The rather-uncomfortably-named Hungry Mother State Park in Virginia is in a great location, has a cool history, and features lots of things to do.
First, the location. The Park is located near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Cell service here is spotty at best, and that fact alone is enough to draw thousands of visitors a year. There's no better way to leave the stresses of modern life behind than to venture into the wilderness here.
Next, the story, because we know you want to hear it. A long time ago, no one really knows when, some local Indians (who were probably Yuchis) raided a white settlement. They supposedly carried off some women and children as captives. One woman, Molly Marley, escaped with her young daughter. The two wandered through the brushes eating berries until Molly finally dropped from hunger. Her daughter went on. When the little girl reached help, all she could say was “hungry mother.”
Apropos of nothing, another Yuchi known as Luisa Menendez once married a Spanish soldier and returned with him to his homeland. That was sometime around 1570, or roughly forty years before Pocahontas married John Rolfe.
Finally, the things to do. Hungry Mother State Park has a huge, 108-acre lake with a sandy beach. That means plenty of watersports opportunities. The surrounding, somewhat-rugged woodlands are ideal for hiking. All in all, this Park is a great place to spend some family time together.
RV Rentals in Hungry Mother State Park
Transportation in Hungry Mother State Park
Interstate 81, which starts in upstate New York and ends in North Carolina, basically follows the old Proclamation of 1763 line.
From Knoxville, take Interstate 81 north, and from Roanoke, take Interstate 81 south. When you reach Marion, VA (Food Lion and Walmart are both on Main Street), take Johnston Road (Route 691) north to Main Street. Turn left, then turn right onto Park Road/Buchanan Highway/Route 16. This road goes into the Park.
From Charleston, take Interstate 64 south and then continue on Interstate 77 south. Shortly after you cross the West Virginia/Virginia line, you’ll reach Wytheville. Then, take Interstate 81 west to Marion.
From Charlotte, take Interstate 77 north until it dead ends on Interstate 81 just outside Wytheville. Then, go west, young man.
Ample parking is available on the north shore of the lake. There’s also a lot of parking near the Hemlock Haven Conference Center and the athletic complex. Sporadic parking is available elsewhere as well.
Campgrounds and parking in Hungry Mother State Park
Campsites in Hungry Mother State Park
Thirty electric, water, and sewer hookup sites; twenty water and electric hookup sites. Most are back-in, although there are a few pull-through sites. Camp Burson is located a short distance from the lake. Campground amenities include a dump station and restroom/shower facilities.
It's the closest campground to the park's ctivities center and restaurant. Its proximity to the lake also makes it ideal for water-based recreation. Paved and level sites make for a comfortable stay and easy set-up. But bring bug spray in the summer; the presence of the lake means mosquitoes may be an issue.
Twenty electric/water hookup sites. The road leading to this campground has a very sharp turn, so you pay for the location near water. It may be better to stay somewhere else if you have an RV that's on the larger side, or if you're not totally confident in your RV driving skills.
Amenities include a restroom/shower area. Sites provide up to 30 amp electric, and the maximum length here is 35 feet. With picnic tables, grills and firewood available, it's a good place to spend your evenings after a long day of exploration. If shade is important to you, try to book a site in the two rows closest to the creek, since those offer the most protection from the sun in summer.
Royal Oak Campground
Eleven tent sites and one yurt. The yurt occupies the middle ground between a tent and a cabin, with tough canvas walls over a rigid frame and better amenities than you would expect to find in a regular tent.
Royal Oak Campground has a restroom/shower facility. Just across the road from Creekside, the site is on a fairly steep hill. the sites have been leveled, but the road into them is quite steep, which can be an issue if you have to walk up it. Sites are shaded by tall tress, and the small size of the campground makes for a more intimate stay.
In the summer, the minimum cabin rental period is a week; during other parts of the year, it’s four days. Sizes range from one-room log efficiencies to large two bedroom cinder block cabins. All twenty cabins have central heat and air, fully-supplied kitchens, outdoor grills, picnic tables, and fire rings.
Eight cabins near the Hemlock Haven Conference Center.
Seasonal activities in Hungry Mother State Park
Lifeguards are generally on duty between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend. They may be off-duty for weather or other similar reasons. Swimming is permitted all year round in designated areas and prohibited elsewhere. The swim platform is located a little ways out into the Lake near the ranger station. A snack bar is open during the summers as well.
Hungry Mother Lake is well-stocked with carp and some other species, but fishing here is still a challenge. The water is a bit cloudy much of the year. Furthermore, the lake has such a strong ecosystem that fish are well-fed and less likely to jump at bait. Finally, state rules have changed, so there are new limits on the type and number of fish you can catch. Nevertheless, patient and experienced anglers can still expect to haul in smallmouth, hybrid striped, largemouth, and spotted bass, plus many other species. A shoreline fishing pier is roughly parallel to the swim platform, and boat fishing is allowed as well.
If the park was open, or about to be open, in the 1930s, Civilian Conservation Corps workers probably spent a good deal of time there. Hungry Mother State Park is one of six CCC parks in Virginia. The CCC trail is a 1.9-mile moderate trail that starts at the lake, runs to the Vista Trail, and then loops back. Since it’s rated moderate, hikers need some special equipment (like hiking boots) and some experience. The CCC trail is rocky and steep at times, and there are also several creek crossings.
Powered boats are not allowed on Hungry Mother Lake. It would be quite a chore to bring them into the mountains anyway. The main boat launch is not far from the Lake gazebo. Check with park rangers about renting jon boats, kayaks, paddleboards, canoes, and paddleboats during the summer and on weekends through October.
Another moderate trail which runs, wait for it, around the lake. The five and a half-mile trail is quite wide, and it features many elevation changes and sharp turns. So, hikers get a different view of the lake about once every hundred yards. The trees are particularly dense here, and that shade attracts lots of wildlife.
Walker Mountain (Big Walker Mountain) has a roughly 800-acre hunting area. Deer and small game are quite abundant here. The hunting area is a bit difficult to reach. The trail is steep and rocky. Leaves hide many crevices along the trail. But the landscape is very nice. There’s also a private lookout tower, which visitors can climb for a fee, that’s roughly ten stories tall. Talk about a nice view. Check with park rangers about deer stands. Sometimes they’re allowed, and sometimes they’re not.
The trail is less than a half-mile long, but it’s a rather difficult climb. It goes up to the summit of Molly’s Knob, which is the highest point in the Park (elevation 3,200-plus feet). If you want a somewhat different challenge, you can take Molly’s Knob Trail to roughly this same point.
Hemlock Haven Conference Center
This place is great for family reunions and corporate meetings. It’s even better for indoor-outdoor weddings. There are six meeting areas from 3,300 square feet all the way down to 700 square feet. Other features include stable WiFi, a board room, and available audiovisual equipment. The Hungry Mother State Park Restaurant can handle event catering very well. Outside, there’s an athletic complex (of sorts) which includes a softball field, volleyball court, tennis court, basketball court, and horseshoe pits.
Molly’s Knob Trail
A two-mile difficult trail which runs from the lodge parking area to Vista Trail. The wildflowers are quite pretty along this trail in the spring, especially the pink Catawbas and white Rosebays. The hike starts off fairly easy, so you can save your strength for the steeper and narrower portions that follow.
Clyburn Hollow Trail/Clyburn Ridge Loop Trail
Why is it every time we discuss these trails we think about Loretta Lynn growing up as a coal miner’s daughter in that cabin in Butcher Holler? Anyway, the Clyburn Hollow Trail is the easiest one in the Park. It’s basically an unpaved sidewalk. It runs for about a half mile through the forests and extremely low hills. The Clyburn Ridge Loop Trail, it should surprise no one, runs along a ridge instead of a hollow. So, it’s a bit longer (four miles) and also a bit more challenging. But it also goes a little higher, where there is more wildlife and the views are better.