Off Season Camping at Virginia State Parks
Fewer people provide more solitude, bare trees reveal new landscapes and colder temperatures bring new sensations to your favorite adventure locations. Personally, we’re in it for lack of bugs, but there’s no one right reason to get out this winter and spend some time in nature.
James River State Park’s Canoe Landing camp ground is a riverside gem. Thirteen tent-only sites surrounded by huge sycamores dot the James River. The Canoe Landing sites are right next to the boat launch and fit nicely in a multi-day James River float trip, but for those driving, parking is close enough for you to tote in your cooler to camp. Each site comes with a fire ring and picnic table, but no tent pads are provided. This is a nice place to learn to rough it while still being within eye sight of your transportation and whatever additional supplies you might need.
Backpacking Season Doesn’t Have to End
Sky Meadows at the foothills of the Appalachian Trail and the crest of the Blue Ridge provides an ideal setting for beginner backpackers and those looking for a quick escape. Walk-in backpackers can fill out registration tags and hit the trail just beyond the parking area immediately adjacent to the contact station. A 1-mile hike up hill is all that separates you from backcountry bliss at this point. Just a short trot from the AT, overnight trips can easily turn into multi-day adventures from here.
Caledon State Park too provides big adventure close to home. The park is renowned for its bald eagle habitat and is one of the best places in the country to watch the birds. Six primitive sites along the Potomac are accessible by a 3-mile hike from the parking area near the visitor center or by boat at the canoe landing.
Belle Isle State Park is also near the top of the list. At the edge of Brewer’s Point, tucked just behind the pines on the shore of the Rappahannock River are four designated primitive sites perfect for year-round adventuring. It’s roughly a 1.5-mile hike in from the nearest parking area, but Belle Isle offers nearly 10 miles of trails for you to explore. Wander the park all day and then head to your camp before sunset for dinner and a show—The Rapp. is about 3.5 miles wide west from your camp toward the sunset.
Looking for something more adventurous? How About Bikepacking?
Sky Meadows, Caledon, and Belle Isle’s primitive sites are all accessible by bike, but for those looking for a really out of this world experience, we recommend pedaling your way down to False Cape.
False Cape State Park is one of the most—if not the most remote place in the state. Insulated from the hustle of Virginia Beach and Sandbridge to the north, False Cape sits on the VA/NC boarder behind the vast stretches of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. April-October, the park is accessible through the refuge via the bayside trails. From November-February, however, the refuge is closed to visitors and the park is accessible only via the Terra Gator shuttle service or by human-powered transport.
Park at the designated overnight area at Little Island City Park and take Sandpiper Road about a mile to the gated beach access trail. From here, it’s another 5-7 miles of wide open Atlantic beach to your campsite. Twenty-six sites across four distinct campgrounds provide a truly unique experience.
Beachfront sites offer incredible sunrises and ocean side views, but beware the tides and biting flies. You’ll need to know how to anchor your shelter in the sand and have to manage with the coastal winds, but during fair weather and favorable tides, these sites are hard to beat. Back into the dunes, campsites are nestled under the sprawling low-growth live oaks—a hammock campers dream—and have enough ground space for a tent and the provided picnic table. These are coupled to a corresponding beach site in the event of extreme high tides and guarantee you’ll have a place to sleep. Bayside sites are situated along the Back Bay and provide easy access to a dock/kayak launch. These sites are more open and give you a front row view of the best sunset in Virginia. Lastly, the newly installed interior sites are located nearer to the visitor center in the pristine maritime forest with soft, pine covered sandy soil.
If you can’t leave the RV just yet, or if a tent isn’t in the cards for you—fear not. Virginia State Parks offer four year-round, full service campgrounds.
For more information and to find a camp to call home, visit http://virginiastateparks.gov/camping. Reservations are accepted for many of our primitive sites through Reserve America. Reservations can also be made by calling 800-933-PARK (7275).