Discover a Legend at Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, VA

Nestled in the mountains of Virginia, Hungry Mother State Park has a fascinating legend behind the name of a park that has plenty of outdoor recreation and relaxation.

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
June 15, 2015
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Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
June 15th, 2015
Share story

As the legend goes a band of Native Americans moved through the area attacking frontier settlers and destroying their homes. During one of the raids Molly Marley and her young daughter were captured and brought back to the native’s camp. The mother and daughter eventually escaped and wondered through the wilderness surviving on nothing but berries. Eventually Molly collapsed, weakened from a lack of food. Her daughter continued alone until she found help. She was so weak herself the only words she could mutter were, “hungry, mother.”

She led them back to where her mother had collapsed at the base of a mountain only to find her dead. The mountain was named Molly’s Knob, the creek Hungry Mother, and when the Civilian Conservation Corps built a dam to create a lake in the 1930s they called it Hungry Mother Lake. Today Hungry Mother State Park, one of Virignia’s best kept secrets, is located on the shores this lake.


[tocitem order=01 header=”Hungry Mother Lake”]

[tocitem order=02 header=”Picnicking and The Restaurant”]

[tocitem order=03 header=”Hiking”]

[tocitem order=04 header=”Camping and Cabins”]

[tocitem order=05 header=”Getting There”]


The diving board has been around since forever and the kids love it.

[tocheader]Hungry Mother Lake[/tocheader]

The 108-acre Hungry Mother Lake is the very heart of this state park. It’s a popular place for fishing, swimming, water recreation, and sightseeing. In the winter months this lake will occasionally freeze over and create a wonderland to behold.

The lake is stocked with largemouth, smallmouth, striped, and spotted bass, channel and flathead catfish, carp, sunfish, rock bass, and walleye. Some of these fish are stocked every year from the nearby fish hatchery. A small pier on the lake is a great place to kick back and enjoy some fishing, but many of the locals prefer to put in kayaks, canoes, or small boats at the boat ramp.

The lake is open to all non-gasoline powered water craft, keeping the small lake peaceful throughout the year. Fishermen will use electric engines on small boats while others will head out on kayaks and canoes. Visitors can rent kayaks, canoes, and SUPs from the state park. Paddleboats are also available for rent but require at least two people to operate (I tried it solo once. Once.).

One of the most iconic features of the lake is the diving board floating about a hundred feet from the beach. Locals love the fact they have a beach in a mountain town, but the diving board is far more interesting; new regulations don’t allow diving boards on state park lakes but this one has been grandfathered in because it’s been there for so long. It’s wildly popular for kids to swim out to the platform and dive off the board, usually with a lifeguard sitting nearby. The beach is large enough for maybe a couple hundred people, but this is one of Virginia’s best-kept secrets and rarely filled to capacity with eager sunbathers.

The gorgeous restaurant is an original CCC building with outdoor seating and a great view.

[tocheader]Picnicking and The Restaurant[/tocheader]

Hungry Mother State Park was made for family picnics and events. There are three large covered shelters scattered throughout the park, each with electricity, tables, and a grill. Picnic tables here and there offer perfect places for a family picnic on cool summer days.

The restaurant is located in a two-story building near the edge of the lake. An original CCC building, it has been renovated in recent years and offers a full menu with comfortable seating. Aptly called The Restaurant, it is open Memorial Day to Labor Day, Tuesday-Saturday from 11am to 9pm and Sunday from 11am to 3pm.

If you want a real treat pay a visit to the iconic Dip Dog Stand just south of Marion, pick up a burger, corndog, and bag of onion rings (it’s the only way you can order the onion rings), put them in one of those heat wave bags, and bring the food to the park. Use the large parking lot beside The Restaurant. It takes less than five minutes to walk out to a table with a view of the lake. Open, eat, enjoy, and you’re welcome.

Picnic tables and benches along the Lake Loop Trail.


One of the greatest features of Hungry Mother State Park is the trail system. The ten trails in the park range from 0.2-5.7 miles and are rating anywhere from easy to strenuous.

The 5.7-mile Lake Loop Trail is long, but it’s also one of the easiest and most scenic in the park. Owning up to the name the trail loops around the entire lake and alongside Highway 16 for a short while. It’s a great early morning or late afternoon hike when you’ll be in the shade of one mountain or another along the trail. There are several picnic areas and benches along the trail.

The 1.9-mile Molly’s Knob Trail and 0.4-mile Vista Trail lead to the summit of Molly’s Knob for one of the most breathtaking views in the region. The summit features a clearing with a good 150-degree view and two benches to catch your breath, a sort of reward for the strenuous hike ahead. The trail climbs 990′ from the parking lot to Molly’s Knob.

The one time I hiked to the summit of Molly’s Knob was with an old friend just after I had purchased my first internal frame backpack. I had loaded it with all the gear, food, and water I would be taking with me during a week-long adventure on the Appalachian Trail. Don’t be like me: leave the pack in the car. I ended up dropping the pack along the trail at some point and continued forty pounds lighter.

Click here to view the Hungry Mother State Park Trail Guide and learn more about all the trails in the park.

One of the cabins in the park on a wintry day.

[tocheader]Camping and Cabins[/tocheader]

With a large campground and cabins scattered around the lake there is one thing for certain: Hungry Mother State Park wants you to spend the night. Spending a night at one of the cabins has long been on my list of things to do that I can still only dream about accomplishing some day. I’ve been here on gorgeous summer days, peak of fall colors, and in the middle of a heavy snow storm and I can definitively state this park is gorgeous 365 days a year.

The campground features 72 standard electric sites and 11 tent-only sites. Each campsite is graveled with a flat, dedicated tent pad and includes a picnic table, water connection, and fire ring with grill. There is a dump station available for campers and RVs, a camp store, and a laundry facility.

There are 20 gorgeous log cabins in the park if you want a different kind of experience. These cabins range from a one-room efficiency to a two-bedroom cabin large enough to sleep six people. Cabins include all the amenities you would find at home as well as charcoal grills, a fireplace, picnic table, and linens. The cabins are located along a one-way loop road each with a little bit of space for itself, a covered front porch, and gorgeous views.

Click to visit the Reserve America website and book your next stay.

The peak of fall colors is a great time to visit the park.

[tocheader]Getting There[/tocheader]

If the journey is supposed to be half the fun you’ll definitely have a good time getting to Hungry Mother State Park. The park is nestled in a hidden corner of the Appalachian Mountains far from the small-town hustle and bustle of Marion and miles from the nearest airport or busy highway.

The best way to get to the park is to take Exit 47 on Interstate 81; if you take the “main” exit into Marion you’ll end up driving through town, which may not entirely be a bad thing but if you’re pulling a large camper you may want to avoid that. Either way you will want to turn onto Highway 16 across from the only McDonald’s in town. Just to let you know this town is so small when I was in high school here the McDonald’s was where all the cool kids hung out.

The 3-mile drive to the lake will feel like it takes forever the first time you drive it; the road is curvy and hilly all the way. But eventually the road will straighten out and you’ll catch your first sight of Hungry Mother Lake. If you’re not towing a camper or driving an RV you may want to pull into the parking lot just before the lake and visit the small CCC dam.

Highway 16 continues along a bluff above the lake for another mile to the park’s entrance. The visitor center and camper check-in is on the left; there is plenty of parking for cars, campers, and RVs. Welcome to Hungry Mother State Park.

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