MagazineAugust 20215 Virginia Destinations with Amazing Park Access

5 Virginia Destinations with Amazing Park Access

The scenic parks of Virginia provide a wealth of opportunities, no matter how you prefer to get outside.

From hiking scenic trails and fishing for your next great catch to telling stories around the campfire after a long day, discover new places to visit close to the parks of Virginia. Please check with locations prior to travel for local guidelines or use this guide for future trips!

Lake Anna State Park
Lake Anna State Park

A Spot by the Water in Spotsylvania County, Va.

From gentle meandering trails to serene waters, the parks of Spotsylvania County, Va., offer a peaceful getaway surrounded by nature. Located between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, you’ll find it’s a convenient location for a weekend trip with plenty to do for an extended stay.

With over 13,000 acres of water to explore, plus 15 miles of trails, Lake Anna State Park is a true gem for families and solo adventurers alike. This park has it all, from scenic overlooks and swimming in the lake to sleeping under the stars. If you’re looking for a quiet spot, cast a line for largemouth bass or spend your time paddling around at Hunting Run Reservoir or Ni River Recreation Area. Pack a picnic and head to Loriella Park for a day outside, testing your skills on the 18-hole disc golf course, swimming in the pool, and walking Massaponax Creek Trail through the woods.

There’s so much more to discover when you visit the area, from other local parks and the Adventure Course at Wilderness Presidential Resort to a wealth of history at Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House battlefields. Find your new go-to spot in Spotsylvania County today.

VisitSpotsy.com

Chincoteague Island
Chincoteague Island

A Beach Getaway to Chincoteague Island, Va.

Head to the coast of Virginia’s Eastern Shore to experience the splendor of Chincoteague Island in the fall. With a variety of ways to get outside and soak up the ocean breeze for yourself, spend your days exploring all that Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge has to offer. From fishing, crabbing, and paddling the scenic waterways to biking more than seven miles of paved and gravel trails through the refuge, there’s no shortage of new sights around every corner. A variety of ecosystems, including marshes, woodlands, and beaches, offer boundless opportunities to see wildlife, from soaring birds and scuttling crabs to glimpses of the famous wild ponies. Take a walk down the beach as you look for shells and feel the waves crashing at your feet.

When you’re done on the shore, head into town for a sampling of local delights, including fresh seafood, sweet treats, and charming shops. Find a spot on the island’s western end or book a scenic boat cruise to watch an epic sunset before turning in for the night. With a mild year-round climate, there’s never a bad time to visit. Experience the wonder of the coast for yourself when you visit Chincoteague Island, Va.

ChincoteagueChamber.com 

Cedar Creek Trail at Natural Bridge State Park
The Cedar Creek Trail is a 1.6-mile out-and-back walk leading to Lace Falls. Photo by Nancy Sorrrells

Play All Day in Lexington, Buena Vista, and Rockbridge County, Va.

At the southern gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, Rockbridge County, Va., encompasses 64,000 acres of public forests, parks, and rivers where outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels can hike, bike, paddle, and fish. Conveniently located at the junction of I-81 and I-64W, you can spend your days exploring various sites or choose one to focus on. Stop into the college towns of Lexington and Buena Vista for the food and spirits scene before heading out to your campsite for the night.

Natural Bridge State Park is a must-see with seven miles of hiking trails, including the universally-accessible Cedar Creek Trail passing directly under the soaring 215-foot high arch of Natural Bridge. Carved out by the creek over millions of years, this is one wonder you’ll want to see with your own eyes. The whole family will love experiencing different parts of the park, such as the Children’s Discovery Area, featuring self-guided wildlife tours, views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and an outdoor play space, and the living history experience at the Monacan Indian Exhibit. 

Keep an eye out for weekly programming, such as morning and evening hikes on Skyline Trail, Critters in the Creek, Birds at the Bridge, and more. It’s also a great spot to do some stargazing as this year Natural Bridge became the third park in the Virginia State Park system to be named an International Dark Sky Park, a place where visitors can experience a natural night beneath a twinkling sky. 

Take a stroll through 15 acres of gardens at Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden. Here you’ll find 2,000 plant varieties and 4,000 native trees and shrubs, including significant collections of Dwarf Conifers, Magnolias, Dogwoods, Rhododendrons, Azaleas, and Japanese Maples. Wander five unique ecosystems, play in whimsical outdoor spaces such as the Kid’s Play Trail and a Fairy Forest, and stop by for educational programs and music events. Boxerwoodis a place for all to meditate, contemplate, and experience nature.

Fishing at Glen Maury Park
Fishing at Glen Maury Park, photo by Steve Shires

Keep the fun going in Buena Vista at Glen Maury Park, a 315-acre municipal park featuring a river walk, hiking and biking trails, Olympic-sized pool, playgrounds, disc golf course, two campgrounds with tent spaces and RV hook-ups, and access to the Maury River. Check the calendar for a variety of music events each year, from old-time to classical, beach to bluegrass, and gospel to rock n’roll. 

Explore even more miles of trails and waterways with easy access to the Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway, George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, James River, and more. Discover new spots you’ve never visited like Goshen Pass Natural Area Preserve, Cave Mountain Lake Recreational Area, Lake Robertson Recreational Area, House Mountain Reserve, and Short Hills Wildlife Management Area. With so many places offering new sights, this is a getaway spot you’ll be visiting for years to come. 

Stay Awhile

When you’re ready to refuel, head into the town of Lexington for a variety of food and drink options. Choose from more than 30 beer options on tap with the “self-pouring wall” at Salerno Wood Fired Pizza & Tap House or treat yourself to a scoop of homemade ice cream at Sweet Things Ice Cream. 

Devils Backbone Outpost Brewery & Tap Room is another excellent stop along the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail before you end your day with a double feature under the stars at Hull’s Drive-In, the nation’s only non-profit and community-owned drive-in theater. Get a good night’s sleep and be ready to do it all over again because there’s so much to see and do when you visit Lexington, Buena Vista, and Rockbridge County in the mountains of Virginia.
LexingtonVirginia.com | RockbridgeOutdoors.com

Breaks Interstate Park
Breaks Interstate Park

Discover the Parks in the Heart of Appalachia

Road trip through southwestern Virginia, in the Heart of Appalachia, for some of the most awe-inspiring sights in our region. Take in the natural wonders and wildlife as you visit some of the most beloved state parks around. 

Adventurers of all ages and abilities will delight in the epic landscape at Breaks Interstate Park, located on the Virginia-Kentucky border. Here, the Russell Fork River has carved out a 1,650-foot gorge, one of the largest canyons east of the Mississippi. Descend from the mountaintop to the bank of the river for a strenuous but worthwhile endeavor or drive up to the breathtaking viewpoints that overlook the gorge. Whether you prefer to paddle the serene waters of Laurel Lake or the class IV rapids of the Russell Fork, there are endless ways to experience this park by water. For the thrill-seekers of the family, take advantage of opportunities for rock climbing and ziplining in this slice of heaven. Fall asleep to the sounds of nature all around you in one of the lakefront cabins, woodland cottages, or campsites and wake up ready for another day of adventure. 

Known for its biodiversity and scenic beauty, Clinch River State Park is Virginia’s newest and first blueway state park. Although it’s currently under development, you can visit the Sugar Hill Unit for hiking trails, picnic spots, and fishing from the bank. When completed, visitors will be able to paddle a 100-mile stretch of the river with multiple access points along the way.

Prepare to be amazed as you take in the 850-foot long and 10-stories tall limestone tunnel at Natural Tunnel State Park. Carved out over thousands of years, experience the views from overlooks on the towering ridge or from the tunnel floor by way of the chairlift. Complete your visit with a canoe trip before turning in for the night at your campground. 

Dig deep into the history and culture of southwestern Virginia at Wilderness Road State Park, where you can register your group for a primitive camping spot, and the Southwest Virginia Museum State Park, with reservations available in the garden-themed Poplar Hill Cottage. From exhibits and locally-made crafts to hiking trails and birdwatching, these parks will pull you into the past while celebrating the present. There’s no better place to get outside and engage all of your senses than the Heart of Appalachia in southwestern Virginia.

HeartOfAppalachia.com

Elk in Buchanan County
Elk roam the mountainside in Buchanan County

Wild and Wonderful Parks in Buchanan County, Va.

In the mountains of southwestern Virginia, Buchanan County offers a quiet getaway where you can immerse yourself in the surrounding majestic landscape. From towering cliffs to plunging canyons carved out through stone, discover the parks that let you get up close and personal with the landscape. 

Breaks Interstate Park, located on the Virginia-Kentucky border, is the place to be for families and adventurers of all ages and abilities. With more than 25 miles of hiking trails, you can do everything from a leisurely walk around Laurel Lake to a steep descent down to the Russell Fork River. Mountain bikers with some experience will love the challenging climbs and long downhill stretches on the Mountain Bike Trail while anglers will enjoy fishing the many waterways of the park for rainbow trout, bluegill, and bass. For the thrill seekers of the group, outfitters in the area offer rock climbing and whitewater rafting excursions that will get the heart pumping. Take in the sunset over the Russell Fork Gorge, the “Grand Canyon of the South,” from one of the many drive-up overlooks before settling into your room at the lodge, lakefront cabin, woodland cottage, or campsite at the end of the day.

If you’re looking for a quieter spot, the new Southern Gap Visitor Center is a true gem of Buchanan County. Featuring interactive wildlife displays and an observation deck with panoramic views of the mountains, there’s no better way to enjoy the stunning beauty of the area. Whether you’re watching for the 220 bird species that call the county home or turning your eyes skyward for beautiful views of the stars, several all-purpose trails that start from the parking lot will allow you to take it all in. Make sure to stop by one of the public wildlife viewing shelters for a glimpse of the elk that roam the mountainside. In 2012, 71 elk were reintroduced to the area after an almost 100-year absence, expanding to a herd of several hundred elk today. The best time to visit is sunrise or sunset when these magnificent animals are the most active. Elk tours, plus cabins, RV hookups, and campsites, are open for those who want to make the most out of their visit.

Slow things down and discover the wild beauty of Buchanan County for yourself when you visit the parks of southwestern Virginia.

WildBuchanan.com

Cover photo courtesy of Getty Images

Places to Go, Things to See: