Chippokes State Park: A Coastal Gem in Surry, Virginia
Original article published by Erin Gifford, Go Hike Virginia on July 7, 2022
Chippokes State Park is a hidden gem tucked away in Surry County, Virginia. You’ll find hiking and biking trails, a sandy beach, camping and plenty of history. This state park is on the site of a former plantation that dates back to 1619 when Captain William Powell was granted 750 acres by the Virginia Company. The property across from Jamestown Island has since grown to more than 1,900 acres as subsequent owners tacked on their own pieces of land.
If you’re thinking about a visit to Chippokes State Park in Surry, here’s what to know before you go in order to maximize your time at this beautiful state park.
Chippokes State Park Beach
In warm weather months, the sandy beach on the James River is among the most popular destinations at this 1,947-acre coastal state park. Access the beach by way of a short but steep gravel path to the left of the visitor center. There are several shaded picnic tables near the path. There’s lots of space to set up for the day to enjoy a splash in the refreshing waters of the James River. There’s little shade, so consider an umbrella.
Alternatively, you can take the College Run Trail from the end of Chippokes Park Run to a section of sandy beach. In all, there’s 1 to 1.5 miles of shoreline for park visitors to enjoy, including a shaded section on the more remote east end, close to Lower Chippokes Creek.
Chippokes State Park Fossils
Bring a plastic shovel and a sieve if you want to dig for fossils, like shark teeth, barnacles and coral. Marine fossils range in age from 2 to 16 million years old. You’ll see marine fossils all across the beach. Fossilized shark teeth can be taken home. Leave all other fossils.
Shark teeth at Chippokes come from the Lemon Shark, Megalodon and Snaggletooth Shark, to name a few. Teeth can be black, brown, red or gray. At the visitor center, ask for a fossil guide and identification sheet to take to the fossil beach. These helpful guides include photos of shark teeth and shells.
Why is there such an abundance of fossilized shells on the beach? According to Chippokes, it’s because the park was once at the bottom of the ocean.
Chippokes Visitor Programs
Chippokes State Park offers a wide variety of interpretive programs for park visitors. Most programs are offered on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Kid-friendly programs include Fossil Walk, a ranger-led walk on fossil beds at Chippokes, and Pasture Pals, a meet-and-greet with the park’s farm animals.
The park also offers two paddling programs, including a canoe tour on Lower Chippokes Creek and a kayak tour on College Run Creek. Both are $10/person. Children are allowed on the paddling tours, but there are age minimums. Kids must be at least 6 for the canoe tour and at least 12 for the kayak tour.
The guided tour of Jones-Stewart Mansion may be the most popular program, offering a look into two families that lived in the mansion in the mid-1800’s. Mansion tours are offered Friday-Monday from 1-4 pm. No fees or reservations are required. Meet on the back porch of the historic mansion.
Before or after the tour, walk around the formal gardens adjacent to the home. There you’ll find memorial headstones for Victor and Elizabeth Stewart.
Chippokes Plantation History
Chippokes State Park is no longer called Chippokes Plantation State Park, but there is a lot of history to delve into at this coastal state park. Stop in the Farm and Forestry Museum. This outdoor museum features exhibits on farm life, including tractors and artifacts from different farm eras. Kids will especially love climbing on the two orange tractors out front. There is also the Stoner Building, a one-time 19th century village general store. From here, take the Forestry Trail to the Saw Mill Exhibit for a peek into the lumber industry and the birth of sustainable forestry practices in the 1940’s.
Cross over Plantation Road for a look at the River House, the oldest dwelling at Chippokes State Park. You’ll also see slave quarters on Quarter Lane. Adjacent to the parking area is the Cultural Garden, which celebrates 400 years of farming at Chippokes Plantation. In the garden, you’ll find plants that defined the lives of the inhabitants, including fennel, salsify, asparagus and cayenne pepper. You’ll also see farm animals, including chickens, turkeys, donkeys, goats and pot-bellied pigs. Make sure to say hello before you move on to your next stop.
Camping at Chippokes State Park is popular, thanks to 51 mostly to fully shaded sites for RVs and tents. This includes one group camping site. The Chippokes campground is divided into two sections: loop A and loop B. All sites have water and electric. Loop A is shadier, a good pick for tent campers. The campground is open from the first Friday in March through the first Monday in December. Sites can be reserved online for a rate of $35 to $45 per night. There is a bathhouse located in each loop, as well as laundry facilities at the bathhouse in loop B. The loop B bathhouse is also ADA-accessible. All camp sites have fire rings and picnic tables. Firewood can be purchased on-site at the campground for $7 per bundle.
In addition to camp sites, there are three yurts at the campground. These are available for $75 per night. All yurts have a deck, a fire ring and a picnic table. Yurts sleep up to four people by way of one queen-size bed and a twin-size trundle bed. There is no heat, air conditioning, electricity, bathroom or water. Guests staying in yurts must also bring linens. Outside the yurts there are two electricity pedestals and one common-use water spigot.
Separate from the campground are four cabins and a lodge at Chippokes State Park that are available for rent between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There is a minimum stay requirement for rentals. All rentals have heat, air conditioning, bathrooms and kitchens. No sheets or towels are provided. Nightly cabin rental rates range from $122 for a one-bedroom cabin to $161 for a three-bedroom cabin during prime season (April through October).
The Walnut Valley House is the on-property lodge. This historic home has four bedrooms and several out buildings. The in-season rate is $322 per night. This historic plantation home on 550 acres was donated to the park in 2004, along with a restored slave quarter that’s among the oldest in Virginia.
The cabins and lodge are located along Chippokes Farm Road, a quiet farm road in the southeast section of the state park. Among the cabins are the Spratley House, the Brown House, the Price House and the Osborne House. All are guest cabins from the 1850’s to the 1940’s. The cabins and lodge are set back from the road and alongside rows of crops, like soybeans, that are tended to by a local farmer.
Trails at Chippokes State Park
There are 12+ miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails at Chippokes State Park. At 8.3 miles, the longest trail is the orange-blazed Equestrian Trail. The Equestrian Trail is ideal for horseback riders as the grass on the trail is quite high. In my opinion, it’s too high to be especially comfortable hiking. The shaded Chipoax Trace Trail is your best bet for a forested hike. This 1.4-mile out-and-back hike leads to a wooden bench adjacent to College Run Creek.
Alternatively, the short and shaded Forestry Trail leads from the Farm and Forestry Museum to the Saw Mill Exhibit. The Lower Chippokes Creek and James River Trails both include full-sun sections alongside farm crops and shaded forest sections. I rode my bike on both trails. This is the way to go. The Lower Chippokes Creek Trail dead-ends at the canoe launch at Lower Chippokes Creek. The James River Trail leads to a wooden bench on a bluff overlooking the James River. Unfortunately, foliage has covered up nearly all views. As you approach the bench, you’ll note a red iron gate that’s in place to keep out bikes and horses. You can walk this trail to the beach on the James River. If you bring a bike, which I recommend, take your bike out along Chippokes Farm Road. This flat, paved road that leads to the cabins is very enjoyable.
There is a pool at this state park. In fact, the Chippokes State Park swimming pool is immensely popular. Unfortunately, it will not open to visitors in 2022. In March 2022, all pools in the Virginia State Parks system were evaluated. It was determined that the Chippokes pool was in need of significant repairs. Both the Olympic-size swimming pool and wading pool for small children are in the midst of an upgrade in hopes of a re-opening in Summer 2023. Stay tuned.
Things to Do Near Chippokes State Park
It’s easy to spend a full day at Chippokes State Park, but if you’re eager to see what else is in the area after exploring the park, here are a few ideas:
- Bacon’s Castle: A short five-minute drive from the park, Bacon’s Castle is the oldest brick dwelling in North America, dating back to 1665.
- Smith’s Fort: Take a guided tour to explore the lives of those who left their mark in Virginia, including John Rolfe, Pocahontas and Captain John Smith.
- Hampton Roads Vineyard & Winery: Enjoy a flight of wines, take a self-guided tour of the property and ogle the world’s largest goat tower. This is a must.
- Jamestown-Scotland Ferry: It’s a 15-minute ferry ride to Jamestown from Surry County. Enjoy cool breezes as you cross the James River on this free ferry.
Chippokes State Park: Before You Go
The park entrance is located at 695 Chippokes Park Road in Surry, Virginia. Chippokes is open every day from dawn until dusk. Pets are allowed at the park. The visitor center is open daily from 8 am to 4:30 pm. There are several exhibits on wildlife and fossils. The gift shop sells cold sodas and ice cream.
Freshwater fishing is allowed with a valid Virginia fishing license from the shore of the James River. There are no boat rentals. The state park does not allow motorized boats. No launch for kayaks or canoes is available.
If you’d like to get involved with the state park, consider making a donation to or serving as a volunteer with Friends of Chippokes State Park.