Virginia has 38 state parks and every one is worth a visit. As you tour the Shenandoah Valley, Douthat State Park (Say “doubt-that”) ought to be very high on your list of priorities.
Located about 35 hilly miles northwest of Lexington, near Millboro, the park is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is one of the original six Virginia State Parks, all of which opened June 15, 1936. Virginia is the only state in the USA to have opened an entire state park system at one time, with those six parks encompassing 19,000 acres. Besides Douthat, the original state parks are: First Landing, Fairy Stone, Staunton River, Hungry Mother, and Westmoreland.
Historically, the Douthat-named property goes back to 1795, when the Virginia Legislature, under Governor Robert Brooke, granted a land patent to Robert Douthat for 102,000 acres. More than 200 years later, the park is part of that parcel. George Washington National Forest surrounds the park.
In addition to its mountainous natural beauty, a long list of amenities, features and opportunities have made Douthat a popular family destination since inception. (In 1999, Outside Family Vacation Guide put it on their list of the nation’s 10 best destinations.) Here’s a short list of what you can find in this 4,500+-acre resource:
- A 50-acre lake and four miles of stream fishing. In season, the lake is stocked with rainbow, brown and brook trout twice a week. There is a special fishing area for kids, too, on Wilson Creek just below the dam.
- Designated swimming beach. Between the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day, guarded beach swimming is available for a fee.
- 43 miles of trails. Hike, mountain bike and ride horses. Find waterfalls, scenic overlooks and seclusion. Many of the trails– plus cabins, the dam and other facilities– were built by about 600 members of the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1933 and 1942.
- Restaurant with lake views, plus Gift Shop and Camp Store. Deck and porch areas are wheelchair-accessible.
- 32 cabins and three lodges. Visit the Reserve America site to book campsites, cabins, lodges, picnic shelters, etc. You can also call 800-933-PARK (7275)
- Boat rentals. Funyaks and Jon boats, with and without electric motors, can be rented from the first Saturday in April through the end of October. Canoes, paddleboats, hydrobikes and paddleboards may be rented from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor day. A boat launch ramp is available for guests with their own non-gasoline powered boat. No launching fee is charged, but boats must be moored in designated areas.
- Tent and trailer camping. Camping season runs from the first Friday in March through the first Monday in December. All primitive and some full-service campgrounds are open year-round. Bringing your horse? There is an equestrian campground available.
- Interpretive programs, amphitheater, and playground. Programs are offered seven days a week from mid-June through Labor Day and on weekends only in April, May, September and October. Offerings include guided hikes, canoe tours, children’s programs, crafts, lectures, etc. (Coming soon: On January 1, 2019, from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m., Douthat rangers and naturalists will lead the “First Day Hike,” a 0.79-mile moderate trek that will follow Tobacco House Ridge Trail from the intersection of Blue Suck Falls Trail to White Oak Campground, offering an outstanding view of Douthat Lake. Children, accompanied by a parent or guardian, are welcome.)
As we said at the outset, this is a “short list” of what you can find at Douthat. Don’t wait for summer to explore this pristine part of Virginia.
Banner photo courtesy Virginia State Parks/Albert Herring