Beach Hikes in the Old Dominion
False Cape State Park
South of Back Bay refuge is False Cape State Park, a mile-wide barrier spit with another six miles of unspoiled ocean beach extending to the North Carolina state line. There's no vehicular access, so you must walk five miles through Back Bay to reach this most secluded of Virginia's state parks. Stay the night in a primitive campsite to explore more of the 16-mile network of trails. The seven-mile Interior Trail passes the site of Wash Woods, a community built by survivors of a 19th-century shipwreck. You might even spot a feral pig or wild pony. Other trails pass lagoons and marshes, while the Atlantic-washed ribbon of sand is a great option during low tide for easier walking.
Access is by foot, bike, boat, or electric tram only (800-933-PARK).Park at Little Island City Park (parking fee charged, but there is none to enter the park). False Cape has pit toilets and primitive campsites (reservations required, 800-933-PARK). Swimming is at your own risk.
Grandview Nature Preserve
Here you'll enjoy nearly 500 acres of preserved salt marsh and Chesapeake Bay beach, located off Beach Road in Hampton. The six-mile beach path takes walkers around a windswept point on the bay. The preserve's salt marshes are especially attractive to migratory and coastal birds, of which the preserve boasts 150 different species. In addition to the walking trails, the shore of the preserve is a good place to ply a canoe or kayak.
Details: Open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Free. No facilities.
Hughlett Point Nature Preserve
Located six miles northeast of Kilmarnock on the rural Northern Neck, this is a secluded hike to a Chesapeake Bay beach. The hike begins on a short forest path to a dirt road (the Bay Shore Trail) paralleling the shore. Observation decks look out over the Chesapeake Bay. After a half-mile you'll break out onto a narrow beach that harbors the threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle. Walk another half-mile to a point of land, then return by retracing your steps. This nature preserve is also the winter shelter for bald eagles, ospreys, and other migratory waterfowl, so birders bring your binocs!
Details: No facilities. Free.
Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
Although technically across the border in the Old Line State, this hike was too good not to make our list. Assateague, a 37-mile-long Atlantic barrier island straddling the Virginia-Maryland border, is undisturbed by any development other than modest park buildings. Day hike from the park entrance near Ocean City, or fall asleep to the sound of surf at one of the backcountry sites that range from two to 12 miles from the park entry points. Here wild ponies and tiny Sika elk may be your only companions. You'll have to carry in fresh water, but the solitude is well worth it.
Details: $10 park entrance fee; $5 backcountry permit to camp must be purchased in person at the ranger station. Check-in times apply to be sure you can reach your designated site by dark.
Information: 410-641-3030, www.nps.gov/asis/index.htm
About the Authors: Mary and Bill Burnham are the authors of Hiking Virginia (Falcon Guides). The new second edition was released in spring 2004 and details more than 50 hikes with topo maps, elevation charts, mile-by-mile cues, and lively descriptions of local history and lore, geography, and flora and fauna. For an autographed copy, visit www.BurnhamInk.com where you can follow along on the Burnhams' outdoor adventures—from paddling the Florida Keys to hiking the Balkans.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication