Philpott Lake Dam & Overlook
Elevation: 1148 ft.
Philpott Dam was built in 1948 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide flood control in the Roanoke Valley. The dam began hydropower production in 1953. Spanning 3000 acres of water, the lake is surrounded by lands managed by the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Corps of Engineers operates a Visitor Assistance Center offering information, interpretive displays and spectacular views of the Lake and dam. This area provides access to the lakeshore, Smith River downstream from the dam, and surrounding pine forests.
The towering white pines in the visitor center’s parking lot are an excellent start to exploring the area. This is one of the best places in western Virginia to find the brown-headed nuthatch, scurrying around in treetops. Pine warbler and yellow-throated warbler are also easy to find in these pines. Other area species to look for include blue jay, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, cedar waxwing, red-eyed vireo, chipping sparrow, and American goldfinch. Barn swallows nest on the dam and can often be seen swarming over the water just in front of the dam. Philpott Lake should be checked for a variety of waterfowl during migration and in winter when horned grebe and bufflehead have been recorded. Black, Forster’s and common terns have also been known to visit during migration. Wildflowers are prevalent throughout the spring and summer with showy rhododendrons being replaced by deep pink magnolias as the seasons progress. These flowers attract a variety of butterflies, especially the spicebush swallowtail.
From the intersection of US 220 and US 58 south of Martinsville, travel north 11.0 miles on US 220 to the intersection US 220 and SR 57 in Bassett Forks. Take SR 57 west 1.1 miles to SR 57A. Once on SR 57A, continue west 5.0 miles to Rt. 904. Turn right and follow it 1.2 miles to the visitor center.