Driveable Destination

Escape To Clarksville On The Lake

by Susan Kyte // January - February - March 2024

Are you feeling a touch of cabin fever this winter or seeking a quick adventure without the hassles of airport security and air travel? If so, look no further than Clarksville, Virginia – a charming town tucked along the shores of the picturesque 50,000-acre Kerr Reservoir, also known as Buggs Island Lake. A mere one-hour drive north up either I-85 or US 15 makes it an ideal destination for a easy weekend getaway or a refreshing day trip. Whether you crave outdoor pursuits like hiking, hunting, boating, or fishing; a romantic escape; a shopping spree; or a journey into the realms of wine, craft brews, and Southern history, Clarksville has something for every wanderlust soul.

A Glimpse Into History

Clarksville’s roots trace back to the Occoneechee Indians, who, in their earliest days, held a pivotal position as commerce hubs along major trade routes. After English settlers entered the scene in the early 1830s, Clarksville became a thriving center for one of the largest tobacco markets in the United States. The transformation accelerated in the 1950s with the damming of the Roanoke and Dan Rivers, creating Kerr/Buggs Island Lake. Today, Clarksville is a testament to its rich history and offers a walkable downtown, unique shops, award-winning wineries, a craft brewery, local artisans, scenic landscapes, charming inns, and outdoor activities.

Two Names, One Lake

A curious question arises – Kerr Lake Reservoir or Buggs Island Lake? The answer is both. While Kerr Reservoir is the waterway’s official name designated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (named for the North Carolina Congressman who pushed for the initial funding to dam the rivers that created the water basin), a dispute between Virginia and North Carolina officials resulted in the alternative moniker, Buggs Island Lake. The former, asserting its ownership of the dam, favored naming it after a venerable Virginia family, the Buggs, leading to the dual nomenclature. Virginia’s frustration with Washington officials’ choice of Kerr Reservoir led to a resolution in 1952 by the General Assembly, officially stating that henceforth and forever more, the waterway will be known as Buggs Island Lake in Virginia. Today, signs there still refer to it as such.

Downtown Charm

Upon arrival, take a leisurely stroll through the historic downtown district, stretching from 2nd Street near the lake to 8th Street. Browse unique shops like Grandfather’s Country Creations, a treasure trove of crafts, antiques, and gifts. The Corner at Two One Six, a wine and gift shop, showcases local artisan works. Their tagline “lovers of life, art, food, libations, and unique experiences” is truly fitting. Continue your journey along Virginia Avenue to discover more antique, gift, and clothing stores, such as Doodlebug’s, Hite’s Clothing, and A CROSS The Nations, an upscale women’s boutique. The Cottage Barn, an eatery and gift store, is the go-to for hand-dipped ice cream and candy. If that doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth, Sugar It Up, a local bakery on 7th Street, offers cookies, cakes, and more, but is especially famous for its delicious, authentic crumb cake.

Outdoor Escapades

Nature enthusiasts can explore over 18 miles of trails that meander through the woodlands and along the shoreline at Occoneechee State Park or enjoy a day at White Oaks Preserve. This 350-acre private preserve accommodates guided game hunts, upland bird hunting, shooting sports, fishing, bird watching, fresh produce picking, flora and fauna, and more. The more than 800 miles of shoreline around the lake beckon exploration year-round. Boat rentals through Clarksville Water Sports, conveniently located at the Occoneechee State Park boat ramp, provide a perfect opportunity for water adventures.

Brews With A View

After an exciting day of exploration or outdoor fun, unwind at Buggs Island Brewing Co., affectionately known as BIB. Kick back with a local craft beer on the heated patio or by the outdoor fire pits while soaking in the stunning sunset over the lake. BIB offers the perfect vantage point to appreciate the beauty that is Buggs Island Lake.

Wine Trail

Just two decades ago, Clarksville had no wineries. Today, there are eight, with three in close proximity: Woodbine Winery and Vineyards, Three Sisters of Shiney Rock, and Lake Front Winery, each catering to a different palate. Woodbine is known for its bucolic tasting room and award-winning Honeysuckle and Rose wines (yet equally enjoyable are their Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonel, and Sweet Red). Three Sisters of Shiney Rock is unique in that it produces small-batch wines from grapes native to Virginia and other areas of the Southeast, including Muscadine and Scuppernong, as well as fruit wines, including blackberry, apple, and their pomegranate “perky poma mama.” The region’s newest addition, Lake Front Winery, grows concord grapes for Sangrias, slushies, and wine beverages.

Cozy Lodging

For a romantic weekend, choose from Clarksville’s charming inns and bed and breakfasts. Sunnyside Sisters, a restored 200-year-old farmhouse, provides a delightful retreat. Cooper’s Landing Inn and Traveler’s Tavern, a historic inn from the 1830s, offers an award-winning restaurant, Traveler’s Tavern, along with a trellised patio, fire pit, and wine bar. There’s Delicate Flower, a 140-year-old Victorian bed and breakfast, and 216 A Boutique Guest Stay, a three-bedroom gem located on the second story of a historic building in the heart of downtown. It comes with a glimpse of the lake too. For a more rustic overnight stay, consider cabins at Occoneechee State Park or explore yurts and camping sites during warmer weather. Pet-friendly hotel options right by the water are also available at Clarion and Quality Inns.

Seasonal Extravaganzas

Clarksville is not just a fall and winter destination; it’s a year-round hub of festivals and events from April to October. Highlights include the Wine Festival in April, monthly outdoor beach music concerts, car cruise-ins, community theater performances, Lakefest (ranked in the top 20 festivals in the Southeast), and the Urban Slide, turning downtown into a giant slip-and-slide.

So this winter, pack your bags, fuel up the tank, and hit the road for Clarksville. Explore the beauty, history, and charm that make Clarksville a driveable destination that is just waiting to be discovered.

Susan Kyte