Adventure Ready Activities

Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area

Retreat into nature near Lexington, Virginia.

Written by Hope S. Philbrick, editor Foodie Travel USA.

Splashing and giggling in a sparkling blue lake. Cracking leaves and twigs underfoot on a path through a green forest. Birds chirping while flitting between branches. Sighs of contentment drifting from a sandy beach. Coolers snapping open inside a picnic shelter. Fish slapping to the surface while being reeled in.

Logs crackling in a campfire with marshmallows toasting over the flames. From dawn to dusk, sounds of fun ring throughout Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area in the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests.


Located in Natural Bridge Station near Lexington, Virginia, Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area is open for day use as well as overnight camping. Its natural setting makes it easy to enjoy simple pleasures like swimming, fishing, hiking, playing lawn games, bird watching, and building sandcastles.

Credit: @PatrickIrelan
“The most common feedback we get is that it’s a great family-friendly campground,” says Lauren Stull, district ranger for the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests. “It’s beautiful, peaceful, relaxing, plus there are so many nearby activities!”

Inside the recreation area, Cave Mountain Lake Trail is a 3.2-mile loop that’s rated moderate and offers an inside look at the forest with opportunities to spot wildlife. Wildcat Mountain Trail is a difficult 3.9-mile out-and-back route known for beautiful wildflowers.

Both trails are dog-friendly, though dogs must be kept on a leash. More hiking trails surround the area, offering options from a short stroll around the lake to a challenging trek along nearby ridges. The 4.5-mile Belfast Trail leads to Devil’s Marbleyard while other trails offer access to Apple Orchard Falls and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Devil’s Marbleyard, Credit: @HeavyD340

A seven-acre lake is the centerpiece of the Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area. The man-made lake was created in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps using existing buttresses of natural rock to form a 35-foot high dam.

Credit: @Kesselmc

The CCC also built the log picnic shelter using trees and rocks from the area. Its rustic design includes a large stone fireplace and rough-hewn beams.


The lake has a designated swimming area, and waters are calm. “We don’t allow boats at this time, though we do allow non-motorized kayaks and stand up paddleboards” says Stull, but fishing from the shore is a popular pastime. “The state stocks it several times between April and June,” she says, “so only youths age 15 and younger can fish in that timeframe,” as part of a relatively new program. Each May a kids’ fishing event is held at Cave Mountain Lake. The remainder of the year, anyone can fish from shore outside the designated swimming area.

In addition to hiking, swimming, and fishing, popular on-site activities include relaxing on the beach, birding and wildlife viewing, picnicking, and lawn games. The location also offers convenient access to the James River Face and the Thunder Ridge Wilderness areas.
Credit: @PatrickIrelan

Can’t bear to leave? Stay! Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area offers 41 campsites, most of which can be reserved in advance at The picnic shelter can also be reserved in advance. Campground hosts are volunteers. “We are fortunate to have some great volunteers,” says Stull. “But we accept new volunteers frequently, plus local nearby trail clubs are always looking for additional volunteers.”

Credit: @KacieShifflett

Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area is a quiet haven, a place to unplug and immerse in nature. “It’s a perfect base camp to explore many outdoor recreational opportunities in the area,” says Stull. “It also offers proximity to Natural Bridge State Park, the James River, Blue Ridge Parkway, all the fantastic restaurants in Lexington, and so much more.”

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Cave Mountain Lake is within easy access of I-81 and near historic downtown Lexington, Virginia. For more information click here. It’s just one of the many great reasons to visit Lexington, Virginia.


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