There is solace to be found in Northern Virginia if you know where to look. These seven Virginia State Parks are the first in a five part series to showcase groupings of parks and their offerings.
No matter where you are in Virginia, you’re never more than two hours (if that) from a Virginia State Park.
Don’t miss the map at the end.
— MASON NECK STATE PARK, LORTON —
Mason Neck State Park is in southern Fairfax County on a peninsula — an ideal location for birdwatching. Several miles of trails, as well as canoe, kayak and bike rentals, put the outdoor experience within easy reach.
Mason Neck is a day-use facility without camping or cabins, but just outside the park is Pohick Bay Regional Park, which does have a campground and cabins. Pohick Bay is sits along Gunston Cove off the Potomac River. Pair the two parks together for one well-rounded outdoor weekend escape.
— LEESYLVANIA STATE PARK, WOODBRIDGE —
The Potomac River becomes a playground for water sports enthusiasts at Leesylvania State Park. Love to fish? This park has made it easier for people of all abilities to enjoy such activities thanks to their universally accessible 300-foot fishing pier. Canoe and kayak rentals are available. Swimming in the Potomac is not advised, due to swift currents.
Five hiking trails traverse the park’s 543 acres, including a 20-station fitness trail. A leg of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail runs concurrently here, too.
If you’d like to camp, a primitive, tents-only area is available for groups. Reservations are required.
Factiod: Leesylvania is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. Why? It was a home to the Lee Family. Learn more about them at nearby Stratford Hall.
ALSO SEE: The Great American Backyard Campout
— CALEDON STATE PARK, KING GEORGE —
Caledon State Park is a National Natural Landmark and is home to one of the largest concentrations of American bald eagles on the East Coast. Bike or hike the trails through natural areas (ponds and marshes), and to overlooks, where you may spot the famous inhabitants. There are about 15 miles of trails to explore.
In regard to camping, Caledon is one of the special places of Virginia for paddle-in/hike-in primitive camping. Only six sites are available. Amenities include a sand-filled pad, fire ring, lantern post, picnic table and portable toilet. Reservations and your own water are required.
— WESTMORELAND STATE PARK, MONTROSS —
On the Northern Neck of the Potomac River is Westmoreland State Park, where Horse Head Cliffs is the major point of interest. From the Cliffs, the view of the Potomac is vast and breathtaking. Adjacent is Fossil Beach where fossil hunters seek (and find!) ancient shark teeth (swimming is prohibited; pool available). As with the previously mentioned parks, Westmoreland is a birding hot spot with osprey, kingfisher, great blue heron, green heron, and American bald eagle making homes in the vicinity.
Bring the whole family! The Potomac River Retreat (above photo is from inside the Retreat) is a five-bedroom waterfront accommodation with a dock and patio seating. Additional camping sites (133) and 26 equipped cabins are also available. The Retreat and cabins have a week-long minimum stay.
— LAKE ANNA STATE PARK, SPOTSYLVANIA —
Beach swimming at one of Virginia’s most popular lakes (and its’ third largest) is in order. Pack up and head to Lake Anna State Park for boating, fishing (accessible pond fishing, too) and 15 miles of trails (including bridle trails).
Ten miles of frontage set you on your way to the 13,000-acre lake. Boats, including pontoons, are available for rent.
Camping and cabins are available; reservations required.
Factoid: Within Lake Anna State Park is Goodwin Gold Mine. Gold was first discovered here in 1829 and the park offers gold mining-themed programs and events, including panning on Pigeon Run Creek.
— SKY MEADOWS STATE PARK, DELAPLANE —
Sky Meadows State Park is truly picturesque with rolling pastures and woodlands. Bring your horse to enjoy the 12 miles of bridle trails, lace up your boots for 24 miles of hiking, or bike on nine miles of trails. The Appalachian Trail can be accessed from Sky Meadows. The three-acre pond is stocked with bass, catfish, crappie, sunfish and bluegill for fishing. Boating is prohibited.
The camping at Sky Meadows is purely hike-in or bike-in. There are individual, buddy and group tent sites, with tent pads, picnic tables, non-potable water, and pit toilets.
ALSO SEE: The Mansions of Virginia State Parks
— SHENANDOAH RIVER STATE PARK, BENTONVILLE —
On the South Fork of the Shenandoah River you’ll find the 1,619-acre Shenandoah River Raymond R. “Andy” Guest Jr. State Park. A little more than five miles of shoreline makes this the perfect state park for throwing a tube in the water and floating for a while.
Fairly new to the park are the ziplines. It’s the only Virginia State Park to offer such a fun opportunity. Organized and led by Virginia Canopy Tours, the three-hour experience includes a UTV (utility task vehicle) trail ride, eight ziplines, air stairs, sky bridge, two nature hikes and a rappel. Reservations are made directly with VCT.
Twenty-four miles of trails are available for hiking, biking and bridle.
Riverfront tent camping is a must. There’s really nothing like it. If those are full, however, there are other campsites and cabins available, as well as the six-bedroom Lodge. Cabins and the Lodge have a week-long minimum stay.