There is a spot on Philpott Lake that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It is a beautiful spot year round with a great view of the lake and the dam, benches for sitting, picnic grounds, trails, and a small museum in the visitor’s center.
To get there, put Philpott Marina in your phone and follow the directions. It is at the end of Philpott Dam Road. The road to the marina branches off to the left and the road to the campgrounds branch off to the right. Just say straight. The road will loop around at the lookout.
The museum at the Visitor Center is currently closed for Covid. If you catch it when it is reopened, it has a good history of flooding in the area (the reason why the lake exists) and a decent collection of taxidermy animals. I believe that it is a free museum when it is open and it is worthwhile seeing.
The main reason I suggest a visit to this park though is the observation deck that gives you a bird’s eye view of the lake and the dam.
Every time I have visited this spot, even in the rain, there has been a single boat on the lake. I’ve never seen more and I’ve never seen less. I suspect that Philpott Lake is somewhat undiscovered. However, there are no boat rental facilities so you have to either bring a boat with you or have one moored at the aforementioned marina to get out on the lake.
There are a series of placards that talk about the Chestnut Blight that hit this area at the beginning of the 1900’s. Chestnut blight is a lethal Asian fungus that was discovered in New York in 1904 and traveled across the Eastern seaboard at a rate of 50 miles a year. It is the reason that we have plant quarantine laws. It killed entire forests and decimated local cottage industries here and on the Blue Ridge that depended on the chestnut. The American Chestnut Foundation has been working on creating a blight-resistant strain of chestnut by cross breeding the American Chestnut with the Chinese Chestnut to acquire the resistance and then breeding future generations to try to strip out the Chinese features while retaining the resistance to the blight.
There is another deck that is not immediately visible but which will give additional views of the lake and the dam. It is the deck directly behind the Visitor Center.
From here, you can see Philpott Dam. There is road access to Philpott Dam and it is a favored spot for fishing and for putting in kayaks and canoes on the Smith River, which flows from it. Last I heard, they had asked people to stay away while they have been working to clear issues caused by a recent landslide. If you have questions about visiting the dam, or the lake in general, the best place to check is Lake Philpott on Facebook.
Shots of the lake from this back deck must be taken through a fringing vegetation but, for whatever reason, it really makes the mountains in the background really stand out.
There are a couple of short trails here. The Philpott Dam Trail is a fairly steep trail that leads down to the dam from the Visitor Center.
Closer to the entrance of the loop and positioned so that you can’t possibly miss it on your way out is the Philpott F.I.T. trail. This is less steep and is a pretty walk through the woods. I walked it until it came out on another road and I wasn’t sure if it picked back up somewhere. I could still hear children playing in the picnic area, so I couldn’t have walked very far.
It is called the FIT trail because it has stop points for doing various kinds of exercises and stretches. It is a clean trail and well kept.
With all the hills and trees, you won’t realize that you are just minutes from the community of Bassett. If you are from out of town and taking in the views at Philpott, I highly recommend that you pair it with a visit to Bassett.
Bassett, along with Stanleytown, Fieldale, and Koehler (blink and you’ll miss them) have been working very hard over the past couple of years on the Smith River Small Towns initiative and the results are beginning to be noticeable in Bassett. The train depot next to the new Railway Cafe has been renovated, though it wasn’t open on the day that I visited.
I just run my camera on “auto” (every time I sign up for a class, it doesn’t make or a global pandemic breaks out). The small towns that make up the Smith River Small Towns are all extremely photogenic. Bassett and Fieldale have more buildings but they all have the Smith River.
I would love to see this area discovered by real photographers. There are just so many stunning shots that could be taken by someone who can truly wield a camera.