We found Lake Gaston, Virginia (near Bracey) to be a great destination for a family “quarantine” vacation! More specifically, a quarantine & vacation that features nature, water and relaxation! Actually, Melani’s sister, Jeni, found the place – but hey- I’m the one with the blog and writing this post!
Lake Gaston is a beautiful lake that resides on the Virginia and North Carolina border. It has an AMAZING 350 miles of shoreline for just a 34 mile long lake! The lake looks like some kind of Chinese or fractal dragon – with an incredible amount of “tentacles” off the main body of water. This is in sharp contrast to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York – which feature noticeably smoother shorelines – and with which we are very well acquainted!
Our trip to the Lake Gaston area was the result of a family wedding that we had been planning on attending for Melani’s side of the family in August in North Carolina. The area of the lake we were staying in was southern Virginia (Bracey area) – just about 1 hour away from the location of the wedding in North Carolina.
But then the coronavirus happened! The wedding was ultimately held (live streamed with just the bare minimum in attendance), however, the reception was moved to next year.
With all the confusion and ever changing travel and social restrictions – due to the coronona virus– we found ourselves still locked into a house rental with Melani’s sister’s family and her mother. So we decided to go down anyways – and had a very enjoyable and relaxing week at a lake house! We figured that if we were going to have to be isolated/quarantined – at least it could be a fun and comfortable experience!
Lake Gaston is about 300 miles north east from Lake Lure – which, ironically, we were at just last year for another wedding for Melani’s other cousin (the sister of the one getting married this year!) We did like that Lake Lure was strikingly similar to the Adirondacks – in that there were comparable hills surrounding the lake. To read about our trip to Lake Lure – click here!
Bracey Virginia Area
Driving into the Bracey area was a very pleasant experience. Although I would have preferred some rolling hills – there were endless miles of tree-lined highways that stretched to the vanishing point on the horizon. Not a lot of traffic, and a peaceful, if not somewhat of a boring drive….
Given that we were at Lake Gaston in August of 2020 and the coronavirus was still raging – we were pretty much confined to the lake house we were renting and Lake Gaston itself. So I really can’t review or speak to the Bracey area – which I normally would. In fact, we only went into town once to pickup groceries at the local Walmart. So this a review only of our totally ensconced lake experience itself, at Lake Gaston.
Lake Gaston is actually a reservoir created (circa 1963) when the Gaston Dam was constructed near Thelma, North Carolina as part of a hydroelectric power-station project. The hydro-electric plant powers about 55,000 homes in the area. The lake’s elevation is roughly 200 feet above sea level, and at it’s maximum it is roughly 1.3 miles wide.
The Gaston lake area, in and around Bracey, is mostly flat – with only very modest swells in the land – which could not really even be called hills. That was a little bit of a disappointment to us – because we really like and enjoy the hills surrounding the lakes in the Adirondacks – especially in the fall with all the trees turning colors!
Powered watercraft are allowed on the lake – and we did see both motorboats and jet skis being used, pretty routinely, on the lake over the week that we were there. Some people may have an issue with this – but we didn’t think it was one – because of the nature and shape of the lake and where the specific property we were renting was located.
The property we were renting was located in one of the many coves (or tentacles) – off the main body of water of Lake Gaston. The coves offer a lot of privacy & a small lake feel – even though it is only a very small part of what is actually a much larger lake! So we kind of had the best of both worlds of what both a small lake and a much larger lake have to offer. We definitely liked this aspect of the lake a lot!
Since we were not very experienced with paddle boarding or canoeing, and have younger children – it was nice to be to able to retreat to the safety & calm of the coves to gain confidence with both the paddle boards and canoes. Likewise, we felt that it was safe for the children to use the canoes and paddle boards themselves – as long as they stayed confined to the cove area. As you can imagine – the coves acted to greatly reduce any waves resulting from passing powered water craft in the main body of the lake.
The temperature of the lake was very pleasing – even for someone like me who prefers warmer water temperatures! Yes – it is a lake and there are always currents – providing warmer, and often cooler, pockets of water. Overall, we found it to be a very pleasant temperature for swimming. No complaints from the kids!
The color of the lake water was just ok. It was definitely brownish. Admittedly – I prefer blue/green water – but that is sometimes not what is best for swimming.
A few weeks prior to our trip to Lake Gaston I had the pleasure of being on Cayuga Lake (the longest of the Finger Lakes), and was very impressed with the blue/green color of the water. My boating buddy explained that although the color was very pleasing to look at – the blue/green color was caused by the algae content being very high in the lake – and that the water may actually be unsafe for swimming. Not good! I guess in this case it is either nice to look at or nice to swim in – but it can’t be both!
This was definitely a fun trip for the kids – since there were so many things for them to do – many of which they can’t do very easily when we are back at home. Their cousins also made it a really fun time for them! But beware, if you are thinking about renting a house in the Lake Gaston area – as far as we could tell – there were no VRBO rentals that included cousins. Apparently you still have to bring your own cousins if you want “cousin time” on vacation!
We did not have a lot of success fishing – but did manage to catch several smaller fish. Regardless of the quantity and size of fish we my have, or may not have caught – the kids did have a lot of fun fishing. In-fact they almost seemed obsessed with it at times!
Canoes & Paddle Boards
Everyday, we spent hours in the canoes and on the paddle boards! We had fun canoeing across the main body of water to the cove opposite us to paddle around the little islands near us. I think I made that trip 4 times in one morning – to take each of the kids! Good arm exercise for sure!
The kids really enjoyed swimming in the lake. Although the three older ones are pretty good swimmers – we did require them to wear life jackets at all times. Every day – they spent HOURS swimming and playing water games (such as “Mount the Swan”). We were even surprised by Sophie, our 3 year old, who is very disinclined to wear things like life jackets – but did so to be able to swim in the lake!
We managed to have a couple of fires in the fire pit – roasting hot dogs one night and s’mores with dark chocolate the other night! The fire pit appears to be an improvement the new owners of the property made somewhat recently.
We spent a lot of hours on the dock – lounging & hanging out, fishing, talking and just enjoying the very pleasant setting. I enjoyed using the slingshot – but it was tough finding little rocks near the shoreline to use with it. It was also great to see the kids spending so much time with and in nature!
Games & Puzzles
There were only some brief times where the weather did not cooperate while we were at Lake Gaston. This is despite the fact that right before we left for our trip – the forecast was showing rain on EVERY day except one that we were to be there! So much for the accuracy of weather forecasts!
When the weather was somewhat inclement, or when the kids just needed a little break from the sun – we spent some time playing games and doing puzzles. Although we did bring some games with us – but there were also some games that came with the house rental. Likewise, there was a good variety of puzzles at the house – for both kids and adults. So even when we were inside – there were plenty of activities to do!
Renting a Vacation Home
The house we rented was located in Bracey and can be viewed here on VRBO. Your needs and preferences my be different – so here is a more complete list of the properties available in the area for rent. The property we rented was nice, overall – but in need of some maintenance and updating. It appears the owners are doing the updating and upgrading in step-wise fashion – making one or two major improvements each year or so.
Things We Would Recommend Looking for in a Rental at Lake Gaston
These are some of the more important features we, as a family, would recommending looking for in a summer vacation rental home for Lake Gaston:
- Fire pit
- Charcoal grill
- Dock with a ladder to the water
- Canoes & paddle boards
- Big kitchen & dining room
- Large great room
- Ample parking
- Located on a cove as opposed to the main body of the lake
- Life vests
- Washing machine
- Board games
Other things to consider – but were not as important to us:
- Game room (Foosball, ping pong, video games)
- Library of books to read / DVDs to watch
- Cable TV
- Jacuzzi / whirlpool
Happy travels! Oh, and don’t forget to bring those cousins – if your kids want some “cousin time” on vacation!
- Lake Gaston
- Family Adventure Vacation
- Vacation Home Rental