Play Outsider: Camping at Claytor Lake State Park

August 3, 2022

My family loves to play outside, and that is one the reasons we love living in Pulaski County. One of our favorite outdoor activities is camping at Claytor Lake State Park.  My husband Jon and I started camping years ago when our daughter was young and enjoyed swimming at the beach and paddleboarding. Now that we are “empty-nesters” we like to relax at camp, cook, and hike with our dogs.  Since we’re away from home we try to make the weekend an experience, which is easy to do with some of the local flavor the county has to offer.

This time we set up camp on Thursday night and since our dogs were still in town (they get impatient with the set-up process) we had dinner at a new sports bar, The Mason Jar.  We had the ahi tuna and Maryland crab dip and can definitely recommend them!  The restaurant also has a nice selection of beer and wine, and the service was wonderful.

Friday morning we picked up our dogs, Noodles and Gladys, and took them on a long hike through the park.  The park has over seven miles of well-marked trails, so you can choose a short hike or a long hike.  We did a longer hike, ending up at the beach area where we visited with our daughter who is lifeguarding there this summer, and our dogs were ready for some nice long naps in the shade that afternoon. We made a charcuterie board and a Vidal Blanc from Spinning Jenny, a local vineyard in Draper, completed the experience.

Saturday morning was another hike after a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and campfire biscuits.  Campfire biscuits were a new venture.  I baked them in two greased aluminum pie plates put together like a clamshell and covered with heavy duty aluminum foil. We learned a long time ago from our camping friends Tim and Janet Jonas to make our camping meals an experience and try new things.  If it flops, there’s always cheese and crackers.

The best part about a day at the park is the slow pace and the time to unplug. Reading and napping are the chief afternoon activities. It’s pretty quiet in the afternoon because most people have gone with their families to enjoy cooling off at the beach.  

Saturday dinner was stuffed burgers.  Local distillery JH Bards provided the cocktails for the evening—we made Moscow Mules with their Sinking Creek vodka and  ginger-lime syrup. Jon sipped on some of their Maple Whiskey after dinner by the campfire.

boats on the water
alcohol and cup

We camp in our pop-up camper, but we tent camped for years before that.  If a camper or a tent sounds a little too rustic for you, the state park has cabins, yurts, and many shelters for large cookouts to enjoy while swimming, boating, paddleboarding, hiking, or fishing. Claytor Lake has something for everyone. The state park hosts several festivals throughout the year, and draws people from across the state and region. A day trip to hike, picnic, or fish is a bargain at only $7.00 for parking.  An annual pass is $85, a real deal for us since we also take our dogs to walk on the New River Trail (that’s another blog post!).  If you do want to take your dogs, make sure you check the DCR website for pet policies.

Fellow "Play Outsider"

Dr. Paige Case grew up in Pulaski County and has been writing since she could old a pencil. She and her husband both live and work in Pulaski. their daughter currently attends Virginia Tech and their two dogs, Gladys and Noodles, are Pulaski trail veterans.