Westmoreland State Park is a great place for a camping vacation, only 2 hours from Northern Virginia. The park is part of the Virginia State Park system and extends about one and a half miles along the Potomac River in Virginia’s Northern Neck. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Both Robert E. Lee and George Washington were born just minutes away.
The camping sites are shady. The bathrooms are passable in terms of cleanliness. The showers are hot. The standard camp sites are $20 for Virginia residents, $24 for non-residents. It was about $10 more for sites with electric and water hookup. Some friends in our group stayed in a two bedroom older rustic cabin, so we spent time there too.
The cabin was small and had a musty smell. It looked clean but was quite dark inside even though it was bright outside. There is a two night minimum stay requirement for the cabins. Currently the two bedroom cabins are $112/night for Virginia residents and $133/night for non-residents during peak season. In 2016, there are plans for new updated furniture and mattresses in all the cabins.
The cliffs along this part of the river are a geological phenomenon that exists in only three other places of the world. Embedded in these cliffs are fossil remains of porpoises, whales, and sharks from 15 million years ago. It is about a ¾ mile hike to Fossil Beach on Big Meadow Trail.
I recommend taking the park’s ranger-led tour ($3/person, $8/family) to Fossil Beach to learn about Westmoreland’s ancient history, fossils and how to find them. The ranger provided sieves to help sort the fossils from the sand. The children were excited when we found a historic shark’s tooth.
Later back at the visitor’s center, the kids made shark tooth necklaces for $5. The weekend we were there the park offered other programs like night hikes, sunrise yoga, kayak trips, ice cream making, learn to stand-up paddle board, and seining and fish printing. There is a modest/nominal fee for many of the parks interpretive programs.
We swam both in the Potomac River and in the park’s Olympic sized pool which had a slide but no shade. Campers and cabin guests get free pool passes. There is a bathhouse and a concession stand near the pool. There are no life guards at the beach, only at the pool. We were told there are jelly fish in the river, but we didn’t see any.
The beach is a good spot for playing in the sand and making castles. We were surprised how wide and beautiful the Potomac River is at this point. The campgrounds or cabins are not easily walkable from the beach, so you’ll want to drive there. If the staff closes the parking lot area, let them know that you are a camper. Camper and cabin guest vehicles will be allowed through. The staff only restricts day use visitors from the lot at crowded times.
On the Fourth of July we took a five minute drive from the park to Stratford Hall which is the birthplace of Robert E. Lee and the boyhood home of two signers of the Declaration of Independence. We were delighted that admission on Independence Day is free.
Normally tickets are $12 for adults (12 years and up) and $6 for children (6-11). There is no charge for children under 5. The interpreters told us about the life of the Lee family of Virginia and what it was like to be a slave in the 18th century. We toured the Great House and the kids participated in a scavenger hunt, signed the Declaration of Independence with a quill pen, played colonial games, dressed up in colonial period costumes, and more. Bikes are available for rent around the grounds for $5/hour.
The kids’ favorite place was the grist mill, where the huge waterwheel turned wooden gears that powered the millstones. Corn and wheat are ground here and are for sale. There is a restaurant at Stratford Hall that was closed by the time we got there, but it is a good option for a meal out one afternoon.
The George Washington Birthplace National Monument is another historic site close to the park, only 10 minutes away. It marks Washington’s birth place. The actual home where Washington was born was destroyed in a fire in 1779, so the park has erected a monument instead. There are several colonial revival structures that can be toured. The value of a visit here though is in the landscape that shaped Washington’s life.
At the visitors center we watched a video about the area and George Washington, and browsed a few exhibits. There are good places to picnic under shady trees. Ranger lead talks are on the hour and there is a two mile nature loop if you are interested in a hike. The George Washington Birthplace National Monument is part of the National Park Service and is free.
Maybe on our next visit to Westmoreland State park we will drive to Westmoreland Berry Farm for some berry picking and a farm tour. It is about 30 minutes from the park.
If you go camping over Fourth of July Weekend at Westmoreland State Park, and really want to see fireworks, you will want to take a 20 minute drive to the town of Colonial Beach. We were told by one park employee that we would be able to see the fireworks from the beach near the pool, but we couldn’t see much.
The fireworks were faint in the distance. The kids were disappointed. Later another ranger told us the view from the Visitor’s Center might be better, although limited. If you don’t feel like battling the crowds near Colonial Beach, you can just take in the beautiful site of the Potomac River at sunset.
There is a small but nice gift store near the campgrounds. It was one of the better camp stores I’ve seen. The kids can get ice cream there. There is a Food Lion 10 miles away for extra food supplies in Montross, VA if needed.
Overall, we had a wonderful trip. The kids and I give it the two thumbs up.
Photos by Danielle Werchowsky.