Lake Anna is a 13,000-acre man-made lake located approximately 72 miles southwest of Washington, DC, and 120 miles southwest of Annapolis. Measuring 17 miles long, it is one of the largest lakes in the commonwealth of Virginia, boasting 200 miles of shoreline and dozens of quiet anchorages, all devoid of nettles.
Okay. Okay. I know. Lake Anna is not on the Chesapeake Bay. So, what’s a story about it doing in the Bay’s premier powerboating magazine? Call me a rebel, but sometimes it pays to stretch your nautical legs and explore other watery destinations that are a short hop via land yacht from the friendly confines of the Chesapeake.
The lake is home to four major species of gamefish: striped bass, largemouth bass, crappie, and bream. Its dozen or so marinas offer a variety of services, most important of which are powerboat and pontoon boat rentals by the hour, day, or week.
Lakefront homes available from Airbnb and/or VRBO offer weekly rentals to fit all budgets, and the Lake Anna State Park offers accommodations ranging from two- to three-bedroom cabins, six-bedroom lodges, campsites, and yurts (dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/lake-anna). Boats can be launched from the park for a modest fee.
The area boasts several boat-up restaurants if you’re tired of home cooking, while additional amenities are available a short drive away in the nearby towns of Mineral and Culpepper. There’s even a brew pub and nearby winery if your tastes run towards adult beverages.
History and Location
Lake Anna was created in the 1970s by Dominion Energy’s predecessor, Virginia Electric and Power Company, to provide cooling for the company’s North Anna Power Station. The company purchased 18,000 acres of land in 1968 and cleared it to create the 9600-acre Lake Anna reservoir and the 3400-acre North Anna Waste Heat Treatment Facility (WHTF). The lake was formed by damming the North Anna River.
The northernmost parts of the lake are comprised of the North Anna River and two major watershed tributaries: Pamunkey Creek and Terry’s Run. These two tributaries join the North Anna River at an area called “The Splits.” The North Anna River flows downstream past the dam until it joins the South Anna River near the town of Doswell, VA, to form the Pamunkey River. The Pamunkey River flows south and joins the Mattaponi River at the town of West Point to form the York River. The York River flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
The lake is divided into two sides: the public side (also known as the “cold” side) and the private side, working as a cooling pond (also known as the “hot” side). The public side is known as the “cold” side because it provides water to cool the generators at the power plant. The private or “hot” side receives warm water discharge from the power plant.
The public side is roughly 9000 acres while the private side is roughly 4000 acres. The private side is formed of three main bodies of water, connected by navigable canals. The public and private sides are divided by three stone dikes. The private side has no marinas or public access ramps; only property owners and North Anna Power Station employees have access to the waters of the private side. The public side has several marinas and boat launches, including a boat ramp at the state park.
Getting There and Exploring
All the marinas on the public side of the lake have public boat launches. Several are located in the mid-lake area on the eastern side of the 208 bridge. There are several launch sites upstream on the North River and Pamunkey Creek and several downstream on the southern part of the main lake. All the marinas charge about the same amount for a daily boat launch and parking.
Harry Looney of the Water Quality Project Office, Lake Anna Civic Association, tells PropTalk, “Water quality is best in the lower parts of the lake (at or below the Splits). There are many deep areas where the stripers like to go in those portions of the lake. You can find good fishing reports in The Central Virginian, our local newspaper, and Lake Anna Life. Both of these media resources have good online resources for anyone visiting the lake.
“Water quality in the upper parts of the North Anna River, Pamunkey Creek, and Terry’s Run is not as good as the mid and lower parts of the lake. PH levels are higher and dissolved oxygen levels tend to be lower. The upper lake is stratified so fish tend to stay closer to the surface where dissolved oxygen levels are higher. Dissolved oxygen below the thermocline can be almost zero in upper parts of the lake.” Terry ought to know. He logs hundreds of hours each year taking water samples at various points along the river.
Late last summer, the Ligibel clan, including my wife, daughter, her husband, and their two children, booked a long weekend at a four-bedroom Lake Anna house complete with firepit, floating dock, and plenty of beach and goofing around space. Our lakeside retreat was just around the corner from Hunter’s Landing, convenient to The Cove Restaurant, Shipwreck Boat Rental, and Hunter’s Landing Convenience store, a great place for local news and ice cream.
We packed up our two SUVs with SUPs, kayaks, fishing gear, and water toys. Not to mention boxes full of prerequisite junk food for the girls and yoga mats for my wife Colleen and daughter Katie. Son-in-law Eric and I were content with a little red meat for the grill (in case we didn’t catch any fish; we didn’t!) and some snake bite medicine, aka Tito’s vodka.
Our trip down via Highway 301 and smaller state roads only took a little under three hours. An alternate route would have been via I-95, which is always risky when encountering Beltway traffic during rush hour.
After some exploring around the neighboring town of Mineral, where Eric and Katie discovered the Lake Anna Taphouse—a great boat-up spot for an afternoon toddy—the girls made a Food Lion run to stock up on goodies for our three-day sojourn. They reported that supermarket shelves were well stocked with favorites.
Eric made arrangements with Shipwreck Boat Rentals for a rental of a 23-foot Avalon pontoon boat (shipwreckboatrental.com). We picked it up our first full day on the water and enjoyed putting around the Lake with an occasional drift swim well offshore. Eric and I also tried our hand at fishing off the dock and under the bridges. No luck. Must have been the wrong phase of the moon. The one-day rental was reasonable: $330 off-season, mid-week rates. Gas not included.
A fishing license is required to fish in Lake Anna. They can be obtained at: license.gooutdoorsvirginia.com.
We voyaged by pontoon boat 15 miles downriver to the southern arm of the lake to Tim’s for a delightful lunch including house specialties rockfish, cod, and Po’ Boy shrimp sandwiches (timslakeanna.com). The wait at Tim’s is significant, usually about an hour. Not to be deterred, Tim’s offers a full bar and 44 off-the-wall specialty drinks like Peaches Cream (heavy on the peach schnapps), The SharkBite (a nice twist on Cuervo Silver), and the Rainbow Trout (not what you think—gin and blue curacao). Not far from Tim’s is a popular on-water party spot, the Sandbar. Lots of boats rafted up. Not for us!
We enjoyed the first (and hopefully annual) Ligibel family water Olympics which amounted to a series of kayak, SUP, and innertube races off the beach right below our house. I was accused of cheating, subterfuge, and illegal substance abuse. I never expected my grandkids to be sore losers! Guess they couldn’t stand the thought of being humiliated by their almost 75-year-old grandpa!
What a hoot. Sandy bottom, warm water, and nothing to worry about except getting too much sun. We also played marathon games of cribbage (I won); poker (Caroline, aged 8, won) and Quarkle (Emmy, aged 10, cleaned our collective clocks.)
In case you missed the gist of this trip, it was all about relaxing in a beautiful spot far from the roar of jet skis and go-fast boats with the setting sun our only timepiece and the lap of the waves our nightly musical entertainment.
We celebrated our last night at Lake Anna with s’mores by the campfire and giant sparklers left over from Katie’s wedding 12 years ago. Who says love, and fireworks, don’t last?
We packed up the next day and headed home as Colleen and I made a fortuitous detour to enjoy lunch at one of our favorite Virginia wineries, Early Mountain. It’s only a stone’s throw (40 miles northwest) from Lake Anna and a very worthwhile stop if you are in the mood for a crisp chardonnay served with simple accouterments in a beautiful hillside setting.
We got home to our South River domicile just in time to hear the nightly parade of jet skis and go-fast boats make their noisy run under the Solomons Island Road/Highway 2 bridge. We settled into our screened-in porch and toasted our three-days of solitude on Lake Anna. And vowed to return for a longer stay sometime down the road.
Story and Photos By Craig Ligibel