Beach Hikes in the Old Dominion
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In Virginia, "the beach" usually refers to the famous Virginia Beach resort strip. But there are plenty of other beaches, too, that are great for hiking. From Chincoteague, where wild ponies roam free on the Eastern Shore, to isolated False Cape State Park at the southern end of Virginia Beach, here are seven of our favorite places to take a solitary stroll on a beautiful ribbon of sand.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
Assateague Island is on the Atlantic flyway, I-95 for migratory birds, and Chincoteague is one of the best places to see them, hanging out on trails along windswept dunes or in maritime forest. Walk or bike the three-mile Wildlife Loop around Snow Goose Pond where tens of thousands of snow geese converge in November and December. The 1.5-mile Woodland Trail passes through a peaceful maritime forest to an overlook where the beloved Chincoteague ponies can usually be seen. Hike 11 miles north along the beach and eventually you'll reach Maryland's Assateague National Seashore.
Details: There is a $10 entrance fee per vehicle, good for one week. The nearby village of Chincoteague has dining and lodging options. July brings crowds for the famous Pony Swim and Auction.
Information: 757-336-6122, http://chinco.fws.gov/
Kiptopeke State Park
Located near Cape Charles, three miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, this 590-acre park has several short trails along the beach and through maritime forest. Sunken, concrete-filled ships form a protected area for swimming in the Chesapeake Bay, and a 1,000-foot pier offers some good fishing opportunities. Stroll along the 1.5-mile Baywoods Trail and connect with the southern beach via a series of interconnected boardwalks that thread through the dunes.
Details: Day-use parking fee is $3 during the week, $4 on the weekend, April through October; $2 off-season.
Information: 757-331-2267, www.dcr.state.va.us/parks/kiptopek.htm
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
From Little Island Park in the Virginia Beach community of Sandbridge, walk five miles of pristine beach through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In winter, the refuge is visited by up to 10,000 snow geese. At other times you're pretty much guaranteed to see some type of wildlife, whether a pelican armada overhead, dolphins offshore, or any of 300 bird species, including peregrine falcons and bald eagles. Hike the marsh trails or take a tram ride to False Cape State Park. There are boardwalk trails and overlooks, plus a handicapped-accessible visitor center.
Details: The refuge is open daily dawn to dusk, with a $5 charge per vehicle per day and a $2 charge for hikers and bikers. The Visitor Contact Station is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. Swimming and camping are not allowed.
Information: 757-721-2412, http://backbay.fws.gov
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication