Tote your kayak or canoe to Zoar State Forest and escape into one of the Middle Peninsula’s most pristine nooks.
Located in King William County, the 378 unspoiled acres include a 2-mile Main Forest Trail and a 1.4-mile Nature Trail. The Mattaponi Bluffs crosses wetlands and offers picturesque views of the Mattaponi River as does the Herring Creek Loop.
Boaters can launch at the Nature Trail off River Road into Herring Creek, which spills into the splendid Mattaponi River. Watch for beavers and listen for tree frogs this time of year. Paddling from the ramp at Herring Creek to the Department of Wildlife boat landing can take 2½ to four hours, depending on your level of experience and preferred speed. The number of downed trees in the water and the initially shallow water make it a challenge early on, but once you’re underway, you’re in store for a treat whether you’re an angler, birder or nature lover in general. You can take out at the public ramp, Aylett Landing, only a short walk east of Route 360 on West River Road.
You’ll hear songbirds in the spring as Zoar State Forest is a stop on the Mattaponi loop of the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail.
Perch are also plentiful in spring, along with crappie, bream and largemouth the closer to summer you visit. A State Forest Use Permit is a must for anyone aged 16 and older looking to fish, horseback ride or mountain bike on state forest lands. Purchase your permit online; hunting is not allowed at Zoar State Forest. Anglers also need a Virginia fishing license.
The peaceful retreat is also historic ground as the Powhatan Indians once resided on the upper reaches of the Mattaponi River. In the early 1600s, Zoar State Forest was home to at least one Indian tribe and in the latter part of the century, land between the two Herring creeks was set aside as a reservation for the Chickahominy and Mattaponi Indians.
Robert Pollard acquired the land today known as Zoar State Forest in 1782 and generations of Pollards lived on it for 200 years. According to the Virginia Department of Forestry, “Local legend has it that the Village of Aylett, being a vibrant crossroads and destination of colonial travelers, was rife with sin and crime. The property was called Zoar by its early owners in reference to the biblical city of Zoar, which was spared the brimstone and fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and provided a refuge for Lot and his daughters.”
The land has been a national forest, one of 26 in Virginia, since it was donated in 1987. The property is home to a Queen Anne style single family dwelling that dates back to 1901 and the Pollard Family Cemetery, contained within a significant brick wall by a wrought iron gate. Within the walls are graves dating from 1789 to 1883.
During your paddle, it’s likely you’ll find yourself appreciating this natural wonderland without hearing the voice of another. Keep your eyes and ears open and ideally you’ll spot a majestic eagle above or a playful otter below.
Leave no trace behind so others can experience this unique respite just as you did.