Natural Area Preserves: Coastal Virginia’s Eastern Shore

by Casey Higgins | Posted: Jul 14, 2015 | Updated: Mar 23, 2017

Comments: 4 Comments

Delicate habitats are to be treasured, not trampled on, and only 21 Virginia Natural Area Preserves offer public access. Tread lightly, leave nothing, and take only photos as memories.

This, the first of a four-part series, suggests ways to experience all four publicly accessible Eastern Shore Natural Area Preserves in one trip. See the red pins on the map below.

Permitted activities while visiting these preserves are hiking, canoeing, kayaking, photography, and wildlife watching. Camping, fires, horses, bikes, ATVs and any other vehicles are prohibited. Pets must be leashed at all times.

Image by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com

Image by CameronDavidson@CameronDavidson.com

When you exit the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel from Virginia Beach, you’re immersed in natural maritime forest, with dunes, marshes, and barrier islands providing a critical habitat for the Atlantic Flyway, a migratory bird route along the East Coast. The first bit of land you cross is Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge and then you’re right into another, the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. Amazing flora and fauna surround you.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel

Aerial view showing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel connecting Virginia Beach on the horizon to Fisherman Island and the Eastern Shore in the foreground.

Three of the four preserves are on the southern tip of the Eastern Shore. Choose a home base for your explorations of these three before moving up Route 13 to the fourth.

A few suggestions for dining and lodging:

Sunset Grille

Sunset Grille

 

— THE PRESERVES —

Cape Charles: 29 acres. Chesapeake Bay side of the Eastern Shore. Preserved for songbird migration.

For You:  A wheelchair accessible boardwalk gives you access to the preserve.
Watch For:  Northeastern beach tiger beetle, yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, Carolina wrens, chickadees, gannets, loons, scoters, and long-tailed ducks

 

Magothy Bay: 286 acres. Atlantic Ocean side of the Eastern Shore. Preserved for salt marshes and songbird migration.

For You:  Three-mile walking trail introduces you to the migratory songbird habitat restoration area, the maritime forest, and the salt marsh.
Watch For:  Warblers, northern bobwhites, northern harriers, Cooper’s hawks, bald eagles, American kestrels, and glasswort.

 

Savage Neck Dunes: 298 acres. Chesapeake Bay side of the Eastern Shore. Preserved for sand dunes, maritime forest, migratory songbirds, butterflies, and more.

For You:  Two walking trails meander through forest and dunes to the Chesapeake Bay.
Watch For:  Post oaks, water oaks, sassafras, blueberries, pink lady’s-slipper orchids, spring peepers, green tree frogs, cricket frogs, monarchs, dragonflies, painted turtles, sandpipers, terns, pelicans, ghost crabs, and the northeaster beach tiger beetle.

 

When you’re ready to head north for Mutton Hunk Fen Natural Area Preserve in Parksley, you might find these stops along Route 13 to be helpful.

 

— THE PRESERVE —

Mutton Hunk Fen: 516 acres. Atlantic Ocean side of the Eastern Shore. Preserved for songbird migration, a remnant Carolina bay, and a globally rare sea-level fen natural community.

For You:  Two walking trails lead to White’s Creek and the Atlantic Ocean, respectively. Of note are the 217 acres of migratory songbird habitat restoration.
Watch For:  Terns, egrets, brants, raptors, and fiddler crabs

 

Once you’ve explored Mutton Hunk Fen, consider extending your trip to see the ponies! Here are a few suggestions as you continue north to Chincoteague on Route 679:

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4 Comments

barry Truitt says:

There is a definite need for more parking at Savage Neck Dunes and a stairwell to access the beach at Cape Charles NAP. All four NAPs are outstanding places to visit and see the natural world upclose!