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“Virginia is for lovers” is a slogan you’ll see on signs and in souvenir shops around the state of Virginia. But more specifically, Virginia is a place for lovers of the outdoors because there are so many beautiful, peaceful, and inspiring parks scattered around the region. Here are some of the best state and national parks to add to your Virginia travel bucket list.
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Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal
Shenandoah National Park a popular national park in Virginia located just 75 miles outside of Washington, D.C. It is a park filled with quiet woods, wildflowers, waterfalls, and over 200,000 acres of land to explore. There are many animals that call this park their home, including black bears, salamanders, and snakes. This is an awesome park to see fall foliage or go hiking because there are over 500 miles of trails here, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. For overnight stays, there are multiple lodging options that include the Skyland Resort, Lewis Mountain Cabins, and four campgrounds. Three of these campgrounds can accommodate RVs. There are also three visitor centers in the park where you can learn more about the area through interactive exhibits and educational programs.
First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach
First Landing State Park is a lovely state park in Virginia that is on Cape Henry in North Virginia Beach. A popular weekend getaway in Virginia, the park spans 2,888 acres and is a prime spot for hiking, biking, boating, swimming, and fishing. There are some great campsites here (over 200 of them) and also cabins for overnight stays. Pets can stay at a campsite with you for an extra fee per night. One popular spot is Chesapeake Bay Beach, which allows you to swim at your own risk. There are 19 miles of trails for hiking and biking here, and bike rentals are available at the park store. There’s a small fee to use the boat launch unless you’re staying overnight here.
Great Falls National Park, McLean
It’s impossible to not be impressed when you visit Great Falls National Park where the Potomac River falls over jagged rocks and runs through the gorge. This park spans 800 acres and is just 15 miles from Washington, DC. Swimming is prohibited here because of the deep and deadly river currents. Instead, come here to hike along the clifftops of Mather Gorge, check out the museum exhibits at the visitor center, and view the three falls overlooks near the parking lots. Unlike many national parks, pets are allowed here but just need to be kept on a leash at all times. This park gets busy on weekends and holidays, which can mean wait times to get inside the entrance.
High Bridge Trail State Park, Green Bay
Come enjoy the 31-mile-long High Bridge Trail on foot, on a bike, or on horseback. This wide and flat trail was once a rail bed and is easy to enjoy. The bridge is over 2,400 feet long and 125 feet high above the Appomattox River. There are two parking lots nearby to access the bridge and trail, which is a National Recreation Trail. The park is 1,206 acres in size and does not have overnight camping. However, there are campsites and cabins at nearby Bear Creek Lake and Twin Lakes state parks.
Hungry Mother State Park, Marion
This state park with an interesting name is one of the six original state parks in Virginia and features a 108-acre lake and woodlands. The park is named after a legend in which Native Americans destroyed several settlements on the New River, a mother and her small child escaped and wandered through the wilderness until the mother collapsed and her child eventually found help while uttering the words “hungry mother.” Today, this park has a campground, cabins, yurts, a lodge, hiking and biking trails, a restaurant, and a visitor center. Camp Burson offers year-around camping, there are over 17 miles of trails, and boating and swimming are other popular activities here. In total, the park is 3,334 acres in size.
Historic Jamestowne National Park, Yorktown
Historic Jamestowne is part of Colonial National Historic Park in Virginia and the place where the English colonization of North America began in 1607. Here you can learn about John Smith and Pocahontas, how local Native Americans were pushed off their homeland, and how Africans first arrived in 1619 to establish the first origins of English North American slavery. Pets on a leash are welcome here. Insects are common, so make sure to wear insect repellent and cover up with appropriate clothing.
Pocahontas State Park, Chesterfield
Named after a legendary Native American woman who lived in the region, this state park is about 20 miles from Richmond and has over 90 miles of trails. It also offers camping boating and educational programs about nature and history. Spend your days here at the 225-acre Swift Creek Lake, learning about history at the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum, and cooling off at the aquatic center that has multiple pools. There’s an amphitheater here that hosts family-friendly entertainment. Bicyclists love this park because of the trails and the 7,919-acre park’s scenic and convenient location.
Natural Tunnel State Park, Duffield
There’s a natural tunnel at this park that dates back thousands of years and is over 850 feet long and 10 stories tall. The park is naturally stunning with pinnacles and steep stone walls, and it has two campgrounds, cabins, a visitor center, and an amphitheater too. Kids love the pool with a 100-foot slide here. For some adventure, go on a cave tour or canoe trip down the Clinch River. Don’t miss out on the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Center when you visit. The park is 909 acres in size and a can’t-miss destination in Virginia.
Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Huddleston
This state park has the second-largest freshwater lake in Virginia and is a favorite park among water lovers. There are boat rentals, a boat ramp, swimming, picnicking, trails, and camping here. The picturesque park is about 40 miles from both Roanoke and Lynchburg, Virginia. It’s fun to rent a cabin here, and the boat launch is free for overnight guests.
Assateague Island National Seashore, Chincoteague
National seashores are also part of the national park system, and this is a great one to visit that is in both Virginia and Maryland. It features coastal bays, maritime forests, beaches, and salt marshes. However, it is best known for its wild horse population. There are two main herds – one on the Maryland side and one on the Virginia side of the park. People love coming here to take out their off-road vehicles, go hiking and biking, and to launch canoes and kayaks from designated areas. Oceanside drive-in and walk-in campsites, as well as backcountry camping is available in this park.
Manassas National Battlefield Park, Gainesville
This battlefield park is part of the NPS system and the site where two battles were fought during the Civil War era in 1861 and 1862. At this park, you’ll find over 40 miles of hiking trails and around 5,100 acres of land. Pets are allowed to hike with you on all trails as long as they are on leashes. But perhaps the most unique thing to do here is to watch a living history demonstration on Henry Hill during the summer months.
Grayson Highlands State Park, Mouth of Wilson
Here’s a Virginia state park to check out if you enjoy mountains and scenic views. Grayson Highlands State Park is near the two highest mountains in the state, Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain. The park has hiking trails that lead to waterfalls, campgrounds, and a visitor center. You can access the Appalachian Trail from here. This 4,502-acre park is also where the Blue Ridge Relay takes place in September.
York River State Park, Williamsburg
York River State Park is a place where freshwater and saltwater meet and is a Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Here you can learn about fossil beds and Colonial and Native American history. The park has over 30 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, equestrian trails, fishing spots, playgrounds, and rental equipment available. The park spans 2,531 acres but does not have any overnight accommodations for camping.
Sky Meadows State Park, Delaplane
Sky Meadow State Park is a 1,860-acre park that is a historical place to visit and will teach you about farming practices that shaped this landscape. It has 10.5 miles of bridle trails, 22 miles of hiking trails, nine miles of biking trails, and access to the Appalachian Trail. Fishing, primitive hike-in camping, and picnicking are popular activities here among the rolling hills and woodlands with scenic views. Come here for a peaceful getaway in the Blue Ridge Mountains region and to join a nature or history program that is offered at any time of the year.
Occoneechee State Park, Clarksville
Although there are many more Virginia parks that are worth visiting, the last one we’ll mention here is Occoneechee State Park. The park is named after the Native Americans who lived here for hundreds of years. Buggs Island Lake is a great place to fish and go boating. Families come here to camp at the campsites and cabins. There’s a private concession with boat rentals and snacks. You can also spend your days exploring the 20 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. The park is home to the largest lake in Virginia, which has 48,000 acres of fishing and aquatic recreation and also three boat ramps. In addition to the 48 campsites for RVs and tents, you can treat yourself to one of the 13 cabins here and be out in nature while still having all the comforts of home.