“How do you want to celebrate your 40th birthday?”
When I was asked this question by my wonderful husband, a myriad of ideas passed through my mind as I rattled them off. But when it came down to it, a nice relaxing weekend in the great outdoors felt like the best way to cross “over the hill.”
And that’s exactly what we did. Staunton River State Park is where we celebrated Thanksgiving, my birthday, a visit from my New York cousin, and soaking up our last days with my sister and her family before they moved back overseas. And it was a perfect four day weekend. Well, almost perfect. Heavy rain threatened to rip our new awning, but hey, at least it wasn’t hail. Been there, done that. Hence, the new awning. Tip: Always make sure the awning is tilted enough before going to bed if rain is in the forecast.
Surrounded by the Dan and Staunton Rivers that make up Virginia’s largest lake, Buggs Island Lake, this park is the first Virginia State Park to be dubbed an International Dark Sky Park. It is a little bit off the beaten path and in an area with lower "light pollution." Tip: Check out this episode on Virginia Outdoor Adventures Podcast to learn more about stargazing and the Dark Sky Parks. Although telescopes would have been fun (next time), our naked eyeballs were all that we needed to take in the vast array of stars and planets and all their glory. We viewed the night skies from two different fields within the park that were perfect for stargazing, one near the visitor center and one near the cabins. Tip: Check out the free app SkyView Lite for a fun way to identify the planets and constellations. The kids love it!
Staunton River State Park not only had the dark thing going on, but it was also nice and quiet. We were very curious to see how many people camped during this holiday, and felt like we had the place to ourselves, with only a few neighbors. Some of the campsites are oddly shaped and with distinct borders, so the layouts vary greatly. This is something to consider if camping with a travel trailer and a tent, which is what we were doing. A little cramped, but after some finagling, we got everything to fit nicely on our site. Once again, we felt like we had the best spot in the campground (for the size of our rig), which was conveniently located near the only bathhouse, with a good amount of hammock-hanging trees, and with enough space to park an extra vehicle delivering family from the cabin area.
At this park, what we felt shined as bright as those stars were the cabins and the visitor center. My parents rented cabin #6 and housed my sister’s family comfortably with them. The cabins had nice big decks with seating, fire pit areas, and displayed rustic finishings that would make HGTV proud. From what we could tell, each cabin overlooks the water, but only allows a view of it in the winter when the trees are naked. And it looked like the cabin at the very end of the road held the premium spot as it perched on the end of a peninsula. The visitor center boasted a gift store roughly the size of a Hallmark store and offered a wide variety of souvenirs and gifts, many by local artists.
As far as recreation goes, there are enough long trails to provide a decent workout with periodic views of the water. There is even a fitness trail. The pool was closed, but looked to be a nice big size, and the park also offers tennis and volleyball courts, as well as a disc golf course.
All in all, it was a fantastic place to turn 40 years old and reflect on all we have to be thankful for.