Bike or Hike the Trails
Whether you’re on two wheels or two feet, be sure to spend some time on the varied trails in the area. One of the more popular spots for hiking is First Landing State Park in North Virginia Beach. Its nine trails—a collective 19 miles—range from a quarter-mile to six miles. The popular 1.8-mile Bald Cypress Trail takes hikers through and around cypress swamps, crossing over boardwalks and forest-covered dunes.
Hiking in False Cape State Park
Photo Courtesy of VBCVB
Cyclists can traverse First Landing State Park from north to south via the 6.1-mile Cape Henry Trail that parallels Shore Drive and goes past the beaches of the Narrows and under pine and live oak trees where the observant might see osprey and egrets.
False Cape State Park—one of the last remaining undeveloped areas on the East Coast—boasts 15.3 miles of trails that allow hikers and bikers to experience the full range of terrain, from ocean and bay, to dune and marsh, to maritime forest and wooded swamp.
Photo courtesy of USFWS
Like much of the coastal Mid-Atlantic, Virginia Beach is on the Atlantic Flyway for migrating birds. It’s the reason why Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established, and it means the refuge offers stellar bird-watching opportunities, particularly in winter, when ducks, geese and swans inhabit the refuge. Even in mid-summer, though, a visit to the refuge will likely include sightings of wading birds (think egrets and great blue herons) and shorebirds as well as turtles, snakes, frogs, dragonflies and more.
Both Back Bay NWR and False Cape State Park, directly south of the refuge, ban motor vehicle traffic. You can, however, hop aboard an open-air tram for a four-hour guided tour that takes in both the refuge and the park. The excursion combines wildlife viewing with a history lesson about former residents of what is now the state park. Tour days and times vary, so check with False Cape State Park, which recently took over operation of the tram. If you prefer to tour on your own, you can hike, bike, canoe or kayak in both the refuge and the park.
Photo courtesy of The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium
Traverse the Treetops
If you’re up for a challenge, The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium awaits. With 15 trails, 21 zip lines and 200 bridges, the six-acre park is an aerial challenge course on steroids—the largest such forest climbing park in the nation. The trails are divided into six difficulty levels, from beginner to advanced, so there are options suited to most everyone. Your three-hour adventure begins with a safety orientation, after which you’re harnessed up and sent off to navigate the myriad challenges—rope bridges, ladders, zip lines and more—required to move from one platform to the next.
If tackling the course during the day isn’t enough of a thrill for you, sign up for one of Adventure Park’s Glow in the Park events that will have you climbing and zip lining at night, with glow-in-the-dark attire, colored lights and lasers adding the “glow.”
Kayaking in False Cape State Park
Photo courtesy of VBCVB
Kayak Calm Waters
Virginia Beach’s inland waterways are the ideal place to launch a kayak and explore. Some of the more popular trips offered by Adventure Kayak Tours set off from West Neck Marina to explore West Neck Creek, North Landing River and Pocaty River, areas where you’ll find cypress trees, ospreys, herons, deer, river otters and other wildlife.
False Cape State Park offers a unique boating adventure: kayaking with nothing but the light of the moon and stars (and some glow sticks) to illuminate the way. From spring to fall, the three-hour excursions are offered twice each month during the full moon. The park also offers sunrise, sunset and early-morning paddle trips multiple times a month from April to October. Contact the state park for more information.
An on-site meal of fresh oysters by Pleasure House Oysters
Photo by Adam Ward
Dine on an Oyster Farm
Picture yourself standing in mucky ankle-deep water around a table built on-site from oyster cages as eighth-generation waterman Chris Ludford picks a just-harvested oyster out of a basket, shucks it on the spot, and hands it to you to slurp down. That’s the culminating experience on a tour of Ludford’s Pleasure House Oyster farm, situated in the middle of Lynnhaven Inlet.
The Tasting Tour is the most popular of the three tours offered, but for the most immersive experience, select the three- to four-hour Waterman Tour, which will have you knee-deep in the river, picking up oysters and, when in season, crabs, eels and fish pots. If you have kids, bring them along. Ludford’s 10-year-old son, Carson, will join as guide for the youngsters, showing novices how to catch minnows and scoop up crabs with a net.
Visitvirginiabeach.com has even more ideas for how to enjoy your vacation, both on and off the beach.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 edition of AAA World.