Spring is back in Williamsburg: Time to visit these Virginia State Parks

From collecting shark teeth at York River State Park to getting cozy inside a yurt at Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore, there is no reason not to visit any of these beautiful venues in the coming months.

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View of the winding Taskinas Creek at York River State Park. Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks
View of the winding Taskinas Creek at York River State Park. (Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks)

Virginia is for lovers and it’s also home to one of the greatest state park systems in the country.

Virginia State Parks, which are managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, are consistently rated the best in the nation. Ever since the first Virginia state park opened 81 years ago, they have been the backdrop for family vacations, camping trips, historical excursions, hiking adventures and more.

With the warm weather returning to Williamsburg and Earth Day coming up on April 22, there’s no reason not to visit a state park this spring.

“We have some beautiful parks in Virginia, especially around the Hampton Roads area,” said Nancy Heltman, the Visitor Services Director for Virginia State Parks.

Residents and visitors from around the country would agree. According to their website, Virginia State Parks hit a record-high with 10,022,698 visitors last year, which was a 12 percent increase over 2015.

Of the 37 state parks in Virginia, here are five (in no particular order) that are very accessible from Williamsburg:

There is a open beach that allows dogs and a designated swimming beach at Kiptopeke State Park. Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks
There is a open beach that allows dogs and a designated swimming beach at Kiptopeke State Park. (Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks)

Kiptopeke State Park

Kiptopeke is on Virginia’s beautiful Eastern Shore and offers a variety of access points to the Chesapeake Bay. There is a migratory bird habitat along the Atlantic flyway that attracts visitors all year round. For overnight trips, the park features six-bedroom lodges, RV and tent camping, a yurt (which is part cabin and part tent) and a bunkhouse.

“Years ago, before the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel, there was a ferry that people used between Norfolk and the Eastern Shore,” said Heltman, who was born in Hampton. “It was a quick route if you were in the Tidewater area. Well, the old ferry landing on the Eastern Shore is now where this park is.”

Heltman said the park also features concrete vessels from World War II, that serve as a breakwater and fish habitat and can be seen from the fishing pier. There is a open beach that allows dogs and a designated swimming beach — both within the park grounds.

From Williamsburg: Click here for driving directions

There are many hiking trails at Chippokes Plantation State Park. Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks
There are many hiking trails at Chippokes Plantation State Park. (Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks)

Chippokes Plantation State Park

Chippokes Plantation is one of the oldest continually farmed plantations in the country and is located just across the James River from historic Jamestown in beautiful Surry County. A working farm since 1619, the park also offers modern recreational activities along with a glimpse of life from centuries ago.

“There is a free ferry that runs 24 hours a day between Jamestown and Surry,” said Heltman, who stayed at Chippokes with her husband for a week last month. “The ferry ride is an experience by itself. I noticed that motorcyclists like to use it for crossing so they can ride on Route 10 and 5.”

Visitors tour the historic area with its antebellum mansion and outbuildings, stroll through formal gardens, and view antique equipment at the Chippokes Farm and Forestry Museum. There is a campground at the park along with four rental cottages, that used to be old tenant farm houses and have been restored.

From Williamsburg: Click here for driving directions

Taskinas Creek overlook at York River State Park. Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks
Taskinas Creek overlook at York River State Park. (Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks)

York River State Park

Where freshwater and saltwater meet to create a rich habitat for marine and plant life, York River State Park is known for its rare and delicate estuarine environment. It is designated as a Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve but the park is on the York River. Colonial and Native American artifacts can be found on the property along with fossil beds while the pristine environment offers clues to a rich natural and cultural history.

“It’s what we call a ‘day’s park’ because there are no overnight facilities,” Heltman said. “There is the main park proper and then there’s another section of the park down the road where the boat launch and fishing pier is. There are two separate parking lots.”

Heltman said the park also features a long boardwalk over the wetlands and a variety of hiking trails. Visitors are allowed to sift through the water to collect shark teeth and they can bring home any teeth or fossils they find.

From Williamsburg: Click here for driving directions

Seven miles of shoreline are featured at Belle Isle State Park. Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks
Seven miles of shoreline are featured at Belle Isle State Park. (Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks)

Belle Isle State Park

Along the Northern Neck’s Rappahannock, River Belle Isle has seven miles of shoreline ready to be explored. The park also provides access to Mulberry and Deep creeks. A wide variety of tidal wetlands interspersed with farmland and upland forests are at any visitor’s disposal. It has a campground, three picnic shelters, hiking, biking and bridle trails along with motor boat and car-top launches.

“This is a beautiful park that I think is under utilized,” Heltman said. “There’s a city park in Richmond with the same name and they often get confused. This park is on the Rappahannock and has hiking trails that go through eight different kinds of wetlands.”

The two-story Bel Air House is a colonial reproduction house on the property that sleeps six. There is another nearby guest house. Heltman said the dual houses, along with a scenic peninsula that juts out into the river, serve as a fine venue for weddings.

From Williamsburg: Click here for driving directions

Kayaking at Powhatan State Park. Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks
Kayaking at Powhatan State Park. (Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks)

Powhatan State Park

Another spacious park on the historic James River, you’ll find Powhatan State Park in the northwest corner of Powhatan County. In all directions, visitors will find a diverse wildlife habitat, from open fields to upland hardwood forests. The park also offers three car-top boat slides accessing the river. A full-service campground, canoe-in campground, multi-use trails, wildlife observation areas, picnic shelters and a playground are some of the other amenities this modern park bestows.

“Powhatan opened within the last five years and is one of the newer parks in the state,” Heltman said. “The campground opened up last November and we’re debuting our yurts, which are part cabin-part tent, on May 15. Those are for people who aren’t sure if they like camping.”

Yurts are circular, semi-permanent tents traditionally used by nomads in Mongolia. They have a wooden deck foundation and also include furniture but visitors have to bring their own linens, Heltman said.

From Williamsburg: Click here for driving directions

IF YOU GO: Much of the information in this article was pulled directly from the Virginia State Parks website, which will serve as a great tool for any potential visitor. The website also features an active blog series and they are on Facebook.

One of the many ranger-led programs at Belle Isle State Park. Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks
One of the many ranger-led programs at Belle Isle State Park. Photo courtesy Virginia State Parks

For more information or to have your recent trip highlighted in our new travel section, please email travel editor Aaron Gray at aaron@localvoicemedia.com