I’m starting a series to track my exploration of Virginia State Parks. Posts will be back-dated to when I actually went to the park, and I’ll add the respective photo album from the hikes, etc. I’ll also be keeping the image below up to date as possible!
I’m grateful for friends like Jason and Heather, who were just crazy enough to join me in heading out to the mountains in February. Spoiler: it was really cold.
We had originally intended to camp in Shenandoah National Park. All three of us being originally from out of state and relatively new to the area, none of us knew that SNP actually closes its campgrounds in the winter. So there we were at the Swift Run Gap entrance station on US-33 staring dumbfounded at the CLOSED signs on the campground status board.
With light fading and temperatures dropping, we looked at a map and made a few calls and settled on pushing further west into the Shenandoah River Valley to a state park off of US-340 that none of us had ever been to, Shenandoah River State Park. Given the cold, we quickly discarded the original plan of multiple tents — body heat was declared a communal commodity in a single tent dogpile.
Though starker without the lush green leaves of the warmer months, the valley was still beautiful. We did some hikes, ran some trails, and were quite grateful for the free hot showers (excellent for thawing out).
Afterward, one the way home, we explored nearby Luray Caverns (might do a post just for that, pretty awesome photos) and some wineries off of US-3.
A quick one-nighter out to Occoneechee State Park, on the southern edge of Virginia near the North Carolina state line, about halfway across the state to the west on the banks of the Roanoke River.
After several days of hard rain, the waters had risen to inundate several campsites and trail segments. The photo of me pointing is of me indicating where the trail should be for the run I was on! Very pretty sunset on the water’s edge though.
Just two weeks after my trip to Occoneechee State Park, I found myself just a little further up the river at Staunton River State Park. Laura and I had intended to camp at Pocahontas State Park further north, but the campground was full. The waters were still high from late spring rains, but we managed to explore quite a few trails.
Birthday camping! Since my usual “get a bunch of people together food lots of food and drink” approach was prevented by Covid this year, instead I decided to get out to the outdoors. I took a solo one-nighter up to Westmoreland State Park, which is located on the Northern Neck on the southern bank of the Potomac River.
The terrain varies quite a bit within the park, from pine forest on the high ridge lines down to sandy beaches closer to the river. Boardwalks allow trekking over the wetlands of the river valley. Amazing amount of waterfowl.
For such a large and well-visited park, the campgrounds felt nicely spread out enough for some solitude.
There are only two ways in to False Cape State Park: kayak in by water, or hike in through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge! No vehicles are permitted. The relative difficulty in accessing the park keeps out most of the crowds, and you can expect a more solitary and remote experience, especially if camping deeper within the park.
We backpacked in about 6 miles through the open wetlands and swamps of the wildlife refuge, only encountering three cottonmouths… not ominous at all. Summer is great weather for the beaches, but given that there only small islands of shade in the open wetlands, the summer heat and humidity can be quite oppressive, so plan your hike accordingly — we did not, especially on the way out.
Beach camping comes with beautiful views and a whole lot of sand in everything! Gotta just accept it. We traded sand in everything and no shade for being right on the ocean and avoiding the snakes in the shady grove that harbored the official campsites. Reservations are required, even to camp on the beach away from the sites!
Gorgeous sunset and sunrise, drinking and looking up at the stars, and an early morning beach run + ocean swim with not another human in sight. Pretty awesome.
A bit too awesome in fact… we got so caught up in our morning swim and lounge that we didn’t even consider that we were setting outselves up for a hike out in the hottest part of the day. We didn’t even start back until noon… and by then it was far too late to avoid the heat. The open skies and awful humidity made us broil in the summer heat. We slowly made our way out a mile or so at a time, stopping at every tiny scrap of shade to rehydrate and rest. We soaked our hats in cold water from the taps and sweated constantly through our clothes and packs.
When a thunderstorm loomed in the distance, we welcomed it with open arms — the sudden drop in temperature as the front hit us and then the subsequent drenching in cool water felt amazing. I’m sure the cars driving by us for the last mile stretch to the parking lot at Sandbridge, Virginia Beach thought we were crazy. Torrential rain, carrying loaded packs, and laughing the whole way.