complex and much, much more. Smith River Fest, coming soon in August, offers a unique opportunity to celebrate the great outdoors of Martinsville-Henry County. Continue reading to learn more about this exciting festival.

If you enjoy learning about history, the banks of the Smith River also offer a glimpse into our colorful local history. Rural landscapes are reminders of the country’s agricultural beginnings. For two hundred years, the Smith River Valley was also home to thriving textile and furniture industries that made their homes along the river’s edge. As a part of revitalization and preservation efforts, the Smith River Small Towns Collaborative is making strides to rejuvenate the historic buildings and public use areas of these communities.

You can also explore our local area’s arts and culture scene with visits the Smithsonian-affiliated Virginia Museum of Natural History, Bassett Historical Center, Piedmont Arts, or one of our many other museums, local art galleries, and cultural venues. So pack up your gear, load up your family and friends and come visit the Smith River Valley. There is something for everyone in Southern Virginia’s outdoor paradise!

The Journey along the Smith River

Gathering volume below Bassett, the Smith River meanders through Henry County, channeled by historic structures such as a Native American fish weir, rocky navigation sluices and diversions for water intakes along the industrial corridor. At times of normal water flows, this section is rated as suitable for novices and low to intermediate paddlers.

Mid-way down the Smith is the Martinsville Dam. The Doe Run Access point provides a takeout above the dam to allow for portage to the next access point below the dam which allows travelers to continue on their journey. You can also take out here and visit the trails, parks, shops, museums, and restaurants in Martinsville which is the largest community on the river.

Below Martinsville, the river briefly passes through another industrial section before returning to a forested corridor graced by gentle rapids and abundant wildlife. The most popular area for paddlers is the lower sections of the river which are suitable for novice paddlers. These areas can be accessed from the South Martinsville ramp to the Smith River Sports Complex. This section is also the race course for the annual Smith River Boat race which is a part of the annual Smith River Fest celebration. Downstream from the Sports Complex is Eggleston Falls, the largest rapid on the Smith, which is rated for intermediate boaters. The great thing about this beautiful section of river is that it is varied and interesting enough for experienced boaters and still great for the novice.

In its last five miles, the Smith River enters Rockingham County, North Carolina and passes through the early industrial complex of Spray, now a part of the city of Eden. The Spray Dam and historic Barnett Canal must be portaged. Below the dam is a long series of ledges, often exposed due to low water. From the Island Ford Landing at the Smith River Greenway in Eden, the river is accessible to the public for its last two gentle and scenic miles until its confluence with the Dan River. The takeout is just downstream on the Dan, on river right, at the NC Wildlife Commission access in Eden, NC. Check water levels-there is always a place to paddle!

Interested in learning more about the abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in Martinsville-Henry County, or want to experience it first hand? If so, then mark your calendars for our Annual Smith River Fest happening on Saturday, August 20th from 10:00-4:00 at the Smith River Sports Complex in Axton. The Smith River Fest showcases all the exciting ways to experience the outdoors and have adventures in Martinsville-Henry County, VA. Learn more about the Smith River Trail System that includes more than twenty miles of trails and the Smith River that’s perfect for fishing, paddling, and floating. You can also learn more about the recently established Philpott Lake Blueway that guides adventure seekers along waters of the pristine lake. Smith River Fest includes the Helgramite Hustle 5k Mud Run, Kids Mini Mud Run, the Smith River Boat Race, the Blue Ridge Duck Race, a Casting Pool with fly tying demos, Inflatables, Rock Wall, Kids Cycling Station, Games, Petting Zoo, Beer Tent, Food and Vendors of all types! 

Don’t miss the excitement. As always, admission and parking are FREE!