Virginia is one of the oldest states in the nation and is rich with Native American, colonial and natural history. It is home to numerous state parks which cover diverse landscapes from the coastal saltwater estuaries to freshwater rivers and lakes, from mountainous peaks to deep canyons. The state of Virginia was previously honored for having the best state park system in the country. This award recognized the park system’s integrity to maintaining its natural heritage. This, combined with its innovation to incorporate modern features such as climate control, soil and water conservation, environmental education centers and effective recreational planning make the parks within the state spectacular. The Virginia park system officially opened with the unveiling of six of its parks, much of which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, on one single day in June 15, 1936. Today, Virginia parks continue to be recreational attractions for both residents and visitors alike.
First Landing State Park: Virginia Beach
This park marks the site where the first English settlers landed in 1607 before pushing onward to Jamestown. Located along 1.5 miles of the sandy Chesapeake Bay beachside and sprawling across almost 3,000 acres, First Landing State Park is home to swampy waterways that were historically used by Native Americans, early colonists and even pirates. There are also 20 miles of trails, bike rentals, cabins and campsites with RV hookups. The park also rents its Trail Center for weddings and special events.
Hungry Mother State Park: Marion
Hungry Mother State Park, situated among the mountainous region north of Marion, is home to the annual Mountain Do Triathlon and the Hungry Mother Arts and Crafts Festival. The 108-acre lake with its sandy beach is a popular spot for boating, fishing and swimming. There are plenty of trails for hiking and biking as well as campgrounds and cabins. For larger groups, there is also an on-site lodge that sleeps 16 people and a conference center for special events or retreats. This visitors center additionally hosts a gift shop and restaurant.
Grayson Highlands State Park: Mouth of Wilson
Situated near Virginia’s two highest mountain peaks of more than 5,000 feet, Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, Grayson Highlands State Park is ideal for hiking, camping and horseback riding. Trails lead to scenic overlooks and waterfalls and offer access to the Appalachian Trail. The Virginia Highlands Horse Trail also runs through the park, and there are stables and trailer parking available. Every June, the parks hosts the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition, and September annually ends with the park’s Fall Festival.
Smith Mountain Lake State Park: Moneta
Spanning 40 miles across and with hundreds of miles of shoreline, Smith Mountain Lake is the second largest freshwater body in the state. It is considered the Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which surround it, offering the scenic views that make it such a popular destination. The state park, which covers over 1,500 acres of land on the north side of the lake is a haven for boating, fishing and swimming. There are also campgrounds and cabins available as well as picnic areas and an amphitheater for special events. The park also offers special ranger-led programs such as canoe trips and night hikes.
York River State Park: Williamsburg
York River State Park is located in the unique estuarine habitat where the freshwater York River and the saltwater Chesapeake Bay meet. Exhibits at the visitors’ center showcase information about the regions natural and cultural history, while visitors can explore the forests, shoreline and marshes with over 25 miles of trails for both hiking and horseback riding. There are also spots for both freshwater and saltwater fishing and for boating. Additionally available are picnic areas, bike rentals and playgrounds.
Pocahontas State Park: Chesterfield
Pocahontas State Park is located 20 miles south of Richmond and hosts a wide range of recreational activities. Visitors can catch bass, catfish, bluegill and crappie in the park’s two fishing lakes or go boating on Swift Creek Lake, which covers 200 acres. There are also 58 miles of trails for biking, horseback riding and hiking as well as campgrounds for overnight visits. The park is home to the one-of-a-kind Civilian Conservation Corps Museum and Aqua Center waterpark, which offers swimming pools, fountains, water games and water slides.
Kiptopeke State Park: Cape Charles
Kiptopeke State Park, located on the Eastern Shore with access to the Chesapeake Bay is an ideal destination for birding, boating, fishing and camping. Birdwatchers flock to see the Atlantic coast bird migrations, and interpretive programs focus on this unique ecology and its natural history. There are also campsites for tents or RVs, camping trailers, a yurt, cabins which sleep 16 people and a lodge for large groups. Additionally, along the coast is a sandy beach for swimming and a playground.
Breaks Interstate Park: Breaks
Breaks is named for the deep gorge cut by the Big Sandy River through Pine Mountain and is one of only two Interstate parks across the country. Situated on the border with Kentucky, the Breaks gorge runs for over five miles and has a depth of 1,600 feet, making it the largest canyon on the east side of the Mississippi River. The park itself offers a number of recreational activities, including hiking trails, campgrounds and cabins, a lodge and a motel, a convention center and a restaurant, a lake for fishing and boating and an Olympic-sized pool. There are also many events offered throughout the year.