Photo: Art Meripol
Your Mode of Transit: A Riverboat
The reflections of fall colors ripple in the blue water of Smith Mountain Lake as the Virginia Dare (800/721-3273) leaves the dock. Captain Gary Fisher slowly turns the 63-foot-long, 38-ton 19th-century replica of a side-wheeler toward the center of the lake, bound for a two-hour tour. "I've been boating for more than 40 years, and used to sail charters in the Virgin Islands," Gary says. "I just like being out on the water."
This morning Gary takes the Virginia Dare up to the Smith Mountain Dam on the Roanoke River, and back again. Along the way he gives a narrated tour of the state's second biggest lake (formed in 1966 when the dammed river spread a 22,000-acre body of freshwater across three Virginia counties), while his passengers sit down to a lunch of herb-roasted pork loin, green beans, and French onion rice. Later in the day, the Dare will leave on a dinner cruise that offers views of the autumn splendor as the sun goes down. "We head up to the Blackwater River at night," Gary says. "I really like that cruise beacuse you see the sunset. And then the lakeside houses turn on their lights, and they shine all the way up the banks and reflect in the water. Now that's a pretty sight."
More Local Color
If you're cruising on the first Wednesday of October, sign up for a Wildlife Wednesday tour. The special lunch cruise features narration by a Smith Mountain Lake State Park ranger who describes the various wildlife, such as white-tailed deer and osprey, found along the lake.
Cruises depart from the Virginia Dare Cruises & Marina, 3619 Airport Rd., Moneta, Virginia. Lunch cruises are at noon Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Dinner cruises are Friday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Sightseeing cruises with no meal included are also offered.