From craggy cliffs to scenic coastlines, these state parks have plenty to offer for late summer and early fall Southern escapes.
Westmoreland State Park
Approximately 90 minutes from both Richmond and Washington, D.C., Westmoreland State Park is a relatively remote escape on Virginia’s Northern Neck that’s highlighted by its location on a 1.5-mile sweeping stretch of the Potomac River. The scenery offers a setting that feels unique to the Commonwealth, with waterfront cliffs and wooded trails that give way to a sandy beach where you can hunt for fossilized shark teeth.
Grab a campsite and hike the park’s six-mile trail network, eventually picking up the Big Meadow Trail that leads to Fossil Beach. For a small fee you can also take an interpretive kayak trip—a beginner-friendly, three-mile paddle along the coastline that includes a guided look at the area’s natural history.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park
The Red River Gorge Geologic Area is hallowed ground for rock climbers, holding some of the best sport routes in the Southeast. But nearby you can also explore the area’s majestic sandstone cliffs at one of Kentucky’s original state parks, which was first opened back in the late 1800s. The main attraction at Natural Bridge is the park’s namesake—a 78-foot-long, 65-foot-high natural arch—and hikers have plenty more ground to cover on more than 20 miles of trails throughout the park’s 2,300 acres.
Book a cabin or a site at one of Natural Bridge’s two campgrounds, and rent a kayak or paddleboard on the park’s expansive Mill Creek Lake. For dinner, head to Miguel’s Pizza, a popular climber’s hangout with delicious pies.
Hunting Island State Park
Set on a barrier island east of Beaufort, S.C., Hunting Island State Park is a coastal escape with plenty of low country splendor—sprawling saltwater marshes, dense maritime forest, and five miles of beachfront. Bring your bike and cruise the eight-mile Island Bike/Hike Trail, while keeping an eye out for loggerhead turtles. You can also cast for redfish and trout from the park’s fishing pier and climb the state’s only publicly accessible lighthouse for a serene view. The park has 100 campsites that require at least a two-night stay.
Cover photo: The cliffside view at Westmoreland state park. Photo courtesy of Virginia State Parks