For a unique change of pace, head south out of D.C. into Virginia’s Northern Neck, where history and nature come together.
Situated between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, portions of the Northern Neck remain unchanged since the native Indians of the Moraughtacund Tribe watched Capt. John Smith and other English settlers come ashore in 1612.
On a peninsula in Stafford County where Aquia Creek and the Potomac River meet, Widewater provides access to both bodies of water. The park has a visitor center, picnic shelters, playgrounds, restrooms, canoe-kayak launches and a hiking trail.
A unique aspect of the park is paddle-in camping. You can launch your kayak from Aquia Creek in one part of the park, paddle the creek to the Potomac River, and come ashore at the paddle-in campground. (Or, you can just drive to the campsite. But where’s the adventure in that?)
Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve
Just a short drive away, but still in Stafford County, is Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve.
There are no restroom facilities, but the natural area preserve offers hiking trails as well as a canoe and kayak launch. A handicap accessible walkway leads right to the water’s edge, offering a beautiful view.
Caledon State Park
Just a short drive from 301 and the Maryland border, Caledon State Park is a National Natural Landmark of old-growth forests. Known for hiking trails, wildlife and eagle viewing. From star parties to eagle tours, the park offers many ways to connect with nature on and off the water.
The Northern Neck is home to more than 250 bird species, and many of them make their homes in parks like Westmoreland State Park and Belle Isle State Park.
With more than 1,300 acres in Westmoreland County, Westmoreland State Park offers more than mile of coastline along the Potomac River. With camping, cabins, fishing, trails, a swimming pool and a playground, the park is perfect for family getaways.
Further south on the Northern Neck, on the Rappahannock River, Belle Isle State Park offers seven miles of shoreline and access to Mulberry and Deep creeks. Explore a variety of tidal wetlands interspersed with farmland and upland forests. It has a campground, three picnic shelters, hiking, biking and bridle trails, and motor boat and car-top launches. Guests also enjoy the park’s universal access playground, boardwalk and fishing pier, and educational programs. The Bel Air historic area is ideal for weddings.
The diverse habitats found in the park provide homes to many predator birds, such as blue herons, osprey, hawks and bald eagles. White-tailed deer, turkeys, groundhogs, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, moles, reptiles and amphibians are also common. There are eight distinct types of wetlands within the park. These diverse ecosystems make Belle Isle an excellent outdoor laboratory for environmental education.
For more on everything Virginia State Parks has to offer, visit virginiastateparks.gov.