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Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.
Chris Maust | 07.01.2021

With summer in full swing, you may already be thinking about where you’ll go to cool down. Although Virginia may conjure images of American history and mountainous forests, to the east along the coast lies a completely different type of adventure.

Coastal Virginia has many different types environments to explore and enjoy, from quiet bayside refuges and lush coastal forests to prime Atlantic beaches. Check out the list below for the best of coastal Virginia and start making your plans!

First on the list, Kiptopeke State Park is located on the edge of the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, and it offers visitors a wide range of things to do. Spend some time basking in the sun and lounging in the shallow waters along the beach and you’ll notice something quite unique in the distance: concrete boats that were sunk after World War II to create a barrier and a wildlife sanctuary. This state park also contains a large public boat ramp and ample opportunities for fishing and hiking.

About an hour’s drive north from Kiptopeke State Park lies the Virginia portion of Assateague Island National Seashore. This national treasure is a large barrier island on the Atlantic coast featuring miles of Atlantic coastline, vast marshes and wetlands, and coastal forests. What really makes Assateague Island unique are the wild horses that roam freely throughout the park. While these animals may be beautiful and seem comfortable with people, they are still wild animals, so make sure to use common sense if or when they approach you.While on the island, be sure to check out the historic Assateague Island Lighthouse. Built in 1867 and located shortly after entrance to the park, this actively functioning lighthouse stands 142 feet tall! After you’ve filled up on the history of the structure on the ground floor, take a walk up the circular staircase for expansive 360-degree views of the island and surrounding areas.

Travel further south across the Chesepeake Bay Bridge and tunnel, and on the other side you’ll find yourself at First Landing State Park, the most visited park within the Virginia State Parks system. With over 20 miles of trails and a mile of quiet bayside beaches, there really is something for everyone here. The best way to see the park is by taking the 6.5-mile out-and-back Cape Henry Trail, which will lead you through forests, swamps, lakes and marshes. After a day of exploring, head out to the beach to catch a killer sunset over the Chesapeake Bay.

A short drive away from First Landing State Park is the Cape Henry Lightouse, located at Fort Story, an active military base. The 157-foot tall structure was built in 1792 but was severely damaged by confederate forces during the Civil War. There is a wealth of information on the history of the lighthouse at the base, and be sure to take the stairs to the top for a panoramic view.

If amenities and the ocean are on your itinerary, drive slightly south and you’ll find yourself at Virignia Beach. With almost 3 miles of Atlantic coastline, a fishing pier, boardwalk, volleyball nets, playgrounds and restaurants, this is a great family-friendly destination. Access to the beach is free, but being located in an urban area, you should plan to pay for parking ahead of time.

Now that you’ve got a sense for the diversity of coastal Virginia, get out there and explore, and let us know about your favorite adventure!


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