JOHN MUIR ONCE SAID, “Who has not felt the urge to throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence?”
Virginia is within a day’s drive of over half of America’s population. Despite the number of potential visitors, Virginia’s state parks stay remarkably uncrowded — except for major holidays. There are many undiscovered gems from Tidewater to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Within a few hundred miles of the nation’s capital, a person, a couple or a family can easily find hiking trails, camping areas, fishing, boating, romantic cabins, and miles of natural beauty.
Claytor Lake State Park
Claytor Lake is perfect for camping, hiking, swimming, as well as sport fishing and boating. People using the Water’s Edge Meeting Facility have a full-service marina on site. Three lodges and 13 cabins overlook the 4,500-acre lake. The historic Howe House offers interactive exhibits on the lake’s ecology. Rental bicycles are available; and an accessible fishing pier and a seasonal snack bar make Claytor Lake a family destination for a day, a week or a month.
Bear Creek Lake State Park
Forest Bear Creek Lake is located in the middle of Virginia’s Cumberland State Forest, less than an hour’s drive west of Richmond and is an ideal getaway for outdoor enthusiasts. Recreation opportunities focus on the 40-acre lake. Other on-site draws include cabins, camping, picnicking and an archery range. Park visitors enjoy access to the adjacent 16,000-acre forest, including the 14-mile Cumberland Trail for hikers, bikers and horseback riders.
Kiptopeke State Park
Kiptopeke State Park. Visitors can explore a coastal habitat, with a major flyway for migratory birds. The park, overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, has six-bedroom lodges in addition to RV and tent camping, a yurt and bunkhouse. The park’s boat ramp is adjacent to a lighted fishing pier, and picnic areas are scattered along 5 miles of hiking and biking trails. Interpretive and educational programs are offered on natural history, birding and the ecology of the bay.
Belle Isle State Park
Belle Isle State Park is less than two hours from historic Williamsburg, and has seven miles of shoreline, giving visitors easy access to tidal wetlands, farmland and forests. Three picnic shelters, hiking, and bridle trails are accessible from both motor boat and car-top launches for day trips along the Rappahannock River. Belle Isle State Park specializes in educational programs for all age groups, as well as hosting special events such as “Music by the River” live, outdoor musical concerts.
Lake Anna State Park
In the midst of the 1800s gold rush, gold was discovered at Lake Anna State Park. The land within the park was named Gold Hill — at one time, over twenty gold mines operated in the area of today’s park. Ranger guided programs teach gold panning techniques. Evidence of mining operations can be seen from the park’s observation deck, and interpretive tours are available throughout the summer.
Two scenic rivers wander before engaging to form a broad third river, which rolls for miles into Chesapeake Bay. Some early settlers came in chains and wouldn’t see freedom until centuries later; others desired new opportunities in the new world, and another group sought wealth in growing cash crops. Guided tours are available which showcase how Native Americans, African Americans, and Europeans lived along the York River and its branches. Some of the good and bad in America’s history is connected through the river.
Hungry Mother State Park
Hungry Mother State Park offers something for everyone: hiking, and biking trails, fishing boat rentals and some of the state’s nicest people. There is a great six-mile loop around the lake. Pet-friendly cabins are available. Tent and RV camping are available. The park office has shelves of board games and books which can be checked out at no cost. The lake has paddle boats, a swimming area and a spot to privately change from traveling clothes to swimsuits.
Wilderness Road State Park
Wilderness Road State Park is located in southwestern Virginia near the Cumberland Gap, has over 300 acres and includes a spot-on replica of the original Martin’s Station fort. Built by Daniel Boone in 1775, Wilderness Road was the first road connected the populated coastline to the nation’s interior. Large sections of the original road’s path are used by modern roads, but other stretches, like those inside the park, have been preserved.
Holliday Lake State Park
Holliday Lake State Park sits deep in the Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest and is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Largemouth bass, crappie, and bluegill are stocked in the lake — away from the “Critter Hole” swimming area. There are hiking trails including the 10.3-mile Carter Taylor trail used by hikers, cyclists and equestrian travelers. The park rents canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and pedal boats. And, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, where Robert E. Lee surrendered, is just up the road.