by Kate Vinnedge
One of the best parts about Richmond is how easy it is to escape the city. Whether you’re walking, biking, or running one of our city’s 31 trails, enjoying the James (from its banks or in the water), or adventuring beyond RVA, nature is never far away.
But when you really want to get out of the city, you’ve got plenty of options for connecting with nature. Here are ten state parks you can visit in a day or less from RVA:
Starting as close to home as possible, at just a comfortable 20 miles away, are the gentle hills, placid waters, and expansive forest of Pocahontas State Park. Only a thirty minute drive from downtown, you can experience a decent amount of what Pocahontas has to offer in a single afternoon - but don’t trick yourself into thinking a single visit means you’ve seen it all - with 64 miles of trails and a park size of almost 8,000 acres, this isn’t the kind of park you only visit once.
If you follow the James in a northwesterly fashion for about 45 minutes, you’ll wind up at Powhattan State Park. If you’re a river lover, but want to get away from the Belle Isle and Texas Beach crowds, this is the perfect place for it. My favorite thing about this park are the canoe-in campsites - so close to the riverbank you can hear the James flowing by over the crackling of your fire.
An hour to the west, down Route 60, is Bear Creek Lake - nestled in the heart of the expansive Cumberland State Forest, Bear Creek Lake State Park is the home to a 40-acre lake complete with a boat launch, fishing pier, swimming beach, and boat rentals. If terrestrial activities are more your speed, there’s access to the 16,000 acre Cumberland State Forest, an archery range, and plenty of campsites, cabins, and picnic areas.
Old Rag Mountain is a mountain of many “mosts.” It’s the most popular hike in Shenandoah National Park, as well as the most dangerous, and the fourth tallest peak in the park. A 9 mile hike of quiet woodland foothills, stunning panoramas, challenging rock scrambles, and an open, 3,284 foot tall summit with a 360-degree view of the 200,000 protected acres that make up Shenandoah National Park, Old Rag Mountain is my most-loved hike in Virginia.
If you love nature, but need some more history in your life, High Bridge Trail is both a journey for your feet, and back to the past. The 31 mile trail is a re-purposed rail bed, completed by the centerpiece and namesake of the park: a 2,400 foot long bridge that spans the Appomattox River, 125 feet above its waters.
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