There’s something beautiful about Virginia that doesn’t really exist in many places. I currently live in what can easily be described as a “bustling metropolis”. No, I don’t live in D.C. – but the District has slowly bled out into the surrounding area, and as far south as Fredericksburg (about 55 miles from DC) you will find people who drive into the city every day! It’s kind of ridiculous, but such is life in NoVa. But back to that special thing: You can drive for 10 minutes, no matter where you start, and end up in “the middle of nowhere. Hop off the highway, and just keep driving. Soon enough you’ll be on small tree lined roads. It’s a breath of peace in a busy, congested area.
B-man and I decided to celebrate our five year wedding anniversary with a family camping trip. Westmoreland State Park is a Virginia State Park in Westmoreland county, east of Fredericksburg. This was not our first trip to the park. From our home in the Woodbridge area it took less than two hours to drive there. I would highly suggest making reservations. In the time it took us to drive there all of the spots for the next night were filled, so we ended up having to change our schedule around to make sure we got in all of the activities we wanted to do, just in case we only got one night. Some one ended up cancelling, so we were able to stay three nights, but it was a lot of unnecessary annoyance.
First thing we did upon arrival was take advantage of the remaining sunlight with a quick hike on Turkey Neck Trail. The trails are some what circular and can lead you down to the beach. Of course, hiking with a three year old is some what limiting. Trail guide available here [pdf].
After a short hike (which usually results in a grumpy toddler asking to be carried by the end of it), we headed back to set up our tent before it got dark. This is the third time we’ve used it, so it was very quick. It takes two of us about ten minutes to set this castle up!
When we camp we take the tent bag, the tub o’ gear, the food, camping chairs, bedding, and clothing. As we do it more often I hope to cut back on how much “stuff” we bring, because it really is about being organized. This system worked fairly well for us. This tent is the REI Kingdom 6. So far we have enjoyed it, and I’m glad I purchased this one instead of a 1-room 6 person tent. I realize we don’t need such a large tent, but having the space and flexibility is very nice.
Arriving Friday meant we pretty much had the pick of the place, so we were able to get a large, semi-secluded site with a large empty space behind it. Some of the sites in the park were very small, and would’ve made it irresponsible for us to light a fire as our tent would’ve been too close. Definitely something to consider if you set up a larger tent.
Friday night we attended a star-gazing activity at the main building. Though the building was not in use they kept lights on in the main room – which was basically a wall of windows. This mean that while we were outside looking for stars it was kind of difficult due to the light pollution. The class included a star-map and printed resources that participants could take home. I enjoyed it, but my three year old did not. Might be better for older kids. I kind of expected a little bit of a history lesson (like learning the stories behind the constellations) but the guide did not seem to know that type of thing. Instead he used an app on his phone to pin-point the constellations. It was nice out though, and we took a blanket to lay out and star at the stars until the clouds rolled in.
That night it poured. So much rain. We hadn’t done any tie-outs, but our tent kept us completely dry!
Saturday we spent the better part of the morning on a nice bike ride. We biked the Rock Spring Pond Trail, which is all down hill one way, and all up hill the other. Then we also did the Conservation Corps Trail – it has excessive stations every couple hundred yards.
In the afternoon we took advantage of the swim pass that is included in the cost of camping, and took Ginny to the pool. It was pretty busy, but still enjoyable. They had a full size pool with two diving boards and a pool. Then a separate, gated, shallow pool for babies and toddlers. My only complaint about the pool was that we couldn’t ride our bikes there. It is at the bottom of a very large hill that specifically says no bike riding (on the road) and no bike-accessible paths go to the pool area.
Saturday night we went to a meet-and-greet at the discovery center that included s’mores, and a little history lesson about the park. The guide had found a lizard and let Ginny’s hold it while we waited for others to show up. Naturally, she named it Jeff.
Afterwards we rode our bikes around checking out a few of the things the guide had talked about in the lesson.
Sunday every one cleared out. We made pancakes on the camp stove, then invited kids from a nearby site to hang out while their parents’ packed up their stuff. Ginny enjoyed building a “tree house” with the other little kids. When we camp we take a bucket and shovel, and this time it was very productive as they collected rocks that had escaped the designated (slightly slanted) campsite and moved them to “higher ground”.
Once the threats of rain has passed, we decided to hike down to Fossil Beach. You can borrow a sifter from the main office. The beach gets its name from the ever-present fossils & shark teeth that can be found there, with enough time, effort and luck.
The walk there is downhill, and easy enough. Ginny walked the whole way there. What we didn’t notice walking down were the ground bees. I highly suggested wearing closed toed shoes and pants.
We had very little luck at the beach. We found one tiny shark tooth, about the size of a thumb print.
Swimming is not permitted at the beaches, though people do it any way. Every time I’ve gone we see jellyfish hanging out in the water. Additionally the Potomac has lots of undertows and some flesh eating bacteria. Good times, right?!
The weather shut down the pool, so we spent the rest of Sunday at our campsite.
Most every one was gone by Sunday afternoon, so it was very quiet! We Enjoyed listening to the birds, and spotting lizards near our site!
And our final camping meal (aside from the muffins we ate the next morning) was frito-pie. We didn’t have a table cloth, and something dropped on the table, bringing bees… and though we finally cleaned it up well enough to stop the bugs, we decided to sit further away from the table to give it a chance to clear out. Now I know – don’t spill anything… ever!
We packed up quickly Monday morning and headed home. It was a beautiful weekend, despite the rain. I’m glad we participated in all of the organized activities, and got to hike a good amount of the trails. This is a great local park with lots of amenities, clean bathrooms, and a good selection of activities.
Westmoreland’s Report Card:
Family friendly: 5/5
Bike friendly: 2.5/5 – Only a few miles of path, the rest is road, not all roads allow riding.
Bathrooms: 3/5 – Not terrible, but definitely not the greatest. The stalls still had info papers from last summer.
Activities: 4/5 – Lots of options available during peak season on the weekend for a variety of age groups.
Amenities: 4/5 – The pool was large and clean, staff was friendly, changing area was dark and buggy. Main office was nice, staff was helpful and friendly. The camp store was well stocked and easy to locate. Wood was $5/bundle, but not tied – you have to measure it out yourself.
This is the first in a series of posts I will do about the places we visit in Virginia. More information about Westmoreland State Park is available here.