Combine Your Love of History and the Outdoors in Surry County, Virginia
Original article published at Vacations 2 Discover.
Although Williamsburg and Jamestown are internationally recognized for their historic sites, nearby Surry County, offers a combination of history and outdoor activities you don't want to miss.
Uncrowded spaces in Surry are a great antidote to the hustle and bustle found on the other side of the James River and an excellent opportunity to step back in time and into nature.
Whether you enjoy hiking, water activities, or learning more about our nation’s history, you'll find something to excite any outdoor—and history—enthusiast. At least, that's what we discovered when locals recommended the historic sites across the James River to us and encouraged us to jump on the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry and check them out.
State Park with a Heart
In our opinion, there's no better way to spend a summer day than to visit Chippokes State Park. Located right on the James River, it’s just a ferry ride away from the Williamsburg area. We found opportuinties at the park to enjoy for natural and cultural history found in Chippokes. There are several hiking trails to choose from, including the Chippoax Trace Trail—one mile long—one of the oldest documented roadways in Colonial Virginia. There's also an eight-mile equestrian trail if guests bring their own horses.
We especially loved going for a short hike and then eating a picnic lunch at some of the picnic spots overlooking the James River. There was plenty of shade and a nice breeze, so it was an excellent way to spend the afternoon watching the calm water. It was so peaceful we could have stayed there forever.
But we didn't want to miss the park's other highlights such as RV and tent campgrounds, guest cabins, and a pool! In addition, there are opportunities for fishing—with a valid Virginia fishing license—tours of the River House, Farm & Forestry Museum, and the Jones-Stewart Mansion, and even guided activities with park staff learning about topics like the fossil beds at Chippokes.
Formal gardens surround the Jones-Stewart Mansion, replete with azaleas and crepe myrtle. One fun fact we learned is that Chippokes is one of the nation's oldest continuously farmed properties and its boundaries haven't changed much since the 1600s!
Scenic Waterways - A Kayak and a Paddle
Another way we've enjoyed getting out in Nature in Surry County is through guided kayak tours that launch near Surry Seafood Company—very close to the ferry!—to explore Historic Gray's Creek. As we paddled through marshes and swamps, we saw various kinds of waterfowl and even an otter! And we got a history lesson as we traversed the Creek, including learning about the Indigenous people of the region.
A six-mile-long tributary of the James River, Gray's Creek is recognized as one of Virginia's scenic waterways. So, whether you're interested in seeing some of the spectacular foliage and wildlife along the Creek or you want to paddle past Captain John Smith's "New Fort" and behold the earthworks from the water, we've concluded a trip down this Creek in Surry County is a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a few hours.
A Walk in History
If you prefer to be on land and want to get up close and personal with Smith's Fort, we like visiting Smith's Fort and the historic home itself. Also, very close to the ferry, the property has several tour options. We enjoyed the self-guided cell phone tour because it allowed us to see the exterior of this historic home and hike the half-mile down to the earthworks of the unfinished "New Fort" attempted, but never completed, by Captain John Smith in 1609.
Guided tours are also available on weekends. Interpreters provide history of the house and property which includes references to Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, John Rolfe, and Chief Powhatan. This property is part of a much larger land gift to John Rolfe from Powhatan upon Rolfe’s marriage to Pocahontas. The home located on the property was built in the mid-1700’s by Jacob Faulcon and is beautifully preserved in its original state. The property transferred ownership numerous times and in 1886 was purchased by a collective group of Black farmers. It was later acquired and restored by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and gifted to Preservation Virginia in 1933. Since that time, the property has been open to the public as an interpretive museum.
Also located on the property at Smith’s Fort you’ll find a lovely field of zinnas, planted every year by a local farmer and available for visitors to pick in exchange for a donation to the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
Historic, Rural Charm
In over 350 years of existence, the County of Surry has protected its history and rural charm. The County is home to several picturesque small towns, historic homes and churches, and Chippokes State Park. It is connected to Virginia's Historic Triangle (Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown) by the Jamestown/Scotland Ferry.
Whether you’re looking for a day on the water or some good trails to explore, you'll enjoy the opportunities to “Hike into History” in Surry County. We still reminisce about the good times we had there in the great outdoors and think about the figures in our nation’s history whose footsteps preceded ours centuries before.
This is how memories are made!