Kayaking Philpott Marina & Philpott Dam

I actually do work for a living. I technically qualify to join Henry County’s 50+ Club (I’m over 50) but I do have to ask off from work to attend their weekday events. But it has been SO worth it.

Philpott Marina

This month’s kayak was at Philpott Marina. This launch spot is at the southern end of the lake and it is a very short trip over to see the dam.

Philpott Dam

There is a big sign on the dam that says to stay 500 feet back. I have a camera with a really good zoom.

Note the windows in the dam

One of the other kayakers pointed out that there are windows in the dam facing the lake. The bottom of the windows is just a little above the spillway. It must have been an awe-inspiring sight to look out those windows the one and only time that the lake was high enough to go over the spillway.

The River Side of the Dam

When you are over by the dam, if you turn and look north up the lake, you can just barely make out the Blue Ridge Mountains peeking up on the far horizon. Philpott Lake covers 2900 acres and it is long and narrow(ish). It has 100 miles of shoreline.

Bowen Falls is not too far away from Philpott Marina but I found that out too late to try to go take a look. It’s nice to leave something for next time though. We spent our afternoon kayaking up one of the many little spines that branch away from the main channel of the lake.


The water is clear by Texas standards but I know that isn’t saying much. It isn’t crystal clear like I’ve seen in maybe Minnesota or Maine, but it is definitely not murky.

Water Clarity by the Launch

The shoreline is a little low. One of the county employees told me that the lake is about three feet down right now. You can see erosion along the shore line and the trees tip over and fall in if they lose enough soil.

Submerged Trees Along the Shoreline

This is great for fishing and two of the county’s chaperones brought out their fishing boat to drop a line in while keeping an eye on us. They were pros and very good about not creating a wake. Our group did get a little spread out as the afternoon went on and it was nice to know that they could respond to any issues quickly.

Our Fishing Boat Escort

It was a beautiful day. We had a small group because there was a competing blood drive in the county and many of our kayaking ladies had volunteered to help with that.

Puttering Around on Philpott Lake

Philpott Lake is a US Army Corps of Engineers lake and there is no development on it. In fact, the only marina on the lake where you can permanently moor a boat or buy gasoline on the water is Philpott Marina.

Philpott Marina

Philpott has requested to expand its slip rentals but the Corps has refused based on their location on the lake. There had been another marina up at Twin Ridge but it burned in 2000. That means that all boat traffic on Philpott Lake, with the exception of the handful of boats moored here, has to be trailered in and launched.

Boat Launch at Philpott Marina

That doesn’t keep the lake from getting busy though. Besides Twin Ridge, I have yet to see other launches but the launch at Philpott Marina is very nice. It has the two accesses separated by a narrow dock. It also has a lot of parking for trailers. I started to take a picture but it’s a parking lot. Trust me. There is a lot of parking.

There are also campgrounds and a trail off by the side of the marina that leads to another parking lot and a fishing spot.

Trail to Fishing Spot

As fishing spots go, it would be good for the able-bodied fisherman. It’s a bit of a scramble to get down to the shoreline.

The Fishing Spot

Philpott Marina is in a cluster of accesses. Right next to the marina is the observation deck where so many photos are taken of Philpott Lake. It is especially beautiful in the fall but I went there one fall day when it rained and it was incredible.

You can also get to the other side of the dam with another access. This is where you find the first access to Smith River for kayaks.

Philpott Dam Access Sign

Class 1 to 3 rapids. I’m comfortable with class 1, a little nervous about class 2, and there’s no way I’m going on class 3 without a guide who’s done it before. The moving water is beautiful though.

There is plenty of parking and a well marked access.

Trail Head

There is a gate across the access that prevents a vehicle from getting down there. Since the strength of the river depends on how much water is let out from the dam, you need to call ahead before just setting out. I don’t know if the gate is an indication of whether or not it is okay to put in or if they just don’t want ordinary folks trying to back down the access.

Philpott Dam Access

That would be completely understandable though, since the access is narrow and a little rough.

The Access

At the bottom of the access, you are looking up at the dam and hearing the water being released. It is a little awe-inspiring.

I will leave you with this last photo that completely took me by surprise. There is a hiking trail that juts off from the kayak access and continues on along the shore of the river. The cool water being released by the dam was reacting with the warmer water in the river and a mist was rising up off of the surface. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Mist Rising Up Off of the River

I hope that this is something that always happens and I can get back and take some incredible shots of that.


The Kayak Quest: Proof of Concept

We did it. A group of ladies who like to kayak proved that we can get our kayaks to the water and have ourselves a day of fun. It 100% helped that one of the ladies has a truck but it still counts.

It all started (for me) when a friend texted me the following:

It might help to mention that Henry County Virginia has excellent activity programs. There is a group called the 50+ Club that walks the trails, bicycles, and kayaks in addition to bowling, eating out, and getting special screenings of first run movies. They even have CrossFit trainings twice a week. Call and talk to Wanda. She can send you a catalog.

It didn’t take long until our group blossomed from two to four. Our instigator came and picked us up and we threw the kayaks in the back of her truck like we knew what we were doing. Our group became five once we arrived and found that another of our friends had also signed up without mentioning it.

There were two men from the County who were there to help us get the kayaks out of the truck and put them back in but we still feel like we had proven that we could do it.

We could get on the water.

Fairy Stone Park is best known around here for a well-maintained sandy beach with a lifeguard and a concession stand. The park is inside of a fee area but the launch, if you bring your own kayak, is on the other side of the lake directly across from the beach. Take Union Bridge Road. There is no fee.

If you would like to rent a kayak, a stand-up paddleboard, or a paddle boat, there is a place on the beach side to do this. You can barely make it out on the left in the photo above so here’s a blown up version.

Fairy Stone Park Lake is its own little body of water, distinct from Philpott but often kind of lumped in together. Now that I’ve been on it, I understand.

It is fed on one side by a creek and it ends at a spillway where any excess water runs over to Philpott Lake. The lake itself is fairly small. You can paddle all the way from one end to the other in a few minutes.

The spillway is oddly beautiful. The stonework looks like Depression Era CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) work.

Danger No Boats Allowed On Spillway or Dam No Swimming

It’s a good sized spillway.

There’s something about just watching water flow.

The spillway ends short of Philpott Lake below it and the water crashes through rock formations to get there.

Tips on Fairy Stone Park Lake:

The water is flat and easy. I packed my $40 E-Bay camera out of concern for damaging my main camera but that wasn’t necessary. I wouldn’t give that a second thought in the future.

The area by the creek is teeming with turtles, birds and other wildlife. It is also very shallow. I bet you could catch it with steam rising off of it with just a small temperature change.

Someone brings their dog out to the launch and leaves poo all over around the benches. Be forewarned.

The next trip is scheduled for August 26th so put in for your day off now and give Wanda a call to get registered.