Virginia: Bear Creek Lake State Park

Bear Creek Lake State Park is one of 40 parks in the Virginia state park system.  It is located in Cumberland, VA which is approximately an hour southwest of Richmond, VA. The park is located on 325 acres and the main attraction is a 40 acre recreation lake. The park has a beach and swimming area as well as canoe, kayak, paddleboat, and johnboat rentals available for guests. The johnboat rentals also have an optional fishing troll motor that can be rented to power the boats if the guests would rather focus more on sightseeing and fishing and less on paddling.

The park offers a couple of options for hiking enthusiasts.  There is a short trail that goes around one side of the lake which is open to hiking only. Then there is the Cumberland multi use trail which is 14 miles long and runs through the surrounding Cumberland State Forest. This trail is open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding but it does not loop back into the park so if you go all the way to the end, you will have to hike back another 14 miles to return to the state park. Bear Creek Lake State Park is a relatively small park, but it is surrounded by the 16,000 acre Cumberland State Forest which park guests do have access to use. The state forest has several trails as well as four small lakes for fishing.  In addition to the four lakes, the Willis River, a small and slow tributary of the James River, flows through the state forest and there are 2 canoe launching areas for those who wish to take a canoe out and fish on the Willis River. Bear Creek Lake also has a newly redesigned archery range that will soon feature 3D targets.

Bear Creek Lake, along with most state parks in Virginia, has some handicap accessible cabins for park guests to rent for the duration of their stay. There is a 6 bedroom family lodge for large groups of guests, as well as smaller 2 and 3 bedroom cabins.  Accessible cabins have handicap parking spots and conveniently located access ramps to the cabin porches. Porches vary slightly from park to park but most wrap around two sides of the cabin and are very nice and offer plenty of room to gather outside and enjoy fresh air while sitting in rocking chairs. Once you enter the front door you will be in the living room area which has several comfortable chairs and couches to sit on while enjoying company around the fireplace. Right next to the living room is the kitchen which has a roll-under sink and counter area, as well as lowered cabinets above the counter. There is a dining table that is the border between the living room and kitchen. There is a short, wide hallway off of the living room that T-bones with a longer, but still wide hallway. All of the bedrooms and bathrooms are off of this second hallway in the 3 bedroom cabins. All doorways are wide enough for wheelchairs to easily maneuver through. In a 3 bedroom cabin, one bedroom has 2 twin beds, the second has 2 bunk beds, and the third has a queen sized bed. There are two bathrooms at either end of the hall and opposite of the bedrooms.

Only one is fully handicap accessible with roll in showers and such. The accessible bathroom is directly across from the room with the queen bed and has plenty of space to maneuver a wheelchair around. The roll in shower and toilet are on opposite sides of the room and have at least 6 feet between them. Probably more like 7 feet. The shower has a glass wall on one side with a large door that opens easily and has a gentle pull back to it. Inside the shower there is a fold down wood seat that you can sit on while showering. There is a handheld nozzle that is activated by pulling a lever next to the water knob. The shower is about 4 feet long so unless you have really long arms you may need to turn on the water and activate the hand held nozzle before you sit on the wooden seat. The toilet has the bars in the wall next to it and the sink is about 4 feet in front of that. There are portable drawers next to the sink instead of permanent cabinets under it so wheelchairs should be able to roll under the bathroom sink as well. More park access info.

Now if you decide you want more of a camping vacation, the bath houses for the campgrounds are mostly older buildings and vary from park to park. The one at bear creek lake was not one that i would particularly recommend to wheelchair users. Even the “handicap accessible” showers had kind of narrow entrances and it didn’t look like it would have been easy to maneuver a wheelchair around in there.  Plus I just thought those showers were kind of nasty. Partly because I have this fear of germs in public restrooms and showers anyways, but these showers would have dead bugs in them an random stuff that people left in there and that just made the place look sort of trashy.

Overall Bear Creek Lake State Park, along with most other Virginia State Parks, are an excellent destination for day-trips or extended vacations.  They offer fun, educational activities and fantastic views of some very beautiful and varied country that can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of physical ability.

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