The Smith River flows from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, through Henry County, Virginia, and down into North Carolina, where it empties into the Dan River at Eden. The annual Smith River Fest is a truly a celebration of all things associated with the Smith River, including running, biking and paddling.
The 2018 festival falls on Saturday, August 11, and includes a 4.8 mile long river race and 5K Mud Run, plus vendor booths, children’s activities, live demonstrations, and a performance by Crawford & Power. The band blends country, Americana and southern rock; think classic country music revival with a splash of sweet iced tea and whiskey. Other attractions include puppy yoga, fly-tying and casting demonstrations, on-site rentals, free shuttles, guided paddle trips, a kids village with inflatables, petting zoo, beer garden, and vendors.
The festival is located at the Smith River Sports Complex, 1000 Irisburg Road in Axton, just off the Hwy 58 Bypass.
We wanted the insider’s view, so we talked to Brian Williams, owner and operator of Smith River Outfitters. Brian’s been guiding fishermen and paddlers on the Smith River for more than 8 years. He’s also program manager at the Dan River Basin Association, whose mission is to preserve and promote the cultural and natural resources of the Dan River Basin in Virginia and North Carolina through education, recreation and stewardship.
Tell us about the Smith River Fest and why people should go that weekend.
Smith River Fest is a true “river fest” with over 90 vendors, a River Race, a Mud Run, music, local craft brews, outdoor activities for all ages and a whole lot of fun packed into a Saturday. You can paddle, race, run, enjoy the music and food and drinks, and learn about all our area has to offer, or just chill by the river in a hammock! Stay for the Blue Ridge Boys and Girls Club duck race and cheer as 10,000 rubber ducks come floating down the river to raise money for the local boys and girls club. We provide free shuttles for those wishing to paddle the river, and there are opportunities for all paddlers from novice to expert. Come experience our local secret and enjoy a day on the river!
What’s a good float by a beginning paddler? How about one for someone who is more technically advanced? What’s a good family float or tubing trip?
The Smith River is perfect for the novice and fun for the experienced paddlers too. We have sections that you can paddle regardless or your ability. Its a tail-race stream which means they use the water through the dam to generate for hydro power production. At normal flows, the Smith can range from 65 cfs (cubic feet per second) to 100 cfs. During hydro-power generation, the flow will bump up to 650 cfs which is perfect for the novice to experienced paddler. During periods of lower flows, its easy for beginners to learn the river. The section from Philpott Dam to Bassett is one of the most beautiful, with high ridges of rhododendron and laurel, some easy class I and II rapids, huge sycamore trees, plenty of wildlife and lots of trout. This section is best paddled during generation. When there is no generation, it’s perfect for wade fishing for trout. The section below Martinsville is easily paddled even when there is no generation. All the way from the city of Martinsville to the North Carolina line you will feel like you are in a remote wilderness. This section also has some easy rapids, and its not uncommon to spot eagles, ospreys, otters, beavers and deer.
What do you recommend for a family who wants to play in a river but not do an A-to-B float? What’s a good single spot to play on the river in the Dan River Basin area?
There are great locations on the Dan and the Smith and the Mayo! For folks near Danville, Dan Daniels Park is a great location to hike along the river, fish, wade in the water, or float down to Anglers Park. In Rockingham County, North Carolina, you can hit the Dan River right in Eden at Leaksville Landing or the Eden Wildlife Access. On the Smith River, there are 11 river access ramps and each one is a great place to get your feet wet and play in the river. Our favorite is the Great Road River Access in Stanleytown near the US 220 bypass. It’s easy to get to, with good parking, a picnic table and restroom, and a wide shallow area to swim or wade in. It’s great for dogs and kids.
Where’s a good place to plan to eat after the Smith River Fest or doing a float? What’s a good brewery, winery or other watering hole?
We recommend Shindig, an uptown bistro for a wide variety of food in a comfortable atmosphere. Hugo’s is our local bar and eatery that has great appetizers, friendly folks and great entrees and specials. Aman is the owner and the perfect host.
For a brewery, Mountain Valley Brewing is the place. This local brewery grows their own hops and is located just outside of Axton, only about 5 miles from the Smith River Sports Complex. You can enjoy a wide variety of locally produced craft beers while listening to live entertainment on the weekends at the comfortable tasting room and patio. Herb and Peggy make you feel right at home as they offer you taste of their current selections. You’ll want to grab a growler to take home, too.
Any recommendations on a good late-summer swimming hole?
Fairystone Park is the perfect place for swimming and since it is a state park it has all the amenities expected. We also have beaches and swimming areas at the nine access locations around Philpott Lake. You can check out the Philpott Blueway online and decide where you want to go. All this information is available on a variety of websites with interactive maps including the Henry County Parks and Recreation, Martinsville Henry County Tourism, and the Dan River Basin Association. More river information is also available on the Smith River Outfitters website.