Sometimes using your own home as a hunting or fishing base camp is not feasible when your desired destination is hours away. Parking in a hotel parking lot with a boat or all your hunting gear can leave you sleeping with one eye open all night listening for any would-be thieves.
Staying at a state park in a cabin or lodge, however, puts you with other folks who enjoy the outdoors and want to enjoy a decent night’s sleep without worrying about their gear. Furthermore, many state parks are located near great fishing and hunting — and the price is generally much more palatable than a nice hotel. Wouldn’t it be nice to simply wake up and either walk to your fishing spot or take a short drive to hunt or fish without an hour or two commute to get afield or on the water? The surroundings at a state park are aesthetic as well. Clean air, trees, fog on the water in the morning and peace and quiet are all to be had at a state park cabin. Finally, you can often take the kids and family with you even if they are not into hunting or fishing because there are other attractions nearby that are of interest. In this article we’ll look at a few of the top state parks with both cabins for rent and ready access to nearby hunting or fishing. To reserve a cabin or lodge or even a campsite, call 1-800-933-PARK or go online to the park’s specific reservation site listed below each featured area.
CLAYTOR LAKE STATE PARK
If I had to pick a state park with cabins to serve as a base camp while fishing, one of the top choices would undoubtedly be Claytor Lake State Park in the spring or summer. At 472 acres with 4,500 acres of lake, and 21 miles of shoreline to probe, you cannot go wrong. Claytor Lake has a wide variety of freshwater fish, so whatever you like to fish for, you are apt to find it here. And the state park has 3 miles of shoreline along the lake, putting you front and center with respect to good fishing.
Claytor Lake State Park allows fishing from the shoreline and there are some fish attractors put in place within reach of shorebound anglers. Virginia’s state park web page has more information on their exact locations.
There is a tackle section in the marina, and boat slip rentals. Boats and canoes can be rented at Claytor Lake Watersports, which is onsite, and a guided tour of the lake is available as well. Oddly enough, there do not appear to be any well-known fishing guides on the lake.
Anglers who rent a boat or bring their boat will find plenty of bass in the lake. Fish the creeks such as Peak Creek, Texas Hollow and any of the large coves in the lower lake. Jigs and plastics are great starters and cranks in shad or crayfish colors are very good also. Smallmouth prefer rocky shoreline areas and dropoffs and ledges. Crayfish-patterned baits are key here as well as shad-colored jerkbaits or cranks. Watch the topography of the shoreline to get an idea of what is underwater if you don’t have a fish finder. Or purchase a map of the lake at http://www.focl.org/merchandise/. The fish attractors will also hold crappie and other game fish. On the open water, look for shad schools to find striped bass. Use large spoons or bucktails with sassy shads to hook them.
Claytor Lake State Park – 6620 Ben H. Bolen Drive, Dublin, VA 24084 – 540-643-2500
Lodging: 3 lodges ($276-$369); 15 cabins ($93-$147); 110 campsites ($26-$36 depending on hookups or not)
On Site: Camp store, marina, boat rentals, boat launch, beach
Nearby: Rock House Marina, Appalachian Waters, Elliot’s Tackle Shop
JAMES RIVER STATE PARK
James River State Park can be used as base camp for a fishing adventure or a hunting trip. It is a real gem, providing great amenities for both anglers and hunters as well as their families. James River State Park (1,561 acres) is right on the James River, with 3 miles of riverfront and three ponds on the park. There is a boat launch for fishing, a handicapped pier, and even a trail that is a quarter mile long around the Green Hill pond that wheelchairs can access to fish. If anglers don’t want to deal with towing their boats or canoes, they can use the full service canoe livery to rent a kayak, canoe or tube to float the James River. Shuttle serves are available in season. The livery can be contacted at 434-933-8682. Fishing for bass and panfish is decent in the ponds. A state fishing license is required to fish the ponds. Those fishing the river will find that smallmouth bas, panfish, catfish (including flatheads) and even river gar are available in fishable numbers. The livery will shuttle anglers up to 8 miles upstream to float down.
Fishing on this stretch of river is good spring, summer and fall for smallmouth. Top hardware for catching fish here is fairly standard for river smallmouth fishing: jigs with crayfish plastics, soft plastic baits like Yum Dingers or Senkos, small crankbaits, Beetle Spins, and live bait. Crayfish and minnows followed by red wigglers or night crawlers would be the best baits to take on a fishing trip. In the ponds, plastic worms and topwater baits will work well for bass but spinnerbaits and live baits will do the job too.
For those wishing to hunt, there is the nearby Appomattox/Buckingham State Forest less than an hour away. A State Forest Use Permit ($16) and a valid hunting license are required to hunt. ATVs are not permitted on gated trails or roads. This state forest has ample hunting opportunities with nearly 20,000 acres, 20 miles of trails, and 22 miles of roads through the forest, which spans both Appomattox and Buckingham counties. There are also over 90 miles of gated roads/trails that can be accessed by walking.
Using a GPS or a smartphone, one could scout the area thoroughly and then do some productive hunting. The further off the road and trails you are willing to go, the better the chances you find game that is unpressured. I have personally seen a number of turkeys in my travels through the forest while in my truck on the road. So, a spring gobbler outing in the morning followed by an afternoon of fishing the James in the spring would make a great blast-and-cast trip. Or go deer hunting in the fall, fish the ponds or river during the midday hours and then hit the woods with a portable stand in the late afternoon. Take a few coolers for the game or fish you get.
The cabins are like regular homes, and a variety of lodging can be had, from 2-bedroom cabins to lodges accommodating 16 people in the same building. The cabins have nice porches on them for relaxing and the camp store is adequate. However, readers are cautioned to take whatever they need with them, as the park is rather isolated and cell service and WiFi are not readily available while at the park. Because this is such a nice state park and the fishing and hunting is good, reservations tend to fill quickly so be sure to go online to register soon as you know you are taking vacation.
James River State Park – 104 Green Hill Drive, Gladstone, VA 24553 – 434-933-4355
Lodging: Six, max occupancy is 16 per lodge. ($276-$369 depending on season); 16 cabins 2-3 bedrooms available. ($88-$147); 20 tent sites ($13); 31 hookup sites ($30)
On-Site: A visitor center, a gift shop, a camp store, universally accessible fishing pier and boat launch
Nearby: Appomattox/ Buckingham State Forest, Bear Creek, Twin Lakes, Holiday Lake State Parks
SHENANDOAH RIVER STATE PARK
The biggest parcel of public land in Virginia is the National Forest. The George Washington National Forest is right across the South Fork of the Shenandoah River from Shenandoah River State Park. Shenandoah River State Park would be a great base camp for hunters wanting to try turkey, deer, bear, waterfowl or small-game hunting on the National Forest.
Shenandoah State Park covers 1,600 acres on the east side of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. A short drive by road will take you to the boundary of the National Forest, where (depending on the season, of course) you can hike in to set up a deer stand, hunt small game or call a turkey.
For hunters who want to take to the woods with friends, the two-bedroom cabins (9 of those) and three-bedroom cabin (1) will give ample room to bed down, sit around the fire (you may bring some firewood or buy it there), and chew the fat. If you have a large hunting party, there is a six-bedroom lodge that will accommodate up to16 people.
These cabins have the basics but do not have TV. There are no nearby public shooting ranges and target shooting on National Forest land is prohibited. So, sight in your rifles before you leave home and take care not to bump your scope!
Hunters would do well to make themselves aware of the boundaries and rules for the National Forest. Maps and info can be obtained in person at the Lee District office at Lee Ranger District, 95 Railroad Avenue, Edinburg, VA 22824 or by calling 540-984-4101. Or, readers can search online for maps they want.
Deer hunting can be tough on the National Forest but not impossible. On the other hand, there is less hunting pressure on the National Forest than there once was. Ask the Lee District for pointers for where the latest timbering or burns have taken place. New growth equals fresh browse and better hunting. Set up a stand near such areas to maximize your venison chances. Turkey hunters will find adequate numbers of birds on the National Forest. However, the same tip applies regarding manipulated habitat for these wily birds too.
One of the fun hunts that can be had while staying at Shenandoah River State Park is a float hunt of the river for geese or ducks. While there are not any livery services available in the fall and winter months nearby, hunters with their own canoe or kayak can partner up with a buddy and work out the details of what section to float. There are plenty of pull-off spots and bridges where access can be had for a canoe. VDGIF has a web page that lists the public ramps at https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/waterbody/shenandoah-river-south-fork/.
Geese and ducks are regularly in the area and offer good jumpshooting. Do remember basic safety rules around cold water, and wear appropriate clothing such as a float coat or PFD and carry an extra set of warm clothes in a waterproof bag in case you get wet. A National Forest Permit ($4) is required. Don’t forget Federal Migratory Duck Stamps, VA Migratory Stamp and a HIP Permit as well as your hunting license.
Shenandoah River State Park- 350 Daughter of Stars Dr., Bentonville, VA 22610 – 540-622-6840
Lodging: 10 cabins ($88-$147); 1 lodge ($276-$379); 32 camping sites ($20-$32 depending on hookups or not)
On Site: River access, car top boat launch, dogs allowed
Nearby: Mountain View Gunshop, Shenandoah Sporting Goods, WalMart in Woodstock or Front Royal, South River Grocery
The cabins and lodges in the state park system are maintained, provide a great base camp for fishing or hunting and are economical compared to hotels, plus they are very near where you can enjoy the outdoors. Consider these three for your next adventure!