The Simple Pleasures of Claytor Lake

On its surface (pun intended), Claytor Lake doesn’t have much that might warrant a visit by a hiker.  It’s mainly a place for boats. However, last weekend I was pleasantly surprised by the simple fun my son Lukas and I had there.

I lived near the largest lake in Finland for several years, the fourth largest in Europe.  It was a beautiful place, even though the nature itself didn’t appeal to my soul. I hadn’t grown up with it.

Lake Saimaa, in Finland Summer 2009

I had grown up with the nature in the vicinity of Claytor Lake, however.  Yet, I had never been there and was curious to get a view of the place. It was formed in 1939 when the Appalachian Power Company built a dam on the New River. The lake was named after one of the company’s executives (but that still didn’t stop me from visiting).

Lukas and I took a look at the camground near the entrance just to see if there was potential there for the future. Then we drove on in to the lake area.

The Vistor’s Center is located in an historic house built in the 19th century by an early environmentalist.  I usually like to stop at these centers to get the lay of the land. Unfortunately, the offices were closed when we got there on Saturday afternoon.

The Visitor's Center, the historic Howe House

There was some kind of celebration going on behind the house, near the lake. It appeared to be a wedding.

We got in the car and drove down where the cabins were because I wanted to check them out.  We have a couple of weeks between rentals in August and  I thought I would see if they could be suitable for us. Why not take a vacation during the housing hiatus? (Well, the rest of the fam could. I have to work.)

One of the State Park's cabins on Claytor Lake

The park offers a man-made beach which we weren’t interested in, but it was nice to know it was there in case the family ever wanted to go swimming.  There were a lot of school kids there, streaming off the beach to Radford City School buses. I guess they had had their fill. After all, it was late afternoon.

The beach

On the way out of the beach area to find the hiking trail, I ran into a work colleague. I mentioned that we were going hiking , but inferred I wasn’t expecting much. 

My colleague told me that there was a trail down the road that “went up”.  That encouraged me to pursue the hike, so Lukas and I went to find the path.

The entrance to the trail is paved with asphalt. I couldn’t believe this would continue, and it didn’t.  Soon the trail turned into dirt and did in fact go upwards, just as my colleague had said.

Asphalt to soil at the entrance to the Claytor Lake Trail

The route Lukas and I hiked is called the Claytor Lake Trail, a 1.45 section of the 4 miles of trails in the park.  I found the path to be very relaxing.

It wasn’t difficult at all, and was wide in places. On this particular weekend I wasn’t looking for a tough walk. 

The trail was wide in places...

I wouldn’t recommend taking a stroller on the path, since there are stones in certain places.  But small children could handle the trail fairly well.

...and stony in spots.

The beauty of the place was that it was enclosed in the forest canopy, yet the sunlight peered through.  The forest was thick enough to prevent much of a view of the lake, but you knew it was there.  The sounds of motorboats and glimpses of water reminded me of that.

Looking off the trail toward the lake. You could barely make out the water, but could hear the motorboats.


Sunlight streamed through the forest cover

We could have turned off on a loop, but I decided to keep going straight on the Claytor Lake Trail.  We only met one person the whole hike, a biker who said he was lost. That’ s the beauty of going hiking late in the day.

Lukas waits for his Dad to make a decision which way to turn. We went straight. I guess I'm a traditionalist.

In the last section of the trail, the nature changes. After over a mile of forest, we were greeted by a nice meadow.  This brought to mind my reading of the portion of the 23rd Psalm that morning, which reads:…” He makes me lie down in green pastures…”. We didn’t lie down there –the grass was high–but I did take some time and just muse on the scene. It was very soul restoring.

"He makes me to lie down in green pastures"


The Claytor Lake Trail ends at the camground which we had visited earlier.  We walked through it to the main road, and walked back to the lake, only a short distance away.  I figured the amusement was basically done.

Hoever, we came upon a group of ducks, and I couldn’t resist getting a shot of Lukas with the feathered ones. I had spent a lot of time with him as he fed the ducks on Lake Saimaa in Finland.  I wanted to get a picture of him with American ducks. If it looks like a…

Typical American ducks. One's on the left, and one's on the right, but they're both heading in the same direction.

The most popular duck in Finland is Aku Ankka. In comparison to American ducks, he's a little sullen.

I was pretty much ready to head home, but then I spotted a snack bar. In my normal “shoot from the hip” way, I went in.

 They offered a shaved iced drink with syrup, and knowing Lukas needed to get Americanized in things like fountain drinks, I bought us a couple. We sat there by the lake on the snack bar porch and slurped them.

Lukas makes...

and enjoys...

his "Slush Puppy" (a nice reward after a good hike)

We got in a conversation with the college student manning the snack bar. As is typical of folks here in southwest Virginia, I found her to be friendly and helpful.

We talked about the unusual heat for this area this year. She lives on a farm in the region, and talked of how the drought-like conditions were affecting her and her family.

The wedding we spotted earlier over by the Visitor’s Center had moved now where we were. The snack bar was in a room in the meeting facility provided by Claytor Lake State Park.   Two lines of guests blew bubbles while the happy couple ran their gauntlet and headed toward their car.

The happy couple plow through a gauntlet of bubble-blowing wedding guests and head to their car

I weeded through the crowd and took a peek at the restaurant. It appeared to be pretty nice, and perhaps expensive.

The dining facility at "Water's Edge" meeting facility

This time, it was time to go home.  We got in the car.

I realized I had gotten more than I bargained for at Claytor Lake. While the lake is rather mundane, the whole ambience of the park is really pleasant. Lukas and I had a good afternoon there.



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2 responses to “The Simple Pleasures of Claytor Lake

  1. Sounds like you and Lukas had a good time. He looks a little like you at that age. You write a good narrative. How is the family adjusting to the cultural differences between here and Finland?

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