Virginia abounds with preserved natural beauty, pristine parks, and outdoor spaces where you can experience the most breathtaking sights in the state, like inspiring vistas at Shenandoah National Park or along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Virginia’s 42 state parks are replete with highlights aplenty, from the mountains to the sea. Virginia also boasts county and city parks and other natural areas that feature placid lakes perfect for a relaxing paddle and welcoming trails for a simple walk in the woods or a breezy bike ride.

But do you know about the many outdoor opportunities found in Virginia’s Wildlife Management Areas? Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are a great way to experience nature in a less manicured and more rustic way.

Imagine the great prospects in these lesser-known natural destinations, from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean; places where you can hike, boat, paddle, mountain bike, view wildlife, and even pitch your tent or van camp.

Rapidan Wildlife Management Area
Photo Credit: Meghan Marchetti, @virginiawildlife

Luckily for us, Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has developed an online resource to help us discover and navigate the possibilities in these Wildlife Management Areas. Known as Explore the Wild Virginia, the online service (available at and on the GoOutdoorsVirginia mobile app) is your ticket to discovering these unsung parcels of Virginia’s Great Outdoors.

Better still, not only does Explore the Wild  highlight the state’s Wildlife Management Areas, but it also details other nearby non-WMA natural destinations, such as parks and forests where additional outdoor desires can be realized.

York River State Park

York River State Park

Photo Credit: Jeff Taylor

Note: The primary mission of Virginia’s Wildlife Management Areas is to enhance and conserve habitat for the state’s flora and fauna. Therefore, Virginia WMAs are managed in a more primitive fashion – generally without amenities such as visitor centers, developed campgrounds, or restrooms.

Virginia Wildlife Management Areas: Know Before You Go

All Actions Listed Below Can Be Executed on the Explore the Wild Virginia App

  1. All WMAs require either a current Virginia hunting or fishing license, a valid Virginia boat registration, Restore the Wild membership, or a DWR daily access permit, all of which allow you to access any Virginia WMA. Annual and group access permits are available and a good value. All licenses and permits are available at or on the GoOutdoorsVirginia app.
  2. If hunting or fishing on Virginia WMAs, you must have the appropriate hunting or fishing licenses.
  3. Camping authorizations, available at or on the GoOutdoorsVirginia app, are mandatory for campers on WMAs. You will need to obtain a free customer ID number if you have not previously registered with GoOutdoorsVirginia. Camping authorizations are located under “Special Licenses” in the online license catalog. There is currently no charge for camping, but you must have an access permit, hunting or fishing license, or boat registration to camp. Camping is primitive and dispersed, with no designated sites or facilities of any kind.
  4. WMAs may have seasonal access closures due to certain hunting seasons, wildlife hatches, etc., which will be noted on the WMA webpage, accessible through or in Explore the Wild .
  5. Download the map for each WMA from the DWR website you plan to visit to help you when on the ground.
  6. Pack out your trash and practice Leave No Trace ethics while visiting WMAs. 

It takes a little effort to learn the ins and outs of exploring Virginia WMAs. That is where Explore the Wild  shines, making learning the details for each WMA a breeze.

Rapidan Wildlife Management Area
Photo Credit: Meghan Marchetti, @virginiawildlife

Simply put, the primitive experience at Virginia WMAs means getting closer to nature. And don’t we all want to get a little closer to nature?

To help you get started, here are four rewarding Wildlife Management Areas in Central and Northern Virginia that you can discover. Additionally, for each WMA listed, you can learn about three nearby destinations found through Explore the Wild to maximize your Virginia outdoor experience.

Exploring Central and Northern Virginia Wildlife Management Areas

Robert W. Duncan Wildlife Management Area

Nearest Town: Doswell

Potential Activities: Paddling, bicycling, walking, fishing, primitive camping

Why Go There: Explore the wild shores of the Mattaponi River

What You Need to Know: The gravel roads are fine for fat tire and E-bicycling

Primary WMA Access Coordinates: 37.880298, -77.266004

Robert W. Duncan Wildlife Management Area
Photo Credit: Ron Messina

Additional Outdoor Destinations Near Robert W. Duncan WMA

Zoar State Forest

Nearest Town: Aylett

Potential Activities: Paddling, hiking, bicycling

Why Go There: State forest paddler’s launch enables a 5-mile float on the Mattaponi River.

What You Need to Know: Park also has dedicated hiking trails

Primary Access Coordinates: 37.805812, -77.121325

The can’t-miss event here is the paddle from Zoar to Aylett. Float the Mattaponi River and its tea-colored waters. Here, the Mattaponi forms a slender stream with alternating wetlands and bluffs on its shores. The twisting river makes a large arc, curving back to flow through Aylett, where DWR Aylett boating access ramp awaits. The streamside scenery is pleasing and includes sandbars suitable for stopping and swimming. Paddlers come here in spring to see the wild azalea gardens coloring the shoreline. Additionally, a 1.4-mile dedicated nature trail follows the river through wetlands and along bluffs. A lesser-used 2.5-mile hiker circuit adds to the possibilities.

Lake Anna State Park

Nearest Town: Spotsylvania

Potential Activities: Camping, boating, paddling, hiking, swimming

Why Go There: This state park’s fine scenery is enhanced with amenities

What You Need to Know: Overnight at a cabin, yurt, camping cabin, or campsite

Primary Access Coordinates: 38.119694, -77.822670

Lake Anna State Park
Photo Credit: Mike Zorger

Water-oriented Lake Anna State Park covers 2,000 acres on a peninsula of Lake Anna. With so much water, the aquatic possibilities go on and on. Facilities include shaded cabins, a beach with a bathhouse, a boat launch, a visitor center, and a snack bar. Boat, water ski, swim at the designated beach, paddle the park coves, fish for freshwater species, or simply relax by the shore. The fine campground and other lodging possibilities make Lake Anna State Park an all-inclusive Virginia state park destination.

North Anna Battlefield Park

Nearest Town: Doswell

Potential Activities: Hiking, bicycling, historical study, picnicking

Why Go There: On the designated Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail

What You Need to Know: Park offers more than six miles of marked and maintained trails

Primary Access Coordinates: 37.878868, -77.504950

This Civil War battlefield park not only contains pristine earthworks from a century and a half back but is also part of the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail. Hike along, reading the interpretive information, then check out the rocky rapids of the North Anna River at Ox Ford, over which the conflict took place. The park also includes a picnic area.

Ware Creek Wildlife Management Area

Nearest Town: Barhamsville

Potential Activities: Bicycling, primitive camping, walking, paddling

Why Go There: Experience a mix of aquatic and land environments

What You Need to Know: WMA has two primary entrances – Holly Fork Road and Miller Road

Primary WMA Access Coordinates: 37.474093, -76.789261

Ware Creek Wildlife Management Area
Photo Credit: Meghan Marchetti, @virginiawildlife

The 2,600-acre Ware Creek WMA borders the York River. The interplay between freshwater creeks and the tidal York River, along with the wetlands, uplands, forests, and fields, creates a startling variety of habitats that may yield sightings of turkey, deer, and birds from warblers to geese to eagles. I recommend fat tire bicycle riding on the mostly level gravel roads through the WMA, though strolling on foot is just fine. Another option is to launch your paddle craft from the DWR West Point boat ramp and paddle along the wild shore of Ware Creek WMA. This very same trip in a motorboat can yield good sights as well.

Additional Outdoor Destinations Near Ware Creek WMA

Little Creek Reservoir

Nearest Town: Toano

Potential Activities: Picnicking, boating, paddling, hiking, fishing

Why Go There: Savor the natural shorelines of a quiet and peaceful lake

What You Need to Know: Only electric motors are allowed on this serene lake

Primary Access Coordinates: 37.36761, -76.83783

Home of Little Creek Reservoir Park, this impoundment provides water for the city of Newport News. Enjoy a quiet experience on the water as only electric motors are allowed on the 996-acre lake, featuring 40 miles of wooded shoreline. Little Creek Reservoir has many small coves and inlets ideal for paddling exploration. Johnboats, canoes, and kayaks are available for rent. Additionally, a one-mile nature trail rambles through the park near the playgrounds and picnic shelter.

York River State Park

Nearest Town: Williamsburg

Potential Activities: Beachcombing, mountain biking, horseback riding, boating, hiking, fresh and saltwater fishing, paddling, picnicking

Why Go There: Walk along bluffs down to Fossil Beach to identify shark’s teeth and other relics along the York River; rent a boat and paddle tidal Taskinas Creek

What You Need to Know: Park boasts a 360-foot fishing pier

Primary Access Coordinates: 37.414278, -76.713593

York River State Park
Photo Credit: Jeff Taylor

Set on the ecologically significant tidal portion of the lower York River, this sizeable Virginia state park is packed with recreation opportunities. Walking Fossil Beach is the preserve’s signature experience. Dedicated mountain biker-only trails (part of more than 40 miles of park pathways) attract the fat tire set, while paddlers can rent canoes or kayaks to ply either the wide York River or more intimate Taskinas Creek.

Chickahominy Riverfront Park

Nearest Town: Williamsburg

Potential Activities: Camping, bicycling, swimming, fishing

Why Go There: Make this preserve your base camp for exploring the lower James River basin

What You Need to Know: The 52-mile bicycler’s heaven that is the Virginia Capital Trail runs through the park

Primary Access Coordinates: 37.264976, -76.870825

Chickahominy Riverfront Park makes a great base camp to sightsee the lower James River basin. Campsites offered include everything from water and electric RV sites to simple tent sites, as well as six glamping sites. Relax by the park pool or rent a canoe or kayak and float smaller Gordon Creek or the bigger Chickahominy River. Chickahominy Riverfront Park is a fine place to access the Virginia Capital Trail, a dedicated multi-use path that spans from Richmond to Jamestown, presenting 52 miles of pedaling pleasure.

C.F. Phelps Wildlife Management Area

Nearest Town: Sumerduck

Potential Activities: Paddling, walking, bicycling, wildlife viewing, primitive camping, horseback riding

Why Go There: Explore the WMA via the Upper Rappahannock Water Trail

What You Need to Know: Aquatic features include both the upper Rappahannock River and Phelps Pond

Primary WMA Access Coordinates: 38.470655, -77.737418

Chester F. Phelps Wildlife Management Area
Photo Credit: Meghan Marchetti, @virginiawildlife

At 4,539 acres, Phelps is one great wildlife management area, running along the shore of the Rappahannock River for miles in Fauquier County. Phelps WMA provides two access points for the Upper Rappahannock Water Trail, paddlecraft launches on both the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers. Make the 5.5-mile run from Kelly Ford access to Rogers Ford access, as the designated state scenic Rappahannock River winds southeasterly, dividing around occasional islands. Hikers walk the gated roads of the WMA, especially to Phelps Pond. Fat tire bikes and e-bikes are fun for the roads as well, allowing visitors to experience a blend of field and forest. A six-mile equestrian trail loop adds to the recreational possibilities.

Additional Outdoor Destinations Near Phelps WMA

C.M. Crockett Park

Nearest Town: Bealeton

Potential Activities: Orienteering, hiking, paddling, boating, fishing

Why Go There: Try the beginner and advanced orienteering courses

What You Need to Know: Park is situated on scenic Germantown Lake

Primary Access Coordinates: 38.622748, -77.720634

Germantown Lake was created when Licking Run was dammed, filling a dug quarry and resulting in the 109-acre impoundment with picturesque natural shores. Paddle a circuit around the lake, where you may observe waterfowl in season. Landlubbers will enjoy the Four Seasons Nature Trail, which skims Crockett Lake, or the Bluebird Cross-Country Trail. Test your skills on the orienteering courses. Boat launches, canoe and kayak rentals, picnic shelters, and play areas round out the offerings here.

Prince William Forest Park

Nearest Town: Williamsburg

Potential Activities: Camping, hiking, fishing, road biking, mountain biking

Why Go There: Prince William Forest Park protects one of the largest preserved tracts of Piedmont forest in the state

What You Need to Know: The preserve was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, giving it a rustic touch

Primary Access Coordinates: 38.559786, -77.347225

Prince William Forest Park
Photo Credit: Johnny Molloy

A Virginia gem, this 10,000-acre refuge outside the national capital offers a wide array of outdoor recreation. A seemingly endless network of trails and a pair of campgrounds, one suited for tents, the other RVs, makes overnight stays ideal. Many of the trails run along rocky picturesque streams. The waterways give you a chance for a little fly fishing. Bicyclers love pedaling Scenic Drive, which runs through the park. 

Wilderness Battlefield Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park

Nearest Town: Wilderness

Potential Activities: Auto touring, hiking, historical study

Why Go There: Over seven miles of walking trails wind through the battlefield

What You Need to Know: Wilderness Battlefield is one of several preserved locations comprising Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park

Primary Access Coordinates: 38.317425, -77.756665

The Wilderness Battlefield Driving Tour offers dedicated stops with interpretive information where you can learn about this late-in-the-Civil War battle. Many of the battlefield hiking trails follow historic roads that were in use then, allowing you to walk in the footsteps of those living in the 1860s. A pair of hiker paths offer shorter loops while the Federal Line Trail, the longest path, extends 3.6 miles one way. Chancellorsville Battlefield is nearby should you want to explore more of this military park.

Thompson Wildlife Management Area

Nearest Town: Front Royal

Potential Activities: Wildflower viewing, hiking, paddling, fishing, primitive camping

Why Go There: Appreciate the vast spring wildflower displays

What You Need to Know: Seven miles of the Appalachian Trail run through the WMA

Primary WMA Access Coordinates: 38.967605, -78.018326

G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area
Photo Credit: Meghan Marchetti, @virginiawildlife

Situated on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge, this mountainous WMA is exceptionally recreation-oriented. Combine the Appalachian Trail with other paths and gated WMA roads to form hiking loops. Check out the Manassas Gap trail shelter along the Appalachian Trail. During spring, you’ll find wildflowers like bluebells and trillium, among other species. Thompson WMA is also a fine place for in-person fall color viewing. The 10-acre Thompson Lake, on the preserve’s lower, eastern side, presents an intimate paddling and trout angling destination. The 4,000-acre WMA is made larger by abutting worth-a-visit Sky Meadows State Park.

Additional Outdoor Destinations Near Thompson WMA

Sky Meadows State Park

Nearest Town: Paris

Potential Activities: Horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking

Why Go There: Experience the mix of rolling fields and historic farmlands rising to the Blue Ridge, creating an array of distant views

What You Need to Know: Access nine miles of mountain biking trails, 22 miles of hiker trails, and 10 miles of equestrian paths here

Primary Access Coordinates: 38.991699, -77.965904

Sky Meadows State Park

Non-traditional Sky Meadows State Park mixes together a historic farm with quaint, stone wall-bordered trails with newer paths linking to the Appalachian Trail. The nearly 2,000-acre preserve presents a mosaic of landscapes sure to please the most discriminating park visitor, including rewarding panoramas that will have you snapping photos nonstop during your mountain biking, hiking, or horseback riding adventures. A hike-in-only campground adds a twist to this special Virginia state park.

South Fork Shenandoah River

Nearest Town: Front Royal

Potential Activities: Paddling, fishing, swimming

Why Go There: Float one of Virginia’s legacy mountain rivers

What You Need to Know: Several outfitters run operations on the South Fork Shenandoah River near Front Royal

Primary Access Coordinates: 37.414278, -76.713593

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ Explore the Wild online tool lists several put-ins and take-outs to help you plan paddling trips on the South Fork Shenandoah River as well as other Virginia waterways. You can enjoy some fine floating along the South Fork in the shadow of the Blue Ridge. In case you aren’t inclined to plan your trip, Front Royal Outdoors and many other outfitting businesses rent canoes or kayaks and run shuttles for the South Fork Shenandoah River.

State Arboretum of Virginia and Blandy Experimental Farm

Nearest Town: Waterloo

Potential Activities: Nature study, walking, outdoor programs, scenic driving

Why Go There: See the collection of native Virginia plants in seasonal bloom

What You Need to Know: This is the official State Arboretum of Virginia

Primary Access Coordinates: 39.069267, -78.062102

Blandy Ginkgo Grove at the State Arboretum

The 700-acre Blandy Experimental Farm and the State Arboretum of Virginia are paired together as one. They are known for their year-round guided walks, programs, and workshops for both kids and adults. You can also go on self-guided tours of Blandy Experimental Farm to explore special gardens in the Arboretum, including the boxwood garden and the Gingko Grove. The 2.6-mile Wilkins Lane Loop Drive allows you to experience the farm and arboretum from the comfort of your vehicle.