By Emily M. Grey
June 15, 1936, marked the only day in this nation that a state dedicated all of its parks. Virginia officially opened Chippokes, Douthat, Fairy Stone, First Landing (Seashore), Hungry Mother, and Westmoreland State Parks, which have served as prototypes for many of America’s other state parks.
Last year, the Commonwealth’s state park system, managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), became the third winner to receive the National Gold Metal and State Park Award. The National Sporting Goods Association recognized Virginia’s state parks for providing excellent recreation and park management to its citizens.
“Hundreds of DCR employees and countless volunteers dedicated tens of thousands of hours of hard work over 65 years to make Virginia state parks the best in the nation,” said Joe Elton, DCR State Parks Director.
The Commonwealth’s 33 State Parks, Breaks Interstate Park, and 14 Natural Areas are wonderful havens in which to unwind, explore, and commune with nature every season. Despite similarities, each sanctuary stands apart from its brethren in a personal way to the beholder.
Each park furnishes typical amenities like user-friendly hiking trails, campsites, and kiosks. Some provide restaurants, barrier-free conveniences, climate-controlled cabins, pools, and conference and environmental centers. Festivals, workshops, and interpretive programs at each venue entertain travelers and boost local communities.
From fishing and boating to wildlife watching and golf, there is something for everyone at these treasured sanctuaries. Even pets are allowed at all parks with specified conditions. Portions of each reserve are accessible year-round.
Featured below is a state park from each of Virginia’s eight geographical areas and an honorable mention. So grab a picnic basket and binoculars, and discover some of eastern North America’s loveliest premium acreage.
BLUE RIDGE HIGHLANDS
HUNGRY MOTHER STATE PARK
The entrancing 108-acre lake, sandy shore and a gaggle of Canada geese are welcome sentinels. A hike in the woodlands with captivating ridgelines while in the company of nuthatches, woodpeckers and deer is nourishing to the soul.
Anglers can test rods from rustic bridges or from boats on the lake. The beach is a natural playground for sunbathers and swimmers and a wholesome spot for wedding parties.
Families often picnic near the ball field and sample the restaurant’s exceptionally delicious meals and Sunday brunch. The visitor center displays manifold nature exhibits and a state of the art weather station. The Hemlock Conference Center hosts retreats and other events. One can camp amongst infinite stars or enjoy the coziness of a modern pine cabin.
Hungry Mother State Park
Route 5, Box 109
2854 Park Blvd.
Marion, VA 24354
(540) 781 – 7400
Directions: Follow State Route 16, four miles north of Marion off Interstate 81.
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE STATE PARK
Touted the “Gem of the Blue Ridge,” Virginia’s second largest fresh water lake invites aquatic enthusiasts. There are swimming, boating, a ramp and a new universally accessible fishing pier plus spring and summer anglers’ tournaments. An expansive beach and concession furnish hours of frolic. One of several hiking trails leads to hook-shaped Turtle Island, which, reportedly, affords some of the region’s choicest fishing.
For landlubbers, there are golf packages, amphitheater entertainment, pavilion-style picnicking, a new playground, and an informative visitor center. Primitive camping or new climate-controlled cabins, some with boat docks, cater to the rugged or more pampered individual.
Smith Mountain Lake State Park
Route 1, Box 41
Huddleston, VA 24104-9547
(540) 297 – 6066
Directions: In Bedford County from U.S. 460, take State Route 122 south to Route 608 east to Route 626 south.
WESTMORELAND STATE PARK
This diverse habitat is sandwiched between George Washington’s and Robert E. Lee’s birthplaces on the Northern Neck along the Potomac River. Rolling hills, woods, sandy shorelines and magnificent cliffs frame the grandeur of this historic locale.
An Olympic-sized pool, boat rentals, fishing area, playground, and hiking trails offer fun-filled exercise for all. A snack bar, camp store, and electric/water hook-ups fulfill guests’ needs. Besides a campground, there are comfortable log and chink cabins and the Potomac River Retreat, an overnight haven for groups of 16.
From an observatory, hidden amongst the wetland vegetation, one can watch osprey, great blue herons, and bald eagles. Many of our Nation’s founders likely crossed the same paths while observing nature or hunting turkey, deer, and other game.
Westmoreland State Park
Route 1, Box 600
Montross, VA 22520
(804) 493 – 8821
Directions: Off State Route 3, five miles northwest of Montross.
KIPTOPEKE STATE PARK
Strategically situated along the Atlantic Flyway on southern Delmarva is a prime spot to look for migratory birds and riparian wildlife. One can watch banders identify raptors and songbirds, or discover avifauna from a vast dune environment and pine woods.
A 24-hour-a-day fishing pier, picnic sites, boat ramp, and a guarded swimming beach area are readily accessible. One can experience the great outdoors in tent or a “yurt”, a Mongolian canvas structure which sleeps up to six people. It is sufficiently furnished and has heat, air-conditioning, and electricity but no running water. Guests can grill outside while viewing the Chesapeake Bay.
Kiptopeke State Park
3540 Kiptopeke Dr.
Cape Charles, VA 23310
(757) 331 – 2267
Directions: Three miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel tollbooth on U.S. 13, take State Route 704 west.
HEART OF APPALACHIA
NATURAL TUNNEL STATE PARK
After thousands of centuries, an awesome 850-foot long, 10-story-high limestone ridge was formed. People can view this wide chasm or tunnel between precipitous stone walls amidst several pinnacles or “chimneys” from various overlooks. Many onlookers opine that the natural tunnel is more majestic than the Natural Bridge near Glasgow.
People delight in riding a chair lift to the tunnel floor and safely watching trains breeze through the natural and proximate manmade tunnels. Trekking though the locality’s wild caves and canoeing on the mystical Clinch River also excite the wild in us.
A pool, campsite, picnic site, and amphitheater provide additional amusement. The lovely new Cove Ridge Center offers conference space, environmental education, and dormitory accommodations. A spacious deck and gazebo up the mountain afford wondrous panoramas. Although off the beaten path, a visit to this resource is well worth the effort.
Natural Tunnel State Park
Route 3, Box 250
Duffield, VA 24244
(540) 940 – 2674
Directions: From U.S. 23 from Weber City, head one mile east on Route 871.
SKY MEADOWS STATE PARK
Just when you think Virginia cannot be prettier, there’s “Hunt Country.” Boundless pastures and woods afford magnificent panoramas of the eastern Blue Ridge and access to the Appalachian Trail. Hiking trails traverse up steep rolling hills and along forests, rock outcroppings, and streams. Benches allow one to pause and study the refreshingly undeveloped landscape and watch for raptors and other feral creatures. Picnicking, a bridle trail, and primitive hike-in camping are other favorite ways to enjoy this history, nature-rich low-impact environment. Interpretive programs are offered every season except winter.
This is the place to collect oneself from the bustling demands of nearby Washington, D.C. and its surrounding megalopolis. Other Virginians and out of state visitors will also cherish this surprisingly quiet get away.
Sky Meadows State Park
11012 Edmonds Lane
Delaplane, VA 20144
(540) 592 – 3556
Directions: Follow U.S. 50 to Route 17 south or from Interstate 66 take Route 17 north. Enter the park from Route 710 west.
DOUTHAT STATE PARK
Conde Nast magazine rated this park, listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places, one of the continent’s top-10 vacation destinations. Located in heavenly pastoral Bath and Alleghany Counties, over 40 miles of hiking and mountain bike trails offer sweeping views. Lovely gnarled oaks, maples, and other trees form a heavenly canopy over the main road through the park. A rickety suspension bridge leads from or into Brushy Hollow Trail.
Anglers can fish in two miles of streams or swim off a sandy shoreline. A dam and spillway add dimension to the mountain lake. Families enjoy fun-filled interpretive programs and celebrations in a conference center or spacious amphitheater. They can picnic or dine in a restaurant overlooking a 50-acre trout-stocked lake.
Special hosts welcome tent and trailer campers. Two furnished lodges accommodate up to 18 guests and 31 wooden or old-style cabins are available for those not roughing it.
Douthat State Park
Route 1, Box 21229
Millboro, VA 24460
(540) 862 – 8100
Directions: From I-64 near Clifton Forge, take exit 27 to State Route 629 and travel 7 miles north.
TIDEWATER & HAMPTON ROADS
CHIPPOKES PLANTATION STATE PARK
For over 370 years, this site has been a continuously working farm. Cruising past Plantation Row past a tidal pool suggests a simpler time. Across the road from a 17th / 18th century vegetable garden, the Farm and Forestry Museum exhibits antique equipment. Lovely floral beds, including rare fall-blooming dwarf daffodils, decorate the rolling antebellum mansion grounds. Imagine an inquisitive child peering at passers-by from the 360-degree cupola.
Many visitors enjoy cycling, horseback riding, or strolling along the James River shoreline in search of fossils. Overhanging boughs and shell-covered berms present intriguing angles on the beachfront. For a moment one may be reminded of the Caribbean.
A campground sequestered amongst tall trees or three former tenant and sharecropper dwellings, shelter overnight guests. My charming cottage featured a cozy loft and modern conveniences tastefully blended with old relics. Vast corn, peanut and soybean fields, and sprawling split rail fences adorned with bird nesting boxes border these buildings, which are hidden from the road.
Chippokes Plantation State Park
695 Chippokes Park Rd.
Surry, VA 23883
(757) 294 – 3728
Directions: In Surry County, follow signs from State Route 10.
“In managing Virginia’s state parks, we have remained true to the original vision established in the 1930s,” stated David Brickley, DCR Director. “We’ve done this by actively managing our natural resources, retaining the natural beauty of our parks and complementing that beauty by incorporating modern improvements.”
Virginia Department of
Conservation & Recreation
203 Governor St., Suite 302
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786 – 1712
(800) 933-PARK (7275)
Cooperative Living, June 2002, page 18.