Cover photo: Mary Carter
Updated September 28, 2020
The Northern Neck of Virginia is known for its 1100 miles of unspoiled shorelines, rich farmland and lush forests. A place to truly reconnect with nature. Many of the region’s most beautiful natural areas are within driving distance of Colonial Beach, VA (CBVA). Make CBVA your home base and spend a weekend (or longer) venturing out to view Mother Nature in all her glory.
About The Northern Neck, Virginia
The northernmost of three peninsulas (necks), the Northern Neck borders three bodies of water: the Potomac River (an American Heritage River with 300 miles recognized as a National Recreation Trail), Rappahannock River, and the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Five counties are encompassed: Westmoreland (where Colonial Beach is located) King George, Richmond, Northumberland and Lancaster.
Running through the Northern Neck is the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, a designated National Scenic Trail corridor, managed by the National Park Service. A section of the trail includes the Northern Neck Heritage Trail Bicycling Route Network, which directs visitors through some of the region’s most picturesque natural areas.
Here are 5 spots every that should be on every nature lover’s list of places to visit near Colonial Beach, Virginia and the Northern Neck:
George Washington Birthplace National Monument
Located just outside the Town of Colonial Beach, George Washington Birthplace National Monument, maintained and operated by the National Park Service, preserves the birthplace of America’s first president. The monument includes a Memorial House constructed near the location of the original home, Washington Family Burial Ground, working colonial farm, colonial herb and flower garden, visitors center, picnic area with tables, grills, pavilion, and restrooms. For nature lovers, the property also includes a mile-long trail and a small beach area along the Potomac River.
Westmoreland State Park
Located on the bank of the Potomac River, just south of CBVA, Westmoreland State Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the place where fossil collectors hunt for ancient shark teeth. Birding is also popular, as American bald eagles, ospreys, kingfishers, great blue herons, common terns, green herons and gulls, as well as wintering waterfowl, call the park home. A variety of overnight lodging accommodations are available (some seasonal), including cabins, lodges, and camping. Events, festivals, workshops and interpretive programs, including conducted and self-guided walks, evening and children’s programs, are scheduled year-round. Westmoreland State Park has an Olympic-sized swimming pool and an adjacent bathhouse, meeting area, snack bar, camp store and power-boat ramp, as well as a visitor center, playground, fishing pier, boat rentals and six miles of trails. Meeting space for up to 72 people is available at Murphy Hall, complete with audiovisual equipment, warming kitchen and executive board room.
Caledon State Park
A National Natural Landmark, located less than 17 miles from CBVA in King George County, Caledon State Park is known for its old growth forest that spans over 2,579-acres. It’s a favorite spot for birding, including American bald eagles that make Caledon their home during the summer months. Trails, a visitors center, hike- and paddle-in campsites (part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail), picnic areas, shelters and restrooms are open year-round. Caledon hosts events, festivals, workshops and interpretive programs such as eagle tours, night hikes, conducted walks, astronomy, storytelling, bonfire programs, bird-watching and crafts.
Note: Adjacent to Caledon State Park is a 1108-acre natural area preserve, Chotank Creek Natural Area Preserve, featuring upland and bottomland hardwood forests, marsh communities and important nesting, roosting, and foraging habitat for bald eagles. This preserve, however, is privately owned and not open for public visitation.
Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail (DRHT)
Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail, only a 30-minute drive from Colonial Beach, is a 17-mile rail trail that follows the old Dahlgren Branch railroad route across King George County near the historic town of Fredericksburg. Encompassing approximately 240 acres, DRHT is as an active wildlife corridor, abounding with song birds, turtles, muskrats, deer, foxes, eagles, hawks, beaver and water birds. The trail is open for non-motorized uses such as cycling, jogging, walking, and cross-country skiing. A permit is required for access.
Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge
The youngest member of the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established to conserve and protect fish and wildlife resources such as the bald eagle, threatened and endangered species, and wetlands. The refuge offers excellent wildlife and nature photography, festivals, kids programs, nature walks, conservation exhibitors interpretive programs and environmental education opportunities including classroom sites (pond/creek, grassland, woodland habitats), fishing piers and trails.
Voorhees Nature Preserve
Four miles of wooded trails and scenic views of the Rappahannock River, just outside Town of Colonial Beach. Maintained by The Nature Conservancy, Voorhees Nature Preserve was donated to the environmental nonprofit in 1994 by the late Alan M. and Nathalie Voorhees. Part of a network of conservation lands along the Rappahannock (a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay), the preserve provides excellent habitat for bald eagles and other wildlife.
Beyond the Northern Neck
A visit to Colonial Beach should be part of any Virginia nature driving tour itinerary. The Town of Colonial Beach is bounded by the Potomac River and Monroe Bay, and home to the second largest sand beach in the state. In addition to the sites listed above, CBVA is less than 70 miles from Belle Isle State Park, Bush Mill Stream Natural Area Preserve and Dameron Marsh Natural Area Preserve.
Beyond the Northern Neck is Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve, with 8 miles of hiking trails; Widewater State Park, currently under construction; and Shenandoah National Park, which is less than 100 miles from Colonial Beach.
Click to view an interactive story map of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail in the Northern Neck Heritage Area, from Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.