It’s not just the tent experience . . . it’s rivers and lakes, hikes and bikes, fires and s’mores, falls and fishing. Not to mention great family time.
it’s spring—time to get the family outside and into the woods. Toward that end, we’ve put together a list of 10 great Virginia mountain family campgrounds. Whether it’s a foray into the wilderness, a stay in a luxurious cabin or a spontaneous weekend of fun-filled adventure, here’s the info you need to kick-start your perfect in-the-woods vacation.
Shenandoah Valley Campground
Where: About 2 miles off U.S. 11 just outside of Verona—10 minutes from Interstate 81, and no more than a dozen miles from historic downtown Staunton.
What to Expect: This place caters to the quick weekend (or weeklong) getaway, and is all about convenience. Nestled into a 1.5-mile horseshoe bend in the Middle River, with a 20-plus foot waterfall, tube rentals, and a heated swimming pool, there’s ample opportunity for swimming. Then there are the 18-hole mini-golf course, game room, billiard tables, dual playgrounds, giant bounce house, nightly DJ, on-site convenience store with grill serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the free Wi-Fi and special events and activities to boot. With sites equipped for RVs, small cabins and primitive camping, parents can get the family outside without having to take on the additional stress of planning too far ahead or curating a minute-by-minute agenda.
Contact Info: 800-310-2580 or campingisfun.com.
Loft Mountain Campground
Where: In the heart of Shenandoah National Park, at Milepost 80 of the Skyline Drive.
What to Expect: Here, it’s all about communing with nature. The drive through Blue-Ridge-cresting Skyline Drive is studded with overlooks yielding many dazzling views of the Shenandoah Valley. The campground is predominantly primitive (with some backcountry and RV sites thrown in), with many sites cut into the Big Flat Mountain cliff-face, providing campers with the pleasure of waking up to a glorious sunrise, watching a great sunset from their picnic table, and gazing up at a darkened sky full of stars. For entertainment, there’s an amphitheater featuring nature talks put on by rangers, as well as miles upon miles of hiking trails, some of which culminate in waterfalls. While there is a camp store, it isn’t altogether too well-stocked. So be sure to pack your rations and supplies.
Contact: 434-823-4675 or nps.gov/shen.
Douthat State Park
Where: From I-64, you’ll hit Exit 27 near Clifton Forge. Head north on Va. 629 for two miles and then enter the park. Another four miles brings you to the park office.
What to Expect: The park offers some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in Virginia and beyond. Activities include “interpretive and educational programs” curated by an enthusiastic cast of rangers, plus playgrounds, an amphitheater, picnic areas, four miles of pristine stream fishing plus a 50-acre trout-stocked lake, a swimming area with beach, snack bar and boat/canoe rentals. Not to mention 40-plus miles of hiking, bridle and biking trails, a camp store featuring all the usual amenities and a restaurant overlooking the lake. Accommodations range from comfortable cabins to primitive tent and RV/trailer camping.
Contact: 540-862-8100 or dcr.virginia.gov/state -parks/douthat
Breaks Interstate Park
Where: Far down in southwest Virginia, give-or-take 2 hours west of Wytheville, about 10 miles off of US-460 and right on the Kentucky line.
What to Expect: One of only two parks spanning multiple state borders in the nation, the 4,500-acre Breaks Interstate Park features plentiful greenwood lands and mountain vistas, including the famous “Grand Canyon of the South.” The name derives from the 1,000-foot-wide crevasse carved by the Russell Fork River into Pine Mountain. The largest canyon east of the Mississippi, the gorge is more than five miles long and 1,600 feet deep. As if the gorge weren’t enough, the park has some of the coolest swimming facilities out there: A 4,000 square-foot beach, plus accessible swimming pool beside a lake with lazy river, four waterslides, a ‘spray ground,’ in-pool basketball and volleyball areas and more. Furthermore, out on the lake there’s stellar fishing, boat rentals and a beachy swimming area. Lodging options include cabins, on-site lodge, motel rooms and both RV and primitive camping.
Contact: 800-933-PARK or breakspark.com
Claytor Lake State Park
Where: From I-81 take Exit 101 (Claytor Lake) in Dublin. This puts you on Va. 660 (State Park Road), which ends at the park’s entrance.
What to Expect: The park encompasses the 4,500-acre lake and is ideal for swimming, camping, fishing, hiking, picnicking and, if you have one—or are interested in a rental—boating. With a full-service marina, docking slips, a store offering tackle, supplies, refreshments, on-site fuel and boat/equipment rentals, the park has everything you’ll need to go on the water and cruising. The historic Howe House features “interactive exhibits describing the ecology of the lake and surrounding areas.” Additionally, you can rent bikes and make a day of pedaling and sight-seeing. Facilities include three lodges and 13 cabins, RV and primitive campsites.
Contact: 540-643-2500 or dcr.virginia.gov/state -parks/claytor-lake
Grayson Highlands State Park
Where: From I-81 you’ll take Exit 45 in Marion. Head south on Va. 16 for 24 miles. After turning right onto U.S. 58 in Volney, drive 8 miles and you’ll spot the park entrance. Located midway between Independence and Damascus.
What to Expect: A quick jaunt from Virginia’s two highest peaks—the 5,000-plus-foot Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain—Grayson Highlands provides stunningly gorgeous views of these “alpine-like” mountains. Predominantly a gateway-to-the-backcountry type experience, facilities include a visitor center, a number of campgrounds, small bathhouses and an extensive network of hiking and biking trails (including the Appalachian Trail) leading to waterfalls and overlooks. Additionally, there are stables and electric hookups for horse trailers, supporting the extensive Virginia Highlands Horse Trail.
Contact: 276-579-7092 or dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/grayson-highlands
Crabtree Falls Campground
Where: Located a little under 5 miles from Montebello, directly off of Va. 56. Easy to access from I-81 via Steele’s Tavern (Exit 205), or from Nelson County via Va. 151.
What to Expect: This very small family-owned, family-oriented campground sits alongside the rapidly tumbling Tye River. Features hiking trails leading up to the 1,080-foot falls—known as “the highest of the Blue Ridge”—the pristine meadows above them and ultimately the Appalachian Trail. There’s a camp store stocking all the necessary amenities—including cold beverages—with shower facilities, outdoor playgrounds and a game room. In Montebello there are a number of small ponds stocked with trout and bass, as well a a cool little general store. Primitive camping sites and a number of cabins are available.
Contact: 540-377-2066 or crabtreefallscampground.com
Peaks of Otter Campground
Where: Located at milepost 86 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. From Bedford, take Va. 43 (Peaks Street) for 10.3 miles before hanging a right onto the parkway. The lodge and grounds will be visible on your right.
What to Expect: The mountaintops of Sharp Top, Flat Top and Harkening Hill constitute the Peaks of Otter. The campground—RV sites, a large lodge and many primitive sites—rests alongside Otter Creek, and is no more than a quick walk from the 24-acre Abbott Lake. The lake is stocked with small mouth bass and bluegill. Tackle each of the three peaks—up-and-back trails total around 12 miles—luxuriating in the amazing summit views on peaks that Thomas Jefferson once thought to be the highest in Virginia.
Contact: 877-444-6777 or recreation.gov
Shenandoah River State Park
Where: The park is in Warren County, 8 miles south of Front Royal and 15 miles north of Luray. The entrance is directly off U.S. 340 in Bentonville.
What to Expect: This newish 1,600-acre park (opened in 1999) lies on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, covering over 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to tons of river frontage, the park “features views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east,” riverside picnic areas and shelters, hiking, biking and horse trails, and a brand new zip-line course. Ample river access and multiple boat ramps make for a great weekend getaway, especially for anglers, canoeists, tubers and kayakers. Nearby liveries (try Down River Canoe Company) offer rentals and shuttle service as well. Lodging options include 10 riverfront primitive campsites, and an additional campground—including group accommodations—with water, electric sites and cabins.
Contact: 540-622-6840 ordcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/shenandoah-river
Blowing Springs Campground
Where: This Bath County destination is about 9 miles west of Warm Springs and 8.5 miles south of popular fishing and boating location, Lake Moomaw. From the intersection of Va. 39 and U.S. 220, you’ll travel west on Va. 39 for about 9.25 miles, whereupon the campground entrance will be on your left.
What to Expect: Across the highway from the campground’s entrance you’ll find the geographic anomaly that gives the campground its name. “The natural limestone spring blows air from an underground cave at a constant temperature of 58 degrees year round,” reads a park pamphlet. “In the summer, the air emitted from the spring creates a natural air conditioner, and in the winter, a heater.” Beyond the Blowing Spring, the grounds offer trails through lush forests and meadows full of “columbine, cardinal flower and other wildflowers,” birds and many migratory butterflies during the summer. There are numerous swimming holes within walking distance of all sites, and Back Creek (abutting the campground) is stocked with rainbow, brook and brown trout. Lower grounds offer grassy fields with spacious sites, whereas the upper grounds feature more isolated wooded sites. There are toilet facilities and a hand-pump for water.
Contact: 540-839-2521 or virginia.org/BlowingSpringsCampground.