Campground Review: Powhatan State Park

Billy and I realized on our trip this weekend that we have gone camping over Easter weekend almost every year we’ve been together. Probably with both of us working in retail for so long we always had Easter off, so it made it easy to take a couple extra days. This year we didn’t even really plan it, but that week when Kairi and I were talking about where we would go on our family day, I mentioned camping and she immediately said “yes, yes, yes!”

We’ve walked through the canoe-in campground at Powhatan State Park a few times on hikes, and knew it was a short walk from the parking lot if you weren’t arriving via canoe, and since this park is a lot closer than the campgrounds we usually go to (and only about 20 minutes from Billy’s work location), we decided it would be a great time to try it out–and to try out backpacking in, to get a feel for how underprepared we actually are for shifting from car camping where weight isn’t an issue, to backpacking where it is.

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Billy says he’s going to need this picture after he does his first thru-hike to show his roots.

I drove up first with the kids and we walked in (it’s about 1/4 mile from the parking lot to the tent sites), and chose a site where Kairi immediately identified vines that make perfect swings, and that backed up to nothing but forest. There was one other site occupied when we arrived and we couldn’t even see the person camping there, and while we ended up with two other neighbors, they were also far enough away that we could only see one of them, and I didn’t feel bad about the amount of noise my kids were making–especially as the night went on, and we had exhaustion and injuries to deal with.

The park has multiple trails and a playground, so I was not worried about how to occupy the kids before Billy got there–which wouldn’t be until the kids’ normal bedtime at the earliest. Just staying at the campsite would normally have resulted in…creative ways to relieve boredom, so I figured we would hike to the playground, and by the time we got back it would be time to get a fire started for dinner.

I had very, very little to worry about. We probably spent 20 minutes just throwing stones into a creek we crossed to get from the car to the campsite, and after trying to keep Sebastian from heading to the river by himself while I got the tent set up, we walked to the canoe ramp, and I quickly gave up the fight about letting them get their feet wet. Kairi built sandcastles on the riverbank (and we had a conversation about erosion, so I got to include a science/conservation lesson during her play!), they used the canoe ramp as a slide, and all of us enjoyed the much-needed warmth of the sun on our bare skin. After a lot of convincing I finally got them to leave so we could get our fire started for dinner, and back at camp they were content to play on the “swings,” collect firewood, and give me several more grey hairs as they both attempted to “help” with the campfire.

Billy got there right as the last light was leaving the sky, and we had an easy dinner of baked potatoes, corn on the cob, and bagged salad by lantern light, and I had both kids asking to put their PJs on and get ready for bed, which is pretty much unheard of. We slept comfortably (we took advantage of the close walk to bring the extra weight of our double sleeping bag), and woke up to weather that didn’t immediately make us want to burrow back into the warmth of our bedding.

After breakfast–and a campsite egg hunt–they wanted to show Billy the river and their “slide,” and we went for a nice hike and enjoyed all the signs of spring everywhere. And in spite of an injury she suffered right before bed that almost led to a post-sundown evacuation, Kairi spent the whole walk back to the car whimpering that we had to leave, and begging to stay another night and making us promise that next time we would camp for at least two nights.

Overall family-friendly rating: 4/5. I really want to give this a 5/5 rating because it was so perfect for us, but it is a primitive campsite, which means no running water, which can be a problem if you have a toddler who likes to either dump out bottles of water, or fill them with rocks just to hear the splash. There is water at the other campground in the park (where we have never stayed), and of course there’s the river if you have proper purification methods. There is a compost toilet but no electricity or running water there, so that may be spooky for kids who have not used one before. I think this is one of my new favorite campgrounds, however.

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The path right outside our campsite. GORGEOUS. 

The privacy is incredible–it’s a small loop, so even at full occupancy there won’t be many neighbors, and short of going into the backcountry, it’s hard to find camping where the sites aren’t right on top of each other. Since it’s walk/canoe-in, there were no vehicles driving past (and therefore no need to worry about the kids running into the road). The biggest hazard for kids I would say is the proximity to the river–but our site was on the back loop, so that was easy to avoid. This is also a really good training campground if you’re interested in going into the backcountry with kids, since it’s a good middle-ground between car-camping and backpacking.

One of the rangers told us the next morning there had been black bear activity recently–we didn’t experience that, but as always, proper food storage should be observed at all times, and as the temperatures rise, snakes, bees, and other wildlife will undoubtedly be present–but that is true of anywhere, not just this park.

The biggest family-friendly aspect here was how much there was for the kids to play on. Kairi was very excited to find all the things a playground would have, and she had no trouble at all turning the entire landscape into a world of imagination. Plus the proximity to hiking meant once we got out of the car, we didn’t have to get back in it until it was time to leave, and that is always a win for me!

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