We went to Bear Creek Lake for the first time when Kairi was two. It was a nice day and we wanted to take advantage of the weather, so figured we’d drive the hour outside of Richmond to check out the beach on the man-made lake at the park. Unfortunately, storms passed near the area not long after we got there, so while we never saw any rain, the lake closed on account of lightning.

Since then, we’ve gone back several times, and had Kairi’s birthday party there last year. I debated asking people to drive so far, but figured it was still a lot closer than the beach or the mountains, and it’s such a beautiful location that surely everyone would feel like it was worth the drive.

As far as I know they did, because we had her party there again this year and they still showed up. 🙂

I was admittedly very skeptical about camping here. We’ve driven past the campsites frequently, and while the water-view sites always struck me as beautiful, I worried about privacy, and about losing the wildness that we tend to seek when we go camping (and why we tend to do a lot of primitive camping). Even booking our campsite almost three months in advance, there were only two water-view sites left, so I had no idea if the site we were getting was going to work for our family, or if we were going to be looking at busy roads, overcrowding with our fellow campers, not enough shade, and limited firewood options.

My reservations? Completely unfounded. This was easily one of the prettiest sites I think we’ve ever had.

The tent pads were filled in with shredded tires which gave the ground a little more give than gravel or packed dirt, and the sizes have a wide range. We were in the only tent-only loop (so no electric or water hook-ups), and our 6 person tent could have easily fit in every site, and I saw a few sites with 10 person tents set up.

There are two sections with water-view sites. We were in the one closest to the park entrance, and in this loop there is boat ramp to launch canoes or kayaks (and very clearly labeled no swimming). A few of the sites (8-10) border the lake, about 4′ above the water with a fence and a retaining wall serving as barrier. Site 11 is right on the water with no barrier whatsoever. We were in site 12, which had the boat ramp and the driveway to site 11 between us and the water, but I think we had one of the best sites in the loop. We were elevated a little and had a great view of the lake, while still having a small degree of privacy and a lot of space–and the bathrooms were just up the hill on the side of the site opposite the water, with a small meadow and growth of trees protecting us from view.

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The other sites at Bear Creek Lake are the Acorn Loop sites without a water view, and then two loops on the other side of the main entrance to the park–there is a trail that leads from the sites to the water, about .2 miles, and from that point connects to the Channel Cat Trails for another .2 miles to get to the beach. Our loop was .4 miles from our site to the beach, but followed the lake the entire way. The kids and I made that trek several times, often with both kids barefoot because they were too excited about going to swim to be bothered with anything but their bathing suits and floaties.

I tend to forget, in my constant fretting that my kids are going to disturb other campers, that the more maintained and less primitive a campground is, the more OTHER kids are going to be there. Of the other sites in our loop, at least half of them were occupied with families with kids both nights we were there. Of the two families in particular we spoke with, one had two little girls a year older than each of our kids respectively, and the family closest to us was celebrating an 11th birthday party, and those boys took both of our kids completely under their wing, letting them watch while they built their fire, and even sharing their fishing rods. (I suspect it’s my introversion that drives me to seek places where we don’t have to interact with other people far more than it is actually worrying about my kids…)

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At site A11. You really are camping right on the water.

Things of note:

  • Swim bands are included with your overnight fee if you camp. You get them when you check in at the ranger station.
  • Cumberland County is still in the piedmont region of Virginia, and is only at 455′ above sea level. It. Was. Hot. Like, miserably hot. We are so used to camping in the mountains where that higher elevation knocks down both the temperature and humidity, and we had forgotten just how awful it is camping when you can drink the air through a straw. Fortunately the storms that rolled through Friday were the result of a cold front, and Friday night/Saturday were gorgeous–but plan your trip according to Virginia summers, not Virginia mountains.
  • Boat rentals are available near the lake–as of July 2018, paddleboat rentals are $6/hour and canoes are $8/hour. Kayak rentals are also available, but I forgot to ask what the rates are for those.
  • If you choose to rent a boat, there is a spillway at the end of the lake nearest the water-view camping sites. You can actually see this from the road right before turning into the park. When the water is low this shouldn’t be a hazard, but we avoided it just in case.
  • The campground bathrooms have showers, if you need/want those.
  • Our last morning there Kairi got into something that gave her a rash all over her arms and legs. There was only one plant near where she was playing I didn’t recognize, and the ranger thought it was an immature orange creeper vine. The campground host who saw us gathered together expressed her surprise, stating the rangers do a very good job of removing poisonous plants, and this is the first issue we’ve ever had in a Virginia state park. We treated the itch with calamine, but she continued to have redness, swelling, and little white bumps, until we got home and could give her Benadryl.
  • The campsites allegedly have Wifi. We never tested this, but I saw a sign posted about it near the lake.

Overall Family Friendly Rating: 3.5/5. For older kids, I would have no problem giving this 5/5, but for young children there are safety hazards that require a lot more vigilance than we prefer.  Both of my kids kept wanting to go down to the boat launch, and the water there gets deep pretty quickly. Staying away from the water-view sites would eliminate this hazard, but that puts you in the more populated loops with a lot more vehicle traffic–cars, RVs, and bicycles–and I actually find that a lot more stressful than being near water! However it really was a beautiful camping experience, and there is so much to do at the park for kids of all ages, that as long as you are comfortable having to helicopter your kids a bit more than might be usual, this is a great place for kids, and a REALLY great place if you’re looking to bring friends who are hesitant to leave behind any amenities.

Raise your hand if your kids don’t think it’s camping without roasted marshmallows!

I will likely skip next week’s post on account of us getting ready for our move from Richmond, VA to Chattanooga, TN. Make sure to subscribe to my email list below to receive a special farewell gift in the coming week! 


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