STORY AND PHOTOS BY JEREMY GLOVER
It all started with a misunderstanding.
I walked out of the administration office, admiring the new pass that would allow me to enter Pocahontas State Park at any time over the next 12 months. But only then did I realize what I had actually purchased: a yearlong passport to every state park in Virginia.
I grew up and still live in Chesterfield County, so the Pocahontas ticket was going to be like a backyard getaway for my family. But in the space of nanoseconds, I waged an internal battle – whether to return the passport ... or use this as motivation to actually visit every park.
Without breaking stride, I looked to my younger daughter who bounced insouciantly by my side: "Looks like we’ve got ourselves an adventure!"
There are 37 state parks in Virginia and 52 weekends in a year, so you can do the math. If my two daughters and I were going to make this work, we’d be traveling to a new park almost every weekend. (My wife joined us on many of the trips ... but was also happy to enjoy a few kid-free Saturdays.)
We started to strategize. Nearly half the parks could be daytrips, and with a few overnight camping trips and a couple three- to five-day outings, we could combine several of the more far-flung parks into single journeys.
Soon enough the weekend jaunts became de rigueur. We could start early on a Saturday, visit any one of the 15 or so parks within a two-hour drive of Richmond and be back home before dinner. We did more camping in one year than we’d done in the previous few years combined. And our family vacations became trips to the farthest corners of the state.
Through stubborn determination and a good bit of planning, we were able to achieve our goal, visiting even the most far-flung park – that would be Wilderness Road, a 414-mile, 6½-hour drive from Richmond.
The more we explored, the more we realized that many of the state’s parks are actually quite similar (in a good way). Wooded acreage that sports a river or lake? Some trails and a picnic area? You've got the start of a recipe for a state park.
While every park was a great place to spend a day or weekend, seeing them all in such quick succession highlighted the differences between the more run-of-the-mill parks and the truly breathtaking ones.
If you want to relax among the trees, any park will do ... but to witness the profound majesty of The Towers rock formation, you have to visit Breaks. You can find squirrels and snakes at almost every park ... but if you want to hike with wild ponies, you’ll need to trek to Grayson Highlands.
So if it’s not on your bucket list to visit every state park, I offer my recommendations for seven must-see jewels of the system. Sure, they're all beyond the metro Richmond area (we may have the mighty James River, but the mountains, beaches and big skies lie elsewhere). But take my word for it: They're well worth the trip!