Spend a day, or several, at Westmoreland State Park
by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
Everybody has a summer to-do list and mine included spending a day at Westmoreland State Park near Montross.
The 1,321-acre park is perched on the Potomac River and is one of two state parks in the Northern Neck. The park includes hiking and cycling trails, beaches, a pool and stop-in-your-track views of the Potomac and its wetlands.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Westmoreland State Park is the perfect place for family adventures and lasting memories.
It was a hot, humid August day when I caught up with tent campers Mike Wilhelm of Crewe and his daughter Ryan. They were packing up from a three-day daddy-daughter camping trip. It was their first to Westmoreland State Park. They’d been hiking, swimming, looking for shark’s teeth and fishing. Making memories to last a lifetime.
Just around the corner on a cliff overlooking the Potomac, several adults gathered on the deck of their cabin after a morning boat ride.
Camping, in all forms from tents to cabins, is popular at the park. In fact, almost all of the park’s 32 cabins were rented the day I visited, according to Ranger Marti Combs. There’s a variety of lodging options, from bare bones rustic to the Potomac Retreat, which has five bedrooms and sleeps up to 16. Camping cabins, on the other hand, don’t have a bathroom, kitchen, heat or air conditioning.
“Camping cabins are very primitive, a step up from tent camping,” said Combs. “It’s for people who are not ready for tent camping but don’t have an RV.”
In between camping cabins and the resort-like retreat are log and cinderblock cabins with kitchens, living areas, bedrooms, heat pumps and wood-burning fireplaces.
Wear your hiking boots, or at least a comfortable pair of walking shoes, because there are seven trails equaling more than seven miles of scenic paths at the park, including the popular Big Meadow Trail which leads visitors to Fossil Beach. The beach is a hotbed for wanna-be archaeologists and shark enthusiasts in search of fossils and prehistoric shark teeth.
Savannah Regan of Mechanicsville and her family were busy sifting through sand, along with about 50 other hopefuls. A few were happy just to spot a blue crab or two in the shallows leading to a marsh, where Turkey Neck Trail takes visitors to a wetlands overlook. We spotted blue herons, turtles and beautiful wildflowers in the deck that jets out over the marsh.
The .6-mile Big Meadow Trail is easy on the knees on the way down but a little more challenging on the upward climb back to the parking area adjacent to the visitor’s center, which is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. year round with extended hours during the prime season. The visitor’s center includes a gift shop and exhibit area, 24-hour restrooms and helpful rangers.
A short walk from the visitor’s center is the Discovery Center, where I caught up with Americorps member Gunnar Leming. He was showing a corn snake to Ellie Long of Blacksburg before the afternoon shark’s tooth necklace making workshop.
The Discovery Center is where most of the park’s daily family activities and programs are held or originate, such as the critter hike, fossil hike and animal feeding.
Swimming and boating
Love water activities? Well there’s plenty at the park. Fishing in the Potomac is available year round with a valid fishing license. Boaters can use the boat ramp for fishing or water sports and there’s also a fishing pier available.
Rock Spring Pond boasts a variety of fish including bass and catfish. A freshwater license is also required.
Paddleboats, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards can be rented at the boathouse, which sells ice, bait and tackle, along with some snacks.
When I was visiting several families were using the picnic area and a few sunbathers and swimmers were on the half-mile of beachfront.
I opted to cool off after a hike or two with a dip in the Olympic-sized pool. In the summer, swimming is free for overnight camping guests but a day pass can be purchased for a minimal fee. The pool includes a waterslide and lifeguards are on duty.
An adjacent snack bar is convenient if you forgot to pack a picnic. The menu offers pizzas, burgers, hot dogs and ice cream.
A storm rolled in and cut my leisurely soak in the pool short. And I didn’t get to dip my feet in the Potomac either. I’ll have to save that for my next trip. And there “will” be a next trip because everyone also has a “someday” list and mine now includes spending a whole weekend at Westmoreland State Park.
Visit the Westmoreland State Park website at dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/parkfees for rates and fees related to camping, parking, equipment rental and swimming.
Westmoreland State Park
145 Cliff Road
Montross, VA 22520 493-8821