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.

Exploring

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.

#thereissomuchtodohere

Another Hidden Gem: Laurel Ridge Trail and Twin Ridge Park

On the heels of having made it out to Hamlet Vineyards for the first time, I have found another local attraction hiding in plain sight. I’ve been here since 2014 and I had never heard anything about how pretty Twin Ridge Park is on Philpott Lake or seen any pictures of the amenities there.

In fact, prior to this, the only true access point for Philpott Lake that I had been to was the Philpott Marina (The yellow 1 in the shot below, lower right).

Imagine a trail going around this

Today I want to share some photos from a recent hike with the Homestead Hikers. Homestead Hikers is a hiking club (dues are $10 a year) connected with Reynolds Homestead, a historic property and extension of Virginia Tech. This extension is host to the College for Older Adults and they have some AMAZING programs. Honestly (and I am not kidding) I was looking forward to turning 50 because of the programs for seniors here. But I digress. Again.

Trail Head Sign

Twin Ridge Park is actually in Franklin County, Henry County’s neighbor. The trail we were hitting today was the Laurel Ridge Trail heading to Salthouse Branch. We would do a 3-mile round trip out-and-back hike.

There is parking along the side of the road at the trail head. A small stretch has stone put down for traction while the rest is mown grass. There’s room for maybe 8 to 10 cars parked perpendicular to the road. The boat launch is about a half a mile down the road so there is additional parking there but add a mile onto your hike if you park there.

The trail head sign says that this is a 2.5 mile long trail of moderate difficulty (1 hour to complete one way) and that it is open to hikers, bicyclists, and hunters. It describes the trail this way:

“Laurel Ridge Trail traverses through beautiful forested mountains, with stretches that hug the Philpott Lake shoreline, connecting Salthouse Branch Park and Twin Ridge Park. The trail is marked by trees with blue markings.”

A woodland path

Don’t worry about the “forested mountains” part. If that is true, it is in only the most technical sense. This is a nice woodland walk with only a slight decline as you progress along the path. It wouldn’t have been noticeable at all except that we did notice the slight incline when we reversed for our return.

The blue markings are critical. This is a beautiful path that is very visible most of the time but there are times when the trail forks and you need to know which way to go.

A fork in the trail

There were some things we all enjoyed looking at along the path. This tree had grown up right next to the path and then fell away from it, leaving a canopy of roots for an opportunistic woodland vine to climb.

A fallen tree

While this trail is going from point A to point B along the lake, the lake’s shoreline narrows until it becomes little more than a creek. You have to go a distance away from the body of the lake before you can get to a crossing. At one point, it is no more than a foot or two wide and it winds back and forth like a snake.

There, before we crossed, we found a foundation or basement for a structure now long gone. No one knows what its history is.

A foundation for a farm or a mill?

You do eventually have to cross the water but, by the time that you do, it’s not a significant crossing. At least, this is what it looked like when we did it.

The water crossing

We saw a turtle. It was right on the trail but it blended in so well that it very nearly got stepped on.

Can you see the turtle?

Being woodland, much of the trail looks alike and it was challenging to get good photos. I would see something I considered beautiful, snap a shot, and then, once I got home, not be able to make out what in particular I was seeing. I think that it is worth continuing to try.

It really is a beautiful trail

We were all pleased with our hike. Afterwards, some of our group went on down to the boat launch area to investigate and swim.

Twin Ridge Boat Launch

This is Philpott Lake, standing on the Twin Ridge Ramp. In the photo below, I’ve labeled the horizon (loosely) with the points of interest. That whole mass on the right is Goose Point Campground. Turkey Island is the only island on Philpott Lake that allows camping. There is an island behind it that does not have a name. Deer Island is somewhere over towards the shore between Salthouse Branch and Turkey Island.

Points of interest standing on Twin Ridge Park boat ramp

There is a placard that gives you this information, a little more accurately. I, honestly, had not paid any attention to the new Philpott Lake Blueway Water Trail went I first heard of it. Every time I saw a photo of Philpott Lake, it was from the same vantage point. I thought that that must be all there was. I was incredibly wrong. There so much more to see. I could take a whole season to see all of the points of interest, maybe more.

The informational placard at Twin Ridge Park

The placard also suggests the following kayaking trips:

Deer Island Kayak Trip – 4 miles round trip – From the ramp, paddle southeast across the mouth of the cove and continue along this shoreline. Deer Island is the landmass on your right as you round the point. The scenic and secluded shores of the largest island on the lake it is only accessed by boat, and the only island on Philpott used for camping. Continue around Deer Island between Turkey Island and the western side of Deer Island.

Rabbit Island – 3.5 miles round trip – The open water of the lake must be crossed to reach the secluded shores of Rabbit Island. It is recommended this trip not be attempted by paddle craft during high wind or heavy motorized boat traffic conditions. Head west from Twin Ridge to make the scenic round trip to Rabbit Island. A compass is always recommended when negotiating large open water. No camping is allowed on Rabbit Island.

Pavilion at Twin Ridge Park

The park itself is beautiful. The pavilion is big, well maintained, and clean. The person emptying the trash bin while I was there ducked out of the shot above.

There is a dedicated swimming area. River shoes might be a good idea for the rocky terrain.

The swimming area at Twin Creek Park

They also have concerts in the park designed for an audience of boaters, kayakers, and paddle boarders. One of our cohort was local to this particular area and he said that it is a very safe area and that the concert series have been well managed.

Boat dock at Twin Ridge Park

There is a lot here. I didn’t expect so many photos from a short hike but, there you are. The dappled light of the path was too challenging for me to come away with any truly good shots but that only means that I need to try again. The launch photos have not been tinkered with for saturation. It is just, honest to God, is that pretty.

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.