by Kimberly Suter
If you’re like me, you’re asking yourself “where can I take the kids to get away without staying anywhere?” or, “what can we do that everyone will enjoy while staying away from crowds of people?”
The answer? Gladstone, VA. Just a short 2 ½ hour drive from Williamsburg, West of Richmond and South of Charlottesville, lies James River State Park in Gladstone. Prior to the pandemic, I had never even heard of this park, but now I find myself exploring my own state (within a 3-hour driving radius), and discovered this beautiful park with plenty of options to try with the family! I have two girls, 13 and 9. They enjoy outdoor activities, but they also tend to either tire or get “bored” easily, so it can become a challenge finding activities that we all enjoy.
We went to James River State Park on a Saturday (arrival by 12) and had reserved 2 canoes for a 2-hour excursion on the river. When we arrived at the park, we paid a $5 entry/parking fee and continued to the boat launch area. On our way, we stopped at the beautiful bath house area to use the restroom (I would HIGHLY recommend this over porta-potties further down). The restrooms were clean, air conditioned, and fully stocked. When we arrived at the boat launch area, we were directed to drive our vehicle to the parking lot where we would end our afternoon on the river and park; a wagon brought us back to the launch site. Back at the launch site, employees helped us walk the canoes down to the river, we put our things in the canoes, put on our life jackets and sunscreen, and off we went. The river was beautiful! The water was clean and cool and it had a gentle current that slowly pulled us downstream. Although there were others on the river in kayaks and individual tubes, we were never in a crowd of people and it was a quiet, relaxing experience. Floating/paddling down the river, you can see the bottom (or at least what’s under the water) most of the time. There are many beautiful rocks, grasses, fish, and wildlife (on the banks). At several points throughout the trip, we pulled the canoes onto a river bank/sandy area and let the kids explore and float. We also stopped at a “beach” area for some lunch (bring a cooler with food/snacks and plenty of water). This is a perfect getaway without having to travel far from home!
James River State Park rents kayaks, individual tubes, and canoes in which to enjoy the river. Due to the pandemic, you have to call ahead to reserve these! You should also inquire about the river levels and pay attention to the weather; increased water levels lead to faster currents and potentially a quicker trip down the river. If you are wondering if tubing/kayaking/canoeing down the river sounds interesting, but you’re not sure how your children will react, try the 2-hour trip first; it’s long enough to get the experience, but not too long. If you’re looking for a
longer trip, they also have a 4-5-hour float/trip (again, depending on the river levels).
This park also offers hiking trails and camping, although we only experienced the canoeing on the day we went. For more information on James River State Park, visit: https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/james-river