John Muir said it best when in 1863 he wrote to his sister: “The mountains are calling and I must go …”
Perhaps you’ve experienced the feeling? Some of us simply long for the view of the mountains while others want to conquer it on two feet. Either way, there are 11 Virginia State Parks that you must consider as your destination.
WILDERNESS ROAD STATE PARK | EWING
In the shadow of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is Wilderness Road State Park. While one of the smaller Virginia State Parks, Wilderness Road has the advantage of connecting their 8.5-mile trail to more than 80 miles of trails within the Historical Park it bounds.
This history of this park is the reason people visit. It was here that Daniel Boone forged on through Cumberland Gap, leading settlers west. In 1769 there was a conflict between the Native Americans and Joseph Martin. It’s an event that is reenacted annually. When you visit, be sure to see the 1878 mansion.
Primitive camping for groups is available; bring your own water and know that there are no showers available. Learn More
NATURAL TUNNEL STATE PARK | DUFFIELD
Its namesake is an 850-foot long tunnel that soars as high as a 10-story building. William Jennings Bryan called it the eighth wonder of the world. You will probably stare at in awe. Take a chairlift ride to see it from a different angle.
When you hike the seven trails, you’ll encounter more geological treasures, and a little place called Lover’s Leap.
Cabins and camping are available. Cabins are two- and three-bedroom, plus there’s an additional six-bedroom lodge. Two campgrounds off 34 water and electric sites, while a separate group site has five tent pads for family camping.
A swimming pool, bathhouse and concession stand are available. Fishing is allowed along Stock Creek. Learn More
SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA MUSEUM HISTORICAL STATE PARK | BIG STONE GAP
Photo Credit: Jason Barnette Photo.
This state park is an anomaly in that it’s a museum managed by the state park system. There are no overnight accommodations or outdoor recreation. Rather, you’ll enjoy the 1880s Victorian stone mansion, a National Historic Landmark. The mansion was built by Virginia Attorney General Rufus Ayers and bequeathed to the commonwealth in 1946 by U.S. Congressman C. Bascom Slemp.
The importance of this landmark and park is to preserve and tell the stories of the pioneer era from the 1700s through the late 1800s “boom and bust” era in Southwest Virginia. The museum’s collection is more than 25,000 pieces strong. Learn More
BREAKS INTERSTATE PARK | BREAKS
This 4,600-acre park straddling the Virginia-Kentucky border is managed by a commission that includes partners from both states, including the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees Virginia State Parks. It’s one of only two interstate parks in the country.
A trip to Breaks is one you won’t soon forget. It’s been called the Grand Canyon of the South thanks to the gigantic 1,600′ gorge the Russell Fork River has forced over the years. The overlooks are stupendous. You’ll truly be in awe.
With the views to be had, it’s no surprise that hiking is a favorite activity at Breaks. In fact, this park has a Lover’s Leap, too. There are more than 25 miles of trails, including a 12-mile mountain biking loop. Guided horseback rides are also available.
While the mountains are the centerpiece here, water easily works into the equation. A lake, pond and of course, the Russell Fork, prove to be great fishing areas. The new Splash! in the Park attraction is a water park with beach entry and many cool features.
When considering an overnight, you have plenty of options. Cabins, cottages, a motel-like lodge, and campground are all on the table. Learn More
HUNGRY MOTHER STATE PARK | MARION
Nestled in the mountains, this park boasts a 108-acre lake and sandy beach. Kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, jon boats and paddleboards are available for rent. When you cast a line here, there’s a wide range of sport fish you may reel in: channel cats, various bass, walleye, and musky are just a few.
Hiking and biking are popular activities with more than 17 miles of trails to access.
Cabins range from a single-room efficiency to a six-bedroom lodge. There are 31 camp sites within the park and another 52 at Camp Burson right at the entrance to the park. Learn More
GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK | MOUTH OF WILSON
Photo by [email protected].
Looking to conquer mountains? This is a good place to make camp. Grayson Highlands is situated alongside Mount Rogers with an Appalachian Trail spur trail to reach it. Mount Rogers is Virginia’s highest peak and the AT meanders in and out of the eastern side of the park. Aside from reaching a summit, the trails at this park also leads to waterfalls, incredible lookouts and wild ponies. Do not approach, pet or feed the ponies.
Horseback riders will enjoy the scenic horse trails and the amenities of a special camping area and stables. There are also multi-use trails to welcome mountain bikers alongside hikers.
A popular activity at Grayson Highlands is bouldering. In fact, it’s one of the best places to boulder in Virginia. If you’re not equipped to boulder or need a replenishment of supplies, the park store sells chalk, chalk bags, and cleaning brushes. Two crash pads are available for rent. Ropes and chipping are prohibited.
There are a variety of campsites at Grayson Highlands, including a bunkhouse that accommodates 14 people. There are no cabins at this park. Learn More
NEW RIVER TRAIL STATE PARK | FOSTER FALLS
This state park follows the New River and an old railroad bed, making it a rails-to-trails destination with great river fun as well. The park is 57 miles long with 39 of those miles paralleling the river. Hiking, biking and horseback riding are popular along the easy, mostly level trail.
Guided horseback trips are offered at the Foster Falls area of the park, as are canoe, bike and inner tube rentals.
Fishing is allowed and your catch may include one of a variety of bass, sunfish, perch, bluegill or others.
Four primitive campgrounds are available. There are no showers or bathhouses, nor is there vehicular access to the sites. Learn More
CLAYTOR LAKE STATE PARK | DUBLIN
Named after the 4,500-acre glimmering Claytor Lake, this state park boasts 13 lakeside cabins, a swimming beach, full-service marina and supplies, as well as a waterfront meeting area ideal for weddings and reunions. The lake really is the main thing, but there are also four miles of hiking and biking trails, too.
For those who love to camp, there are 100 sites to choose from plus group camping and a bunkhouse that accommodates 14. Learn More
FAIRY STONE STATE PARK | STUART
Not far off the Blue Ridge Parkway is this state park famous for its legendary fairy stones, staurolite that appears in an “X” shape. If you’re lucky, cross-shaped stones can also be found.
When you’re not hunting fairy stones, the 168-acre lake is your go-to. Kayaks, canoes, and paddle boats are available for rent and the fishing is good. The kids will love the beach area and the on-water playground.
Ten miles of multi-use trails welcome hikers, bikers and horses, while additional trails are set aside for hiking only.
Accommodations at Fairy Stone include a one-room log cabin up to the five-bedroom lodge that sleeps 16. Forty-two campsites are available as well. Learn More
SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE STATE PARK | HUDDLESTON
Situated on Virginia’s second largest lake, this state park is the perfect place from which to explore all of the coves and great fishing SML has to offer. Boat rentals are available, and the family will love the beach area.
Thirteen hiking trails through the shade and along the shoreline will lead you to new discoveries and keep you cool.
Choose from 20 cabins with two- to three-bedrooms, or a variety of campsites. Learn More
DOUTHAT STATE PARK | MILLBORO
Tucked into the mountains with a serene 50-acre lake is this state park, one of the original Virginia state parks. The lake is stocked with trout and provides good fishing and swimming at its beach area. Hikers and bikers will appreciate the 43 miles of multi-use trails. Six miles are open for horseback riding and a horse campground is available.
Rent a watercraft for a day on the lake. Crafts include jonboats, canoes, paddle boats, hydorboats, and funyaks.
Rustic cabins and lodges can be your home base, or wooded campsites (some with lake views) are a great option, too. Learn more.