Last week I popped in for a visit at Westmoreland State Park in Montross, VA, a nearly two-hour drive away from DC. And before you think I’d just pop-in to a place that far away, I should mention that this was on my way back from the Tides Inn, where I’d enjoyed a lovely, quick getaway with a couple of friends. (Note: While my pop-in at the park was sans kids, it’s definitely a place for the whole family!)
While I hadn’t planned on going to the park then, Westmoreland has been on my To-Go list for about a year, ever since friends mentioned the park was known as a fossil hunting spot. Located on the Potomac River, prehistoric remains found there are from the Miocene Era, up to 30 million years old. We’ve definitely done our share of searching for shark teeth and fossilized remnants over the years — it’s a favorite activity that I’ve written about a lot here on the blog. So, when I hear of a place to fossil hunt that I haven’t visited, the name naturally sticks in my mind.
Anyway, as I was driving home from the resort in Irvington, VA, I passed a sign on the road that read “Westmoreland State Park 4 Miles.” That sparked a little jolt of excitement as I remembered the name, so I did like any fossil hunt diggin’ lady would do and made a little detour on my route home — and popped in.
I drove down the entrance road and eventually came to the gatehouse where I paid $7 admission and asked the ranger about the fossil hunting area. She handed me a map and told me Fossil Beach is accessed via the Big Meadow Trail that starts right from the parking lot by the Visitor Center. It was about a half-mile drive to the lot, and I parked right in front the trail with a kiosk displaying the trail map on one side and a “Fossil Beach” sign on the other. I found an old ziplock bag stuck in the back seat (thanks, kids!) that could hold my fossil finds, then headed out on the trail.
It’s a little over a half-mile hike to the beach on a wide, mostly flat trail under a canopy of leafy trees. There are small info signs on the way that identify trees and other nature. It took me about 10 minutes to reach the beach mostly walking briskly, also jogging a bit, so it would take longer with young kids along. I saw a dad pushing a stroller on the way, albeit a large sturdy one that handles trails well. The Big Meadow Trail is marked well and leads directly to Fossil Beach. A couple of short boardwalk paths let you know you’re almost there.
When the woods finally opened up to the beach area, I took a minute to take in the pretty scene. It reminded me a lot of Calvert Cliffs State Park with about a quarter-mile stretch of sand backed by grassy wetlands and cliffs on each side. There weren’t many other people there, just a small homeschool group and a few couples, but it was a weekday; I assume it gets more crowded on weekends.
After enjoying the views, I went right to the waterline and got to it, bending over and examining the sand all around below for several minutes, hoping to spy the familiar triangle-ish shape of a shark tooth. After many years of doing this, my eyes have become trained, and I usually can spot one somewhat easily. No initial luck here.
But fossil hunting often requires patience, so I slowly made my way down the shoreline, stopping to scoop up piles of shells in some places and spending time watching the gentle tide wash in new pieces. Still not a single shark tooth, however, I did find a few ray fossils and picked up other pieces to try to identify at home (I use FossilGuy.com to help with that). Chatting with other folks there, I learned they didn’t have much luck finding shark teeth either.
I spent about an hour on the beach before I had to head back to the car and resume my drive home. And while it may not have been a very successful fossil hunt, my curiosity was sated and I had a chance to check out the park a bit.
There’s more to do there than just search for shark teeth. It’s a beautiful forested area with campgrounds and cabins, plus several trails to hike and one that allows bikes. Kayak, paddleboat, and standup paddle board rentals are available from mid-April through Columbus Day, there’s another beach area, a playground, plus boating and fishing opportunities (permits needed). Of course, you can also enjoy a little beach day and even do some swimming — the water looked quite nice and fairly shallow there.
So, while I wouldn’t recommend the park just for fossil hunting — sure, it could have just been a slow shark tooth day, but it’s a long way to go to find out — it looks like it would be great for a fun, easy camping adventure or beach day trip with kids.
Westmoreland State Park
Where: 145 Cliff Road | Montross, VA
When: Daily, dawn to dusk | Visitor Center, M-F 10am – 4pm
Admission: $7/car daily (see website for camping/cabins)
* If you’re keen to fossil hunt, check out this post with info and links to more places to go that are closer to DC, plus tips on making the most of your experience.