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Itinerary:

Paddle Back In Time to Westmoreland State Park

When you paddle along the shoreline of Westmoreland State Park, you can feel like you’re going back in time. Stunning sandstone cliffs rise 100 to 150 feet above the Potomac River’s quiet waters, and the beaches are strewn with shells, shark teeth, and other fossils from millions of years ago, when these cliffs were covered by a shallow sea. The cliffs are still constantly changing due to erosion from wind, rain, and ice.

Although these open Potomac waters can be challenging for beginner paddlers to explore on their own, Westmoreland State Park offers a great option that allows everybody to get out on the water: affordable guided kayak trips throughout the week in summer for all levels to check out the park’s fossils and nature.

Paddling Notes

  • Fossil Beach (not available to renters) - can find shark teeth and other shells and fossils here
  • Guided kayak trips provide access to fossil beach
  • Birdwatching
  • Suitable for beginners if the wind is light

Navigational Hazards

Trespassing is not permitted on the beaches below Horsehead Cliffs, and there are “no trespassing” signs posted here. Erosion from the cliffs presents considerable danger.

Water Safety

Remember: safe use of rivers and any designated trails, at any time, is your responsibility! Water trail maps are for informational and interpretive purposes only and are not meant for navigational purposes, nor do they take into account level of skills or ability required to navigate rivers. The National Park Service, Chesapeake Conservancy and/or the individual trail associations assume no responsibility or liability for any injury or loss resulting directly or indirectly from the use of water trails, maps or other printed or web-based materials. Learn more about water safety.

Marine Forecast

We STRONGLY suggested that you review the marine forecast ahead of heading out for a paddling trip. To review the forecast for this paddle trip, visit:

Emergency Information

In an emergency, dial 911

Nearest hospital: Riverside Tappahannock Hospital (618 Hospital Rd., Tappahannock, VA 22560): (804) 443-3311

Parking & Shuttles

  • There is a large parking area by the boat launch. Parking is $5 for Virginia residents and $7 for non-residents. On weekends and holidays from Memorial Day through Labor Day, admission for non-residents is $9. The park is open from dawn to dusk.

Restrooms

Restrooms are available at the visitor center (open 24 hours a day), pool, park office, conference center, and campgrounds.

Equipment

  • ALWAYS wear a personal flotation device (PFD) properly secured, at all times when participating in paddlesport activities.
  • Always bring a paddle float and water pump for self rescue.
  • A spray skirt is recommended for cold/foul weather.
  • Whether you are renting or bringing your own, make sure that your PFD has a safety whistle that is readily accessible.
  • Wear protective clothing appropriate to the weather, activity, and environment especially sun protection (large brimmed hat, sunglasses, long sleeved water-appropriate shirt, sunblock lotion). Assume that you will get wet and be mindful that your clothing would be safe to swim in.
  • Footwear: watershoes or similar are a must have for paddlesports. Launch areas and the river can contain abrasive hazards that can cut feet. Footwear that protects toes and can be walked in when wet is necessary. Flip-flops and sandals are not sufficient or appropriate.
  • Water: Bring water in bottles than can be secured to your boat. Bring more water than you expect to need and drink it throughout your paddling journey.

Outfitters

Camping & Ammenities

  • Water: Water is available at the restroom facilities and for sale at the snack bar and camp store.
  • Camping: Campsites, year-round cabins, and a retreat center with capacity up to 16 adults are available to reserve.
  • Concession: The park has a snack bar open every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day, as well as a camp store with camping and picnic supplies.

Trail History

Westmoreland State Park is situated between the birthplaces of two significant American historical figures. To the west stands the birthplace of George Washington, and to the immediate east stands Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee. 

The park was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a program designed by the federal government to help alleviate unemployment. Most of the roads and trails at this park were dug originally by hand by the CCC. The park also features cabins, picnic areas, and campgrounds built during this time period, all built as part of the New Deal.

Horsehead Cliffs, another notable park feature, is 150 feet high in some places. Fifteen million years ago, scientists theorize that the sediments which now constitute Horsehead Cliffs originally constituted the bottom of a shallow inland sea, which perhaps stretched to Richmond. Fossil Beach, which can be found beneath these cliffs, has been formed by ongoing erosion, and is full of shark teeth, whale ribs, and other fossils. These fossils have been locked inside Horsehead Cliffs for millions of years.

Weather

Main image: VA State Parks