You don’t have to travel to the coast to spend time on a sandy beach, splash around in the water and relax in a lounge chair.
Fort Bragg’s Smith Lake Beach has a swimming area and water activities — including paddleboarding and pedal boats — for military families and their guests.
The 67-acre, man-made lake features a full beach, an inflatable in-water obstacle course, kayaking, stand-up paddleboards and pedal boats.
Smith Lake Recreation Area closed in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew caused major damage. Fort Bragg made storm repairs and addressed erosion control, and the facility reopened last year.
In its opening weekend this year, more than 2,000 people enjoyed the beach and sun while grilling hot dogs, drinking lemonade and finding shade in one of the upgraded pavilions available for rent.
James Day, the outdoor recreation branch chief for Fort Bragg Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, says the recent improvements included making the recreation area fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. New amenities include walkways from the gate to the beach, upgraded locker rooms and mats on the beach for wheelchair access. Day said future plans could include a beach expansion, more pavilions and a concert space or amphitheater.
On a recent Friday, Sgt. Shane Houle and his wife, Kim, were busy chasing their children around the water and sand — including a toddler who was enthralled with going in and out of the surf.
The Houles brought their family — including sons Jamison, 9; Tristan, 5; and Desmond, 1 — to play in the waves as a break from packing boxes ahead of their upcoming move to Maryland. Shane and Kim are high school sweethearts from Raleigh. Kim says she found out about Smith Lake on social media.
“Desmond loves the water, and this is perfect for our oldest with the inflatable park,” she says. “It’s a great place, especially for families with young children. You don’t have to worry about rip currents like you do at the beach.”
The Houleses plan to visit again when they return to the area to visit family.
Friends Tonya Cody and LaVika Shull rented a pavilion and spent the day at the lake.
“It’s close to home, and these water sports can’t be beat,” Cody says.
Shull’s 14-year-old son, Blake, says his favorite activity was paddleboarding.
“He’s so adventurous,” Shull says of her son, adding that he had stayed in the water the entire day without a break.
Shull appreciates how organized the recreation area is with timed activities that visitors can sign up for to avoid crowding. She says she was pleasantly surprised by how much the area offers families.
“It’s well-kept and unlimited,’’ she says. “We’ve been out here for five hours, and the children have been on the go all day.”
Cody says her daughters love the water sports as well.
“Everything is family-friendly, and the lifeguards are a peace of mind,” Cody says.
Her 10-year-old daughter, Kristina, says the lake felt as safe as a community pool.
“I’ve made new friends out here today, and it’s just great,’’ she says.
Her 17-year-old sister, Olivia, agreed, saying her favorite activities are kayaking and the aqua park.
“It’s like ‘Wipeout’,” she says with a laugh.
Around 80 Fort Bragg soldiers spent the day playing cornhole, volleyball and participating in the water activities. Several of them are from California and Florida and say the visit to the lake reminds them of home.
“Seeing families on the beach, playing cornhole and volleyball. … I’m a water boy from the West Coast, so this is just great,’’ one of the soldiers says. “Now you will see us here more often.”
Another soldier echoes the connection between home in California and the fun morale day with his unit.
“The paddleboarding is the closest thing to surfing around here,’’ he says. “It feels like home on the board.”
Smith Lake is open to Department of Defense identification-card holders and as many as two guests per household. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday and on federal holidays.
Admission is $3 to $5 for swimming access only; $10 to add kayaks, paddleboards and pedal boats; and $15 for everything, including aqua park admission. Small beach pavilions and one large beach pavilion, all with grills, are available for rent. For more information, go to bragg.armymwr.com.
Other area swimming options:
Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks & Recreation has four pools and 12 splash pads for water fun.
Hours are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 2-7 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.
Spring Lake also has a splash pad at 245 Ruth St. with free admission. Hours are
10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday.
Hope Mills allows swimming in a designated area of Hope Mills Lake until Labor Day weekend.
There are also country-club options including Highland, Kings Grant and Gates Four, which require memberships. Baywood Golf and Community Association has pool memberships available.
More information can be found at the following:
Another private option is the Fayetteville Elks Lodge at 3269 Gables Drive. It has a junior Olympic-size pool and a smaller kiddie pool. A pool membership is a perk of being part of the Elks, a fraternal organization that supports charitable services to build stronger communities. Activities include working with foster homes, veterans and schools. To join the Fayetteville Elks Lodge, visit join.elks.org.