You’re enjoying your first cup of coffee as the rest of your party finishes packing up camp and prepares breakfast. Water vapor rises off the glossy river before you, and your boats, tied off to the roots of a massive sycamore, knock gentle in the wake of a bass boat heading out for the day.
Thanks to Virginia State Parks, scenes like this are much closer than you think. Stretched along the Potomac from Fairfax to King George, a system of public water access and paddle-in only camp sites make up the stuff of dreams for Northern Virginia paddlers longing for a more remote experience closer to home.
The northernmost Potomac River access in the State Park system, Mason Neck regularly offers scenic kayak tours of Belmont Bay. Sunset and moonlight guided paddles sell out often — call the park to reserve your spot. Guests can use the launch here and paddle five miles due south across the Occoquan Bay to our next destination.
Situated on a headland just south of the Occoquan bay is Leesylvania State Park. Four paddle-in campsites here are located on the southern facing shores on the banks of Powells Creek. Guests must reserve the sites in advance by calling the park office at 703-730-8205. For those interested in learning the basics of paddling without the overnight component, Leesylvania offers weekly canoe tours throughout the summer.
Virginia’s newest state park is located in Stafford County nestled into the tip of the Widewater Peninsula. Opened in November 2018, the park’s name is a reference to the sweeping views of the Aquia Creek confluence with the Potomac River. Brent Point provides 180-degree views of the Potomac, over three miles wide at this location. It’s roughly a 13-mile paddle from Leesylvania, so be prepared. Paddle-in sites here must be reserved through the Reservation Center at 1-800-933-PARK (7275).
A good starting or ending point for those interested in turning the above accommodations into an overnight experience, Caledon sits peacefully in King George County. A former nature preserve, Caledon provides bird watching opportunities like few other places in the state. Dozens of bald eagles nest in the river side stands and can often be seen and heard. The campsites here are a three-mile hike from the park offices and parking area — a wilderness experience in every sense of the word. Call the reservation center at 1-800-933-PARK (7275) to book your trip.
New this year to the array of Virginia State Parks’ recreational offerings is the Bay Experience Unit — a designated mobile, off-site platform, complete with boats and a trailer, providing additional public education opportunities and outreach. The Bay Experience Unit supports Virginia State Parks in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with additional special event capabilities.
No matter what your skill or interest level is, Virginia State Parks’ conveniently located public boat ramps and paddle-in campsites are a great start for your adventure.