Beach Hikes in the Old Dominion

By Mary Burnham & Bill Burnham
  |  Gorp.com
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hiker on beach
 (Photo © BurnhamInk.com)
TIPS FOR BEACH HIKING

Beach hiking is beautiful all times of the year: the shoulder seasons of spring and fall can be pleasant temperature-wise, with fewer bugs and crowds, while winter has its own allure. In summer, however, a long backcountry hike can be no day at the beach if you're unprepared. There's no shade and at most of the areas mentioned in this article, no fresh water.

Be sure to take:

-One gallon of water per person per day;
-Appropriate footwear, which might not mean heavy-duty hiking boots. Consider sport sandals for shorter hikes, lightweight hiking shoes for longer ones;
-Hat and sunscreen;
-Insect repellent;
-Foot-long tent stakes made for sand.

Another tip: If possible, begin your hike on an outgoing tide, as it's much easier to walk on wet sand.

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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


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.

Published: 2 Jul 2004 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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