Rural Retreat Lake

Rural Retreat Lake

“You don’t see too many people out here this time of year. I like the peace”


It was a cool evening. The wind whispered the onset of fall and the only trace left of summer was the fading green leaves on the trees and the echoes of crickets below them. I had been on a quest to find a new place to watch the evening sun set that led me to Rural Retreat Lake.

A place I hadn’t been in years. A place that often gets browsed over in conversations about the best lakes in the region. Hungry Mother no doubt attracts thousands of visitors every year; everyone loves to talk about the rustic seclusion of places like Hidden Valley or Laurel Bed; I believe every conversation I’ve ever heard about fishing in Southwest Virginia has included Hale lake, but Rural Retreat? It’s almost as if everyone thinks it’s for someone else. Which is what makes it so special.

By no means is it a hidden place, the lake attracts a good amount of visitors. Especially so during the warm months. Its campground is a summer staple to many, there isn’t a lack of anglers trying their hand at wrestling whatever the watery depths have to offer to the surface, and the pool is a local favorite.

And all for great reason. The pool is an excellent facility and a handy escape from the summer sun. There is a stocked pond adjacent to the lake and the lake itself is infamous to locals for the catfish that haunt its waters. The campground gives you the experience of sleeping under the stars but also keeps you close enough to a host of activities to keep the whole family happy. Did you know there’s even a disc golf course you can play? There aren’t many places to disc golf in Southwest Virginia and even fewer an errant throw becomes an aerial hazard for some unfortunate swimmer taking a dip in the shallow end.

Though that afternoon I was acquainted with a different side of the lake. One away from its mainstays and fond summer memories. You’d be hard-pressed to visit during its prime season and not have a fun time but the lake’s hibernation during the rest of the year makes it the perfect place for a relaxing evening.

Pine needles littered the ground and dampened our footsteps. I rounded a corner about the same time he did and we both gasped. It was so quiet I was absorbed in my own thoughts and as he explained, he wasn’t used to seeing people exploring the trail running beside the lake since the dog days of summer had passed.

“You don’t see too many people out here this time of year. I like the peace” he said.

We didn’t speak for long. Only long enough to swap pleasantries and return to our own solitude. Though it stuck in my mind. I hadn’t noticed the complete absence of people until he mentioned it.

I walked to the end of the trail and climbed the hill beside the dam. I sat on the grass and watched the sun fall behind rain clouds that were grazing closer on the horizon. The sky turned dark and the water rolling on the surface of the lake mimicked their shape. I watched evening turn to dusk and took in the tranquility. Enjoying the absolute silence of the world. Aside from the trees turning in the breeze before heading home.

Rural Retreat will perhaps always be known as a place of pure summer fun. Memories of cooling off with a dip in the pool between catching bluegill and roasting marshmallows personified in place. A bucket list destination for any Southwest Virginia resident angling for fun under the June sun.

Though perhaps the best time, now my favorite time, to visit is when those things are a ghost of yesterday. When you have the beauty of a sun set all to yourself. Much like the town of Rural Retreat in general, there aren’t many better places to sit and watch the world go by.

When I was a child, I’d spend several evenings out of the week in Rural Retreat. Each one would end the same. We would sit by the train tracks, swap conversations, and wait for a train to pass by. Then, I used to find it utterly boring but each year I’m learning to appreciate the beauty in its simplicity. Much like Rural Retreat itself. You don’t hear it mentioned much but few would argue that it lives up to its name. Rural Retreat is a retreat. An escape from everything that’s not simple in 2020.

Be sure to check out the following places while you’re in the area:

The Rural Retreat Depot – The building that conceived the town. Built in the 1850s and later burnt down during the Civil War,  the depot has seen many transformations but is now restored and a beautiful addition to downtown Rural Retreat

The Dutch Pantry – A charming Amish store selling baked goods, bulk food, housewares, and meals from the deli. A local favorite and where I get all my cheese.

Java Blend Cafe – A newer addition to Rural Retreat, the Java Blend Cafe is quickly becoming a local favorite with their excellent coffee and diverse menu.

Wythe Raceway – A gem in the region, Wythe Raceway attracts spectators from near and far to watch drivers battle it out on this infamous half-mile clay track. Established in 1969, the raceway has built a reputation as one of the best facilities and smoothest tracks in the southeast.

Country Kitchen – Great country cooking in a great country town. Country Kitchen is another local favorite serving up the heart of the town on a dish.