In many ways I am lucky enough to live just south of Richmond in Chesterfield County, VA. Lucky because not only do I have a GREAT State Park almost around the corner (Pocahontas State Park), but also because there are at least half a dozen other wonderful State parks all within a 1-2 hour drive in almost every direction. What’s more, the types of landscapes and ecosystems of these parks offer a wide variety to suit your whim.
Lately my whim has been to go to the mountains. The cooling air and hints of fall weather have me itching to get away. But with all the kids activates and sporting events its almost impossible to get away for more than one weekend night. I knew a long drive to the mountains for a quick one-night jaunt wasn’t the ideal way to spend our limited time. So instead, last weekend we decided to head to James River State Park and check it out for the first time. The park is west of Richmond, towards the mountains, and I figured it was sure to at least feature some nice rolling hills as we entered the piedmont region of the State.
By the directions I had, the park was 60 miles west plus 7 miles down a country road. We figured a little over an hour to get there. After an hour and a half of driving a long road through things that could hardly qualify as ‘towns’ and a sign telling us we were leaving Buckingham County (where the park is located), it was time to get out the map and Tom-Tom and start questioning our directions. Luckily we had not passed it, and soon came to the road sign pointing the way to the park. Fifteen minutes later we pull into the park, very relieved to have found it and wondering where in the WORLD the nearest store might be in case we forgot something. This was by far the most remote State Park we’d been to yet.
But remote was good. Maybe it is because peak summer season has now ended, but there were relatively few other campers around the park, and with three separate camping sites, we were very well spread out. My family chose to stay in the primitive Branch Pond sites, a very quiet area of seven nicely spread out tent sites with adjacent trails. My only complaint would be that we had to get in the car and drive to the nearest drinking water source to fill our water cooler. I know primitive means no water on site, but a spigot within reasonable walking distance would sure have been nice.
In our short overnight visit we explored the park, threw rocks into the river, watched some kayakers paddle by, hiked some lovely trails surrounded by trees just beginning to show a tinge of autumn yellow, said hi to every passing horse and rider we saw, made ooey gooey s’mores, listened to owls calling in the night and generally relaxed and enjoyed the incredible natural peace of the park. It was a trip well worth the slightly longer than expected drive. As we drove away down the winding road that travels by riverside farmland, I knew this one night trip was only the first of other excursions to James River State Park. It will go on our short list of places to get away – far away – from it all, while still remaining at an easy, kid-friendly distance.