Hungry Mother State Park is one of the six original Virginia State Parks in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It includes over 3,300 acres of wilderness, as well as a 108-acre mountain lake.
The park’s unusual name comes from the legend of a pioneer woman, Molly Marley, and her child. After being captured by Native Americans, they escaped and wandered in the woods for days, looking for food and shelter.
Molly eventually collapsed near a creek, and her child continued to wander along the creek. When found, all the child could say to express what had happened was “hungry mother.” Molly was eventually found dead.
Within Hungry Mother Park, the mountain where Molly is believed to have died is now known as Molly’s Knob, and the mountain stream the child followed is named Hungry Mother Creek.
Even the park’s centerpiece lake (which was originally called Forest Lake, then Southwest Virginia Lake) is now known as Hungry Mother Lake.
With thebeautiful lake, pristine streams, mountains, forests, and lots of historic CCC structures, Hungry Mother State Park earns serious stripes among Virginia’s award-winning state parks.
READ MORE:The 15 Best Lakes in the Virginia Mountains to Visit
Hungry Mother State Park VA Info
ADDRESS: 2854 Park Blvd, Marion VA 24354
OFFICE HOURS: 8:00 am – 10:00 pm, Discovery Center 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
ENTRY FEES: $7.00 (per car)
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation
HUNGRY MOTHER LAKE DIRECTIONS:
From Marion VA or I-81, take the VA-16 N. After only a few miles, no more than 10 minutes, Hungry Mother State Park will be on both the right and left of the road, and Hungry Mother Lake will be on the righthand side.
As the road pulls away from the lake, look for the main entrance on the right. The information station is located just across the Park Blvd.
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Hungry Mother State Park Trails
Lake Trail Loop
The longest of the Hungry Mother State Parkhiking trailsis the Lake Trail Loop. In 5.7 miles, it completely circles the park’s beautiful lake.
Despite the length, the trail isn’t overly strenuous, as there are only short, rolling changes in elevation.
The trail passes by both Hungry Mothercampgrounds, the beach, the dam wall, CCC cabins, picnic shelters, and other facilities (yes, there are more!), and about half of the hike is in the woodlands south of the lake.
Clyburn Ridge Loop Trail
For those looking for a view of the lake rather than walking around it, the Clyburn Ridge Loop Trail departs from Camp Burson and climbs up a few hundred feet for a beautiful overlook of Hungry Mother Lake.
The trail climbs up behind the park’s information station and is across the Park Blvd. from Hungry Mother Lake.
The Clyburn Hollow Trail bisects the loop to make a shorter version, while the Stone Lick Trail provides a second access point to the Clyburn Loop.
Molly’s Knob Trail
To get to the highest point in Hungry Mother State Park, hikers will need to travel the Molly’s Knob Trail.
One of the park’s more challenging hiking trails, it’s just under two miles and climbs from 2,280 feet to 3,270 feet.
The Molly’s Knob trailhead is best accessed using the Ridge Trail via the parking lot at the end of Lake Drive, near the CCC cabins.
At the top of Molly’s Knob, there’s another short trail—the Vista Trail—that provides a nice view.
Raider’s Run & Old Shawnee Trail
The trailhead for the Raider’s Run Trail is near the main entrance to Hungry Mother State Park.
Raider’s Run is the only way to access Old Shawnee Trail. Together they make a hilly, two-mile loop trail through the forest.
Like the other trails on this list, these are both multi-use trails, with open access to mountain bikers.
READ MORE:Tips for Tackling the McAfee Knob Hike Near Roanoke, Virginia
Hungry Mother State Park Camping & Cabins
There are numerous types of Hungry Mother State Park cabins available for rent, including an efficiency cabin, a couple of one-room cabins, nearly two dozen two-bedroom cabins, and a six-bedroom lodge.
Cabins at Hungry Mother State Park have different amenities, including things like porches, lake views, and fireplaces.
Most have kitchens with fridges, ranges, coffeemakers, and dishes/utensils. However, they don’t provide things like linens, towels, or soap.
These rental cabins are available all throughout the year. But in the off-season, they must be rented for a minimum of at least two nights.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, there’s a graded minimum stay requirement. It’s six nights if booked over three months in advance, four nights if booked between one and three months in advance, and two nights if you’re renting in the same month you make the reservation.
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In addition to state park cabins, Hungry Mother State Park has three yurts available to rent from the first Friday of March to the first Sunday in December.
Two of them are located at Camp Burson, while the other is in Royal Oak Campground.
Yurts are nomadic shelters that are commonly associated with glamping, with fixed locations but the ability to be disassembled and put up elsewhere.
These versions can sleep up to four people (but three comfortably), with a queen-sized bed and a twin trundle.
The Hungry Mother yurts also include picnic tables, a wooden deck, and a fire ring with a grill. They don’t have AC or heating, indoor electricity or plumbing, or private bathrooms.
READ MORE:Camping and Hiking in Natural Bridge State Park, VA
There are three campgrounds at Hungry Mother State Park, two of which are near the main entrance (Creekside Campground and Royal Oak Campground) and the other about a mile away (Camp Burson).
Royal Oak Campground has 11 sites and only allows tent campers. It does have a bathhouse, but the individual sites also have hookups.
Creekside Campground has 19 camper and RV-friendly campsites with E/W hook-ups.Tent campers are advised to bring air mattresses because the pads are gravel. Visitors with large RVs should be aware that there’s a very sharp turn in the campground road.
Camp Burson is located near the dam wall, and it is the largest of the Hungry Mother campgrounds. There are 50 campsites here, including spots with electric, water, and sewer hook-ups.
Most of these spots will hold RVs up to 35 feet long, but there are a few that can handle larger rigs. Note that tents must be pitched on gravel pads, not the grass. Camp Burson also has a supply and gift shop.
Hungry Mother State Park Attractions
Hungry Mother Lake
Without a doubt, Hungry Mother Lake is the main attraction of the park. It’s open to all sorts of recreation, and the park’s biking and hiking trails take full advantage of how beautiful it is.
There is a swimming area that’s guarded from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, but visitors can swim in the designated area the rest of the year at their own risk.
Boat rentals for kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and paddleboats are available. There’s also a boat launch for non-gasoline-powered boats.
For avid anglers, the lake is home to largemouth, smallmouth, hybrid, and striped bass. Crappie, carp, bluegill, muskies, and walleye are also present, as are flathead and channel catfish. Note that a valid VA fishing license is required.
Discovery Center & Other Educational Activities
The Discovery Center at Hungry Mother State Park has a display of taxidermy animals that inhabit the park, Virginia wildflowers and other native plants, and three live animals(a snapping turtle, salamander, and hellbender) as well.
The park also has lots of events to attract families, children, and interested adults.
There are guided educational nature walks, canoe trips, and night hikes through the park.
Kids can also become Junior Naturalists while learning about the history and nature of the area. Aspiring junior naturalists can get a book and complete at least six activities to be recognized.
READ MORE:The 15 Best Things to Do in SWVA (Southwest Virginia)
While most VA state parks have picnic shelters, the ones at Hungry Mother State Park are particularly worthy of note.
Some of these shelters were built by the Civilian Conservation Corpsback in the 1930s!
Each picnic shelter has a charcoal grill, electrical outlets, picnic tables, a fireplace, lights, and access to public restrooms. Between April 1 and October 31, all of them can be reserved.
There are even a few good catering options available through the park.
Hemlock Haven Conference Center
Hungry Mother State Park’s Hemlock Haven Conference Center can be rented out for events like overnight work conferences, family reunions, wedding banquets, and company picnics.
The facility has six meeting rooms with internet access and audio-visual equipment.
There’s also a gazebo overlooking the lake, and guests have access to a tennis court, basketball court, softball field, volleyball court, and horseshoe pit.
Hemlock Haven also has six VA state park cabins for rent, and the capacity to sleep up to 50 people on site.
Hungry Mother State Park offers 800 acres of designated wilderness for hunters.
Every year, spots on Walker Mountain are open to deer and small-game hunting.
All hunters must have a valid VA hunting license and abide by park rules. Check with the park office for more details.
There are numerous other attractions within a short drive of Hungry Mother State Park. Grayson Highlands State Park is only about an hour away, as is the Mount Rogers Recreation Area.
Historical sites nearby include Saltville, theWolf Creek Indian Village and Museum, and Downtown Marion VA. -by Jonathon Engels; photos by Emma Gallagher