Located in Virginia’s heartland, the town of Farmville is an up-and-coming rural destination with an eclectic flair of its own. Farmville is well located for exploring several nearby Virginia state parks. In fact, one state park is in (and runs through) Farmville –High Bridge State Park -- and another seven state parks can be accessed from here in no time.
Within the Farmville sphere you can bicycle the High Bridge at High Bridge Trail Park or visit one of the last Civil War battles fought in Virginia at Sailors Creek Historic State Park. Fish, paddle, or swim at Bear Creek Lake State Park. Take a hike at Holliday State Park. Perhaps you want to pitch your tent or overnight in a cozy cabin at Twin Lakes State Park. Or pilot a kayak on the moving water at James River State Park. And still more state parks are located near Farmville. Despite the name, Staunton River State Park is located on the huge Buggs Island Lake and can be your big water experience. Staunton River Battlefield State Park reflects Virginia’s important role in American history, and you can see for yourself why this parcel is preserved for posterity.
So with Farmville at the center of your outdoor compass, reconnect with the natural world, then become your own social media sensation after posting your outdoor adventures at Virginia state parks.
When you have a state park rail-trail running through your town as Farmville does, you are living well. The 31-mile High Bridge Trail extends from Pamplin in the west to Burkeville in the east, with Farmville roughly in the middle. Recommended High Bridge Trail starting points are Farmville, where it is a little over four miles one way to the High Bridge, perfect for at fun and easy bicycle ride, or from Camp Paradise, where you can enjoy the new welcome center and make the easy .3 mile stroll to High Bridge.
What is so special about the actual High Bridge? For starters, the former railroad trestle is almost a half-mile long, one of the longest recreational trail bridges in the United States. As it rises over the Appomattox River Valley, enchanting vistas open of the surrounding river bottoms and hills beyond. A last point of retreat for the Confederates during the Civil War, the notable span survived an attempted burning and stayed in railroad use until 2004, when it became the centerpiece of this rail trail, which is now an official Virginia Historic Landmark as well as a federally designated National Recreation Trail.
Though primarily a linear state park, High Bridge does have a few smaller tracts with additional facilities. The Rochelle Area features additional mountain biking and hiker trails, while the Camp Paradise area has hiking trails along preserved Civil War earthworks. Restrooms, picnic tables, and shaded rest areas are interspersed along the entire path.
Bike rentals can be had in downtown Farmville. Rent a single bike, double bike, or three-wheel bike to explore away, or simply walk the level, wide track, soaking in the High Bridge Trail scenery. Though the state park has no lodging or camping, that is easily taken care of in Farmville or adjacent trail communities.
This state park is one of those places you can plan to stay awhile. Opportunities for exploration -- and relaxation -- should you so choose, abound. Culled from and surrounded by big Cumberland State Forest, together they form a de facto 16,000-acre Virginia Heartland getaway only a half-hour from Farmville.
Lodging choices are bountiful. Stay in one of the woodsy cabins – made of timber and set in the woods adjacent to Bear Creek Lake. The Bear Creek Lodge can sleep up to 16 and is perfect for a large family reunion. The Bunkhouse, good for up to 14 guests, offers more rustic group lodging and is great for youth groups and the like.
Many visitors, especially during the warm season, will be camping. The reservable waterfront sites are deservedly most desired. However, all the sites have been leveled, are large, and are well-spaced apart. The Acorn Loop is primarily for tent campers. The Black Oak and Chestnut Loops have electricity and water hookups and are designed for RVs and hard-shell campers. Fully equipped bathhouses smooth out the rough edges.
Whether you are staying overnight or not, Bear Creek Lake is the centerpiece of the preserve. The forest-bordered 40-acre reservoir has a warm-season swim beach and snack bar. No gas motors are allowed here, allowing for a serene experience whether you are on your paddleboard, paddle boat, kayak, canoe, or rowboat. All the above are available for rent at the state park. You can even rent an electric trolling motor so you can concentrate on fishing for bass, bream, and other species instead of stroking your paddle. Additionally, landlubbers can toss a line in from the universally accessible fishing pier.
Water lovers can also float the nearby Willis River, flowing through the surrounding Cumberland State Forest. Two canoe/kayak launches make the challenging trip easier. Still others will paddle the ponds located within the forest. Should you tire of the Bear Creek Lake trails, Cumberland State Forest delivers an additional 34 miles of pathways for equestrians, hikers, and mountain bikers.
Speaking of trails within Bear Creek Lake State Park proper, several hiker-only pathways wind along the shores of Bear Creek Lake. The Lost Barr and Channel Cat Trails make shortish loops while the Lakeside Connector winds through the upper marshes of Bear Creek Lake. Those seeking longer paths can hit the multi-use tracks of the Cumberland State Forest. Of course, part of our Virginia state park experience can be simply to relax on the shoreline with no agenda for the day.
The James River, Virginia’s contribution to great rivers of the world, is Virginia’s largest watercourse, flowing across the entire state from the mountains in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east. At 340 miles long, the James is one of the longest rivers in the United States that begins and ends in the same state.
With that as a backdrop, establishing the James River State Park was a no-brainer for Virginia. And they did a good job at this preserve about an hour northwest of Farmville. Exploring the James is the centerpiece of this Virginia heartland experience.
The official dark sky park is located on a big bend of the James River, where river bottoms give way to upland hills cut by lively streams feeding the James. Most of the 22 miles of trails coursing through this riverine environment are multi-use, including paths traveling to overlooks, bringing vistas down to the river and beyond. Small, fishable ponds are scatted among the trails and hills, adding a still water component to the park.
If you want to get on the big James River, you can make a nine-mile run from the Bent Creek boat ramp on US 60 to James River State Park. Or take on the five-mile trip from the state park to Wingina at the VA 56 bridge, passing Cunninghams Island along the way.
The park has a wide array of lodging possibilities. Attractive cabins are set on a hill overlooking the river and flats below. A total of 16 cabins and two, larger family-style lodges can be rented here. Campers can have their choice of overnighting venues. Red Oak is the camp of choice for van and RV campers. Fully equipped with ample water and electricity and set in the shade, these campsites are prime. Tent campers have three rustic campgrounds just for them, including Canoe Landing Campground, directly on the river. The other tent areas, Branch Pond and Walnut Grove, offer secluded camping. Equestrians have their own campground, with horse stalls included.
The last days of the Civil War took place here in Virginia’s heartland, just a few miles outside of Farmville. Here, you can explore the rural glory of this preserved conflict site. A series of interconnected trails totaling three miles lead from the informative visitor center to overlooks and sites in the rolling valley of Sailor’s Creek, where fields and woods form a natural patchwork.
Visit the restored Overton-Hillsman House, which was used as a battlefield hospital. The best times to visit the battlefield are in April, when the battle was fought, and during autumn, when the temperatures cool down and fall color heats up.
This state park, a mere 15 miles southeast of Farmville, features two adjacent impoundments in the Sandy River watershed, Goodwin Lake and Prince Edward Lake. Known for being a clean, well-kept park, visitors come here to kick back on the swim beach in summer or feel the warmth of a fire at their cabin or campsite in the fall.
With a natural setting of forests, lakes, streams, and hills, Twin Lakes State Park is the perfect antidote to the rush, rush, rush of life. Hiking, fishing, swimming, and boating are on the docket here, and many come to Twin Lakes State Park for such activities. But if you want to park yourself at one of the 33 campsites or maybe just sit on the porch at one of the 11 cabins, you will be in good company.
The cabins sleep from four to eight people, while the Bowen Lodge can handle up to 16. Here’s one reason for relaxation – the cabins have no television, telephone, or Wi-Fi. Talk about leaving your cares behind! Those who stay in the cabins leave great reviews about their Twin Lakes experience. Set in deep woods near the Lake Goodwin Dam, the 33-site campground is designed for both tent campers, van campers, and RVers. All campsites have water and electricity.
Sooner or later even the most relaxed of us is going to explore the two lakes here. Prince Edward Lake comes in at 36 acres and Lake Goodwin at 15 acres, with plenty of room to fish, paddle, and swim. Each impoundment has a boat launch. The electric-motors-only policy helps keep the atmosphere tranquil. Both lakes have hiking trails encircling them. The Otters Path makes a three-mile circuit around Prince Edward Lake while the Goodwin Lake Trail takes 1.1 miles to circle it. Want a longer trail adventure? It’s just a short trip to the adjacent trail-rich Prince Edward-Gallion State Forest. Check the state park visitor center for more information on Prince Edward-Gallion State Forest, but then again, like many visitors you may just be here to get away from it all.
So much of America’s story has been played out in Virginia, and luckily for us, many important sites in American history have been preserved as a Virginia state park, such as Staunton River Battlefield State Park. It’s about an hour’s drive from Farmville, and I recommend it as a day trip. Protected with care, respectfully developed, and kept in pristine shape, come here to learn about an unlikely Civil War battle. In the summer of 1864, the Confederates were trying to stave off the inevitable Union advance on Richmond. In order to hold off the Union army, General Lee needed a reliable pipeline of supplies for his men. They came via the South Side and Richmond & Danville Railroad. The bridge over the Staunton River was critical to protecting the railroad supply line.
Over 5,000 Union soldiers headed for the Staunton River bridge with an eye to destroy the bridge, where under 500 Confederate reserves waited, along with boys too young to fight and men too old for war. On a hot day in late June, the Union troops assaulted the bridge from the east and north, but the Confederate army repulsed four major charges on the bridge. By nightfall, the Union army had given up, making a night march back to Petersburg, and stretching out the war for another year.
Today, we can access the battlefield via hiking trails, walking the bridge to enjoy interpretive information on both sides of the river. The 1.2-mile Battlefield Trail is a must-do—cross the very bridge fought over back in the 1860s and soak in views of the Staunton River above and below. Two visitor center/interpretive areas enhance your battlefield knowledge, and the park also offers a picnic shelter.
Paddle under the historic bridge on a mild stretch of the Staunton River, making a nine-mile float from Watkins Bridge off VA 746 (Scuffletown Road) to Clover Landing at the US 360 Bridge. I’ve made this peaceful river run myself and pronounce it a winner. However, you must provide your own kayak/canoe and shuttle.
This intriguing preserve lies on Virginia’s huge Buggs Island Lake, Virginia’s largest impoundment with over 48,000 acres of water! The park facilities are well situated on a grand peninsula where the dammed Staunton River meets the dammed Dan River, about an hour’s drive south of Farmville.
Buggs Island Lake is home to slow-moving pontoon boats, geared-up fishing boats, graceful sailboats, swift speedboats, and just about any other freshwater watercraft you can imagine. It’s all part of the lake life, as is water skiing, swimming in a quiet lake cove, or cooking out on the shoreline.
With Staunton River State Park perched on Buggs Island Lake, you can merge your lake life and your Virginia state park life into one fine experience. A recreational park with its roots from the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps nearly a century back, this preserve combines being on a big lake with quieter times of stretching out under the trees, campfire smoke wafting through sun-dappled tree and sky, or taking a little nap in the lawn chair after tooling around Buggs Island Lake, perhaps the smell of roasting hotdogs coming over from the cabin down the way.
Staunton River State Park has its own accolades, one of them being Virginia’s first International Dark Sky Park. Plan to stargaze here – the park even rents telescopes! However, most recreation revolves around the water. Though many bring their own larger lake craft, visitors can rent self-propelled boats such as canoes or kayaks from a park concessionaire. Big boats can be rented in nearby Clarksville. Other water-oriented activities include swimming (the park has a swimming pool) and fishing for bass, crappie, and perch.
Staunton River State Park’s trail system is underrated. The 8.8-mile River Bank Trail traverses the shoreline of both the Dan River and Staunton River arms of Buggs Island Lake. Enjoy distant lake views along the way. Most trails here are open to hikers and bicyclers.
Seven cabins, which are smaller, rustic dwellings, are scattered throughout the park. Another choice is the 14-person bunkhouse, but camping is my favorite option at Staunton River State Park. A total of 48 campsites offers a variety of wooded sites for tent campers or van campers. All the sites are well-delineated, mostly shaded, and enhanced with a worthy bathhouse.
Mix lake and park life at Staunton River State Park and savor the best of both worlds!
The final state park jewel in the crown of preserves around Farmville is Holliday Lake State Park. Located a mere 25 miles northwest of Farmville, Holliday Lake State Park is encased within the folds of the greater Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest, effectively creating a larger natural area. Centered by the 119-acre Holliday Lake, the park’s bigger-than-average swim beach attracts crowds in summer to swim, float, play in the sand, or just let the kids run around. Isn’t making memories with the family what a Virginia state park getaway is all about?
Overhead views of the state park show the many-armed lake nestled in a rich forest, where the birds, animals, and other critters fashion a part of the natural web of life that you can discover for yourself, whether it’s spotting a turtle sunning itself atop a log in Holliday Lake, finding an intricate spider web reflecting the morning sun, or seeing a deer and its fawn grazing in the undergrowth.
Not unexpectedly, most recreation opportunities are in or around Lake Holliday. Hikers love the 6.7-mile Lakeshore Trail. It encircles the entire impoundment and is peppered with overlooks where you can survey the intermingling of land and water. Visitors also use the Lakeshore Trail for bank fishing. Additional shorter trails form a mini network of pathways that also connect to the Lakeshore Trail. Mountain bikers can tackle the 10.2-mile Carter Taylor Trail, which wanders through the adjoining state forest.
How water-oriented is Holliday State Park? It even has a paddling trail! The Sunfish Aquatic Trail circles past the park swim beach into a cove and by the lake dam. The water path has an accompanying brochure to help you further appreciate the aquatic world that is Holliday Lake. Paddlers can head out on their own into many other arms of Holliday Lake. Bring your own kayak or canoe, or rent one from the park during the warm season. They offer one- and two-person kayaks, canoes, and johnboats for anglers, try something a little different when you rent a stand-up paddleboard or a pedal boat.
This is a camper’s park. Roofed accommodations can be had in nearby Farmville, but Holliday Lake has a quality campground. The campsites are generally large, separated from one another, and well-manicured. Every site has a tent pad, electricity, and water, and are served by a clean bathhouse. It’s the Virginia state park way.
Here’s to hoping you will explore the above state parks around Farmville and learn that when you spend your time in Virginia state parks, you will always come out a winner–and return for more of what these preserves offer, making your own worthy memories here in Virginia’s heartland.