My son and I spent his birthday on an all-day kayaking trip to Laurel Bed Lake, one of the most remote lakes in Virginia. Laurel Bed Lake is about 330 acres and is located in the center of the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area, Virginia’s second largest such area.
The trip to the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area takes a while to get to from anywhere. From Abingdon, it’s about 35-40 minutes.
Once at the CMWMA, the drive up to the lake takes about another 35-40 minutes, because you have to drive up Clinch Mountain. There is a map of the CMWMA available on the VDGIF website (it is located here).
While the gravel roads are maintained, you should have a four wheel drive vehicle (in fact, the road is often closed in winter). There are several significant switchbacks. The vertical climb from the entrance to the lake is about 1300′, most of it along Big Tumbling Creek, a boulder-strewn creek with numerous waterfalls.
There are smallmouth bass and brook trout in the lake, although we did not have any luck fishing on this day. We did, however, spend about three hours kayaking around the lake: this is a large lake, at least by comparison to the other high mountain lakes in the Southern Appalachians. For example, this lake is much larger than nearby Hidden Valley Lake or Hungry Mother Lake in Virginia, or Julian Price Lake near Blowing Rock, NC.
I would estimate that the lake takes about 3-4 hours to circumnavigate. Other than two boat docks, the lake is surrounded by wilderness. No camping is allowed near the lake, so the shoreline is undisturbed and pristine. Paddling on this lake, you can easily imagine yourself somewhere in the remote wilderness of Canada or Maine.
We stopped in a couple of spots to rest and enjoy the sun. We saw all manner of wildlife: jumping fish, hundreds of frogs, ducks, blue herons, a hawk, other birds we could not identify, deer, and a lone bald eagle soaring high in the sky above the lake. There were also signs of beaver along the shoreline.
Generally speaking, one side of the lake features rhododendron and has a steeper bank, while the other side features more wetland areas. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has set up some bird nest areas along the wetland side of the lake.
This is a gem of a lake, one we would like to visit again in the fall when the colors are changing. We were there during a weekday, but the trip to the lake takes so long that I doubt it is ever extremely busy. At one point there were about four boats on the lake, but by the evening we literally had the lake to ourselves. It’s pretty amazing in this day and age that you can have a 330 acre lake to yourself on a nice day.
This is, however, a place you really want to have to visit, as it’s very much out-of-the-way compared to many other outdoor spots in Southwest Virginia. But if you have the time, it’s a worthwhile trip. I know we’ll be back.