Legend tells the story of an attack on several settlements throughout southwest Virginia in the early days of our nation. While many of the inhabitants were killed, others were taken prisoner. A mother known only as Molly was able to escape and carry her child with her to safety; with no food or other supplies, they could only make it to the outskirts of present day Marion before she could go no further. The child, however, was eventually rescued and attempted to lead her saviors back to her mother. Unfortunately, they arrived too late, as Molly had passed due to exhaustion and lack of food. Hungry Mother State Park now protects this site, as well as the nearby Molly Knob, named in honor or the brave woman who risked everything to save her child.
For our next chapter in the state parks series, we decided to leave the Blue Ridge and feature a park located in the valley while providing just as much fun and outdoor adventure as those in the mountains. The park is also easily accessible from Interstate 81, located just an hour away from Bristol. Covering over 3,334 acres, the state park features a wide variety of geographic features as well as providing plenty of recreation options for visitors.
Hungry Mother Lake is by far the park’s most attractive feature and usually crowded with swimmers at the park’s guarded beach. At 109 acres, the lake furnishes plenty of room for everyone to get away to their own little slice of paradise. Paddleboats, canoes, and kayaks are available to rent daily Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend. A launch site is included as well for those who bring their own watercraft. Be mindful, however, that motorboats are not permitted under any circumstances, as park officials wish to preserve the peaceful nature of the lake.
Almost twenty miles of hiking trails wander throughout the park, allowing exploration of all the habitats and ecosystems. Several paths climb to the peak of Molly’s Knob, and the nearby vista trail leads to a fantastic overlook of the park and the surrounding ridge and valley region. Lake Trail Loop is by far one of the best routes in the park; it completely circles around Hungry Mother Lake in a distance of just over five miles. Access to fishing areas, overlooks of the marsh habitats bordering the shoreline, and opportunities to observe wildlife such as beaver and cranes make this our favorite trail.
Picnic shelters are available to reserve for events and can seat upwards of seventy people; smaller picnic areas are available throughout the park as well, though we prefer a blanket on the edge of the lake. A campground is located nearby, with areas set up for tents and RV camping. If sleeping in a tent isn’t for you, cabins and the Hungry Mother Lodge are also available to rent year round. The lodge has six bedrooms total and sleeps up to fifteen people, while the cabins can accommodate up to eight guests. With the leaves soon to change within the next month, now is the ideal time to place a reservation to ensure that you have a spot available if you decide to get away for a little weekend getaway. Cabins fill up quickly and the lodge is available on a weekly rental basis. We haven’t camped here yet, but that may be changing soon!
Perhaps the best amenity offered by the park are the ranger-led activities which range from campfire talks and leaf identification walks to guided hikes throughout the surrounding forest. The Restaurant, a full-service dining facility, adds yet another reason to visit this hidden gem of a park. Open from March to November, the restaurant serves brunch on Sundays and is open during select hours throughout the week. Please check the park website to check the restaurant’s hours, as they change several times throughout the year.
Directions: From Johnson City, take I-26 West 14 miles to exit 8B and merge onto I-81 North. After 64 miles, take exit 45 and turn left onto VA-16. Follow VA-16 5 miles to the park boundary.
Park information for campsite and cabin reservations can be found by calling 1-800-933-PARK, or by visiting the park’s website at www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/hungry-mother.