Guest blogger Matthew Asai shares his adventures at Douthat State Park. "A quiet country road off of I-64 led me to Douthat State Park…"
Douthat State Park has a 50 acre lake for lots of activities
If you live in Stafford, Va. (just south of Northern Virginia) and have to drive on I-95 to get to Douthat State Park, starting after work on a Friday may not be the best time to start. Since people were bailing from I-95 onto Route 1, I decided to go the back roads to Route 3, the busiest road in Spotsylvania County (but most direct route to 29). What would normally take me a half an hour took me 75 minutes. This bumper to bumper traffic is in stark contrast to the quiet country road off of I-64 that led to Douthat State Park – where I didn’t see another car for the 7 miles to the park office.
Douthat is one of the original State Parks and many of the cabins and structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corp during the great Depression. Virginia's state park system has been named "America's Best" by the National Sporting Goods Association's Sports Foundation Inc. in 2001 and Douthat was rated one of the top 10 state parks in the nation by Outside Family Vacation Guide.
Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, the park has cabins, lodges, RV and camp sites, a lake, restaurant, hiking and multi-use trails, a beach, lake, canoes and paddle boats. New in 2012, is a new campground (Whispering Pines) on the road in, before you get to the office, and 14 horse stalls that can be rented at Beaver Dam Equestrian Campground.
Horseback riders enjoy some of the equestrian trails offered at Douthat State Park
I had come to take pictures of spring flowers, but since Mother Nature’s spring showed up early in March, I thought I would have to be content with getting pictures of the water falls and vistas that are located on the hiking trails in the park. I was pleasantly surprised to see an abundance of mountain laurel and azaleas. They were peaking just for me, since I only saw seventeen hikers (in four groups) and six equestrians the entire time I was on the trail to the Tuscarora Overlook.
My wife asked me if we could drive up to the Tuscarora Overlook, like you can with the overlooks on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Unfortunately, you can only get to the overlook by hiking or helicopter (with a drop line). The hike to the overlook is about three miles. After the most difficult part of the hike (about 1.2 miles) you come upon Blue Suck Falls. It’s a cascading waterfalls. It was a restful stop It’s the most difficult part because you’re climbing along the stream that flows from the falls.
View near Blue Suck Falls
After the falls, the trail is longer and continues to the top of the ridge line. Because of the switchbacks it’s not nearly as steep as the part to the falls. Along the way, there are several places, like Overlook Rock, where you get glimpses of the Allegheny Mountains. I was told that if you climb the 15 feet (my guess) to the top of the rock, you get a good view. Unfortunately, I didn’t try that. But, if that’s the case, you could save yourself about two miles of hiking if you hiked there and returned to the falls. Saving the best for last, the Tuscarora Overlook has a majestic view of the mountains and valley. Photo tip- if there is mountain laurel close by, add them to the foreground of your pictures of the mountains to add dimension and interest to your picture.
View from Tuscarora Overlook
The cabins are not the Ritz, but they have a certain charm that the Ritz can’t approach. Thinking about the young men of the CCC that built these cabins in the early 1930s and about the struggles these men and the country faced in those times, makes our recent economic woes seem pale in comparison. The handiwork of these men is clearly evident in the hand hewn logs and hand-made door hinges. Our efficiency log cabin had all of the amenities that my wife and I needed – double bed, sofa, table, kitchen and bathroom. Again, not the Ritz but much nicer than a tent.
Inside cabin 6 where we stayed
One of the advantages of Lakeside Campground is that some tent sites (reserve early!) are located on the lake. They have the best view of the lake of any of the park guests. Other campsites boast a stream view and all have a view of the woods.
New this year are 14 horse stalls located at Beaver Dam Equestrian Campground. The stalls are the same size as a standard barn stall. The stalls are located at the Backway Hollow trail head where you can access the park’s trails and the adjacent national forest trails. Boarding your horse is better than having your horse rock your trailer all night.
Beaver Dam Equestrian Campground opened May 2012
Whispering Pines Campground is located along Wilson Creek. I met a retired couple that camps or cabins at Douthat about five times a year for a week at a time. The husband is an avid fisherman and he caught his limit every day! His largest was a 3.5 pound trout and the smallest was 1 pound, 1 oz. He said his secret is to start early and fish where others aren’t.
Boating in Douthat's 50 acre lake
Douthat State Park’s rating is certainly justified, my wife and I had a great time there!