There’s something special about camping along Virginia’s coast — the smell of salt air, the waves lapping you to sleep in your lounge chair, hiking through a maritime forest, paddling a rich estuary, or taking a long walk astride the sandy surf.
And when someone yells, “Let’s go beach camping!” everyone within earshot wants to come along. In Virginia, beach campers have excellent choices as to where to camp on the coast, whether it is on remote False Cape and at Virginia Beach, or on the quiet Eastern Shore, and even along big tidal rivers feeding Chesapeake Bay.
Here are six happening hotspots for your Virginia beach camping escape.
—FALSE CAPE STATE PARK—
Where: South of Virginia Beach
Why: To see the unspoiled wild Virginia coastline
If you like pitching your tent on an untamed peninsula where nature reigns and amenities are limited, come overnight at False Cape State Park. Admittedly, you have to jump through a few hoops to camp at False Cape State Park. Overnight campers visiting this Virginia state park must arrive by foot, bicycle, or boat. There is no public vehicular access. Furthermore, you must go through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge to reach False Cape.
The Beach: Your rewards for getting here are wild coastline where dunes rise, ponies run free, and windswept maritime forests shade in the interior. On the Atlantic side, the park offers some of the best beachcombing in the Old Dominion.
The Camping: Four camping areas are available for tenters – two along the bay side of False Cape and two on the Atlantic side of the peninsula. Beware, mosquitoes and biting flies can be problematic. The park offers 12 tent sites. Drinking water is available in three locations. Bring your own water containers. Open fires are not permitted; camp stoves may be used for cooking. Be prepared.
What’s More: Outdoor lovers can reconnect with nature here at False Cape. The trail system is a winner. Check out the Atlantic, Back Bay, as well as inland wooded sections via footpaths. Boardwalks explore wetlands. Pathways in the park cover 15 miles open to hikers. Bicyclers can use most of the trails, too.
Tip: Plan carefully before camping here. Read the False Cape State Park camping information with an eye for detail, then engage you trip.
- Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
- Cape Henry Lighthouse
- Military Aviation Museum
- Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
—FIRST LANDING STATE PARK—
Where: Near Virginia Beach
Why: Beach frontage convenient to Virginia Beach attractions
First Landing remains Virginia’s most popular state park. Given the scenery and location it is no surprise — beach frontage overlooking the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, where it melds with the Atlantic Ocean. The campground is in an attractive oceanic setting, amid dunes that give way to a scenic maritime live oak hammock.
The Beach: The park beach has 1.25 miles of beachfront, looking out on Chesapeake Bay. A surprisingly wide sand beach gives way to sea oat covered dunes that rise to 75 feet in elevation, the highest point in the far east of Virginia. Two boardwalk beach accesses cross the dunes and allow beachcombers and others to enjoy this pretty locale where ships pass with regularity in the distance.
The Camping: The campground — with water and electric sites throughout — is strung out parallel to Chesapeake Bay and US 60. It offers a real mix of sites. Most of them are good. The campground is overlain on a series of wooded dunes that offer hills and vertical variation. Beautiful wind sculpted oak trees and miniature cypress swamps add scenic variety to the camping area. The sites closest to the bay have less vegetation for shade but will get better breezes. The bay sites are the most popular. The campground fills daily in summer. Reservations are highly recommended.
What’s More: Watch the massive ships plying the bay. Interestingly, a special feature of the park is its commingling of southern and northern flora and fauna. This is such a biologically rich area that it was named a National Natural Landmark in 1965. Moreover, you can explore the natural vastness on its major trail system of 19 miles that draws locals for day use as well as campers from near and far.
Tip: Make First Landing State Park an oceanic base camp to explore other attractions of the Virginia Beach area.
- Virginia Legends Walk
- Cape Henry Lighthouse
- Virginia Beach Horseback (Seasonal)
- Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
—KIPTOPEKE STATE PARK—
Where: South end of the Eastern Shore
Why: Visit the lovely bluff-backed beach
Kiptopeke State Park features a little over a mile of bayfront. The state park offers good camping, quality beach and bay access and a few other surprises, such as being a major birding locale on the Eastern Flyway. All this adds up to a great place to spend time on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
The Beach: Kiptopeke features a little over a mile of sandy bayfront. High bluffs drop down to rolling wooded dunes then reaches a sandy beach overlooking Chesapeake Bay. The center of the bayfront is a developed area. Old concrete ships from World War II are located as a breakwater about 150 yards offshore.
The Camping: The park campground is a fine destination for both tent and RV campers. The campground is divided into two areas, putting like-minded RV campers together and tent campers together. The RV area has electric, water and sewer campsites. The tent sites do not have water, electricity and sewer, but are cheaper. Two large bathhouses serve the campground. Reservations are highly recommended at Kiptopeke during the summer. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the park is full every weekend and some nice weather weekdays.
What’s More: Kiptopeke is an important birding area. It is on the Eastern Flyway and birders crowd the park in September and October. Four miles of park trails combine boardwalks with standard footpaths.
Tip: Fishing is big here, whether you utilize the park pier or launch your own boat. The park fishing pier has 1,000 feet of space and is lighted at night to attract fish.
- Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge
- Cape Charles Beach
- Cape Charles Museum
- Chesapeake Bay Tunnel
—CHIPPOKES PLANTATION STATE PARK—
Where: Tidal portion of James River south of Williamsburg
Why: Bucolic coastal farm with a surprisingly charming beach
Chippokes Plantation stands on a hill overlooking the wide, picturesque and tidal lower James River. The tract is purportedly America’s oldest continually worked farm, operating since 1619. The dramatic setting is worthy of the noble plantation building and the surrounding gardens on site. The Italianate brick home, which you can tour, was built in the 1850s.
The Beach: The shoreline of the James River is sandy, lying below a bluff. Although narrow, the sandy strip goes a long way – and it will be a lot less crowded than other destinations. Small shells are embedded in the sands. Access the beach from the rear of the visitor center or along the College Run Trail.
The Camping: The quiet park features two campgrounds a little inland from the James River, in a mix of pines and hardwoods. Paved pull-ins make parking your car or rig easier. Bathhouses serve both campgrounds. Campground A is shadier and preferred by tent campers while Campground B is set up for RVs, though all campsites have electric and water.
What’s More: If you are not in the mood for the beach, the park also has an Olympic-sized swimming pool, plus hiking trails that trace old farm roads. The park’s farm museum is much cooler than you may expect. Located on the grounds, the displays include antique farm implements, logging tools, cotton raising and ginning gadgets, everything from seeding to cultivating and processing that which grown from the ground. A special section is devoted to items used in the farming home life. I strongly suggest devoting time in your visit to soak in the museum.
Tip: Historic Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg are located across the James River. A free ferry is located at nearby Scotland, just a short drive from Chippokes Plantation State Park, allowing easy access across the James.
- Bacons Castle
- Colonial Williamsburg
- Historic Jamestowne
- Fort Boykin
—MADDOX FAMILY CAMPGROUND—
Where: Chincoteague Island
Why: Access the unspoiled beaches of adjacent Assateague Island
From your base camp on Chincoteague Island you can explore wild Assateague Island, walking Atlantic shoreline on protected beach while waves crash over your shoulder. Visit a preserved coast guard station, still weathering the sands of time. Or make the quarter-mile walk to Assateague Island Lighthouse. Walk among wooded ancient dunes then rise to reach the 150 plus year old beacon, enhanced with views from its heights. Chincoteague Island has its attractions too.
The Beach: Assateague’s beach is a winner – miles of open sands fronting the Atlantic, then curving down to Toms Cove. Ample parking and access add to the convenience of visiting Assateague. However, the conveniences of the civilized world are on nearby Chincoteague Island – perhaps just the combination for a beach camping trip.
The Camping: Maddox Family Campground, in business since 1968, avails over 550 campsites on Chincoteague Island. Location is important, too – it is the closest campground to Virginia’s portion of Assateague Island (5 minutes away), yet is near all the amenities of populated Chincoteague Island (many within walking distance), the best of both worlds you might say. Open March through November, sites are reservable. A place this size can get a bit noisy on holiday weekends. Nevertheless, its location is hard to beat.
What’s More: Several hiking trails can be enjoyed at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The Wildlife Loop makes a 3-plus mile circuit around a wetland and is ideal for observing waterfowl. Be apprised the trail is open to vehicles after 3 p.m.
The Woodland Trail is a favorite. It wanders through pines forests and passes by an overlook where wild ponies can sometimes be spotted. The Bivalve Trail spurs off the Woodland Trail and offers access to Toms Cove.
Tip: Check out the preserved Assateague Coast Guard Station while beach walking the preserve.
- Goddard Space Flight Center
- Captain Timothy Hill House
- Chincoteague Nature Tours
- Chincoteague Natural History Association Wildlife Tours
—WESTMORELAND STATE PARK—
Where: Potomac River’s Northern Neck, east of Fredericksburg
Why: Find fossilized sharks teeth along the coastal Potomac River
Situated on the wide, tidal Potomac, this state park offers quality camping in a rural setting. The shoreline is a mix of sand and cliffs, while the rest of the park is heavily wooded. Westmoreland features a shoreline swimming area, as well as a big swimming pool. Shoreline fossil hunting is a big draw.
The Beach: Waterside action is centered on a series of sandy swaths astride the wide and tidal Potomac River. The beaches are held in place by breakwater jetties. The Horsehead Cliffs divide this beach from another spot known as Fossil Beach, where beachcombers search for – and find – shark’s teeth.
The Camping: The large yet unobtrusive campground is well integrated into the natural landscape. Campsites are sized for room – you will not feel crammed into your site with a shoehorn. The wooded setting exudes peace and quiet. All 133 sites have water and electricity. The bathhouses accommodate a full house. This campground is busy during the summer, but sites can be reserved if you want a guaranteed spot.
What’s More: You will see beachcombers deeply focused, head pointed toward the sand at this park. They are not merely hunting for a pretty shell but coveted shark’s teeth. The shore and the swimming pool are big summer draws, but the six-mile network of hiking trails see its share of use. Nevertheless, most activities here are water-based, from swimming to fishing to boating.
Tip: Canoers and kayakers as well as powerboaters launch from the park ramp, exploring the wide Potomac and its scenic cliffs. Paddleboats and kayaks, even standup paddleboards are available for rent from the park.
- Kings Dominion Theme Park
- Stratford Hall – Robert E. Lee’s Birthplace
- George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument
- Colonial Beach
Johnny Molloy has written many books and guides that detail travels through 26 states, including Virginia. Johnny’s writings include hiking guidebooks, camping guidebooks, paddling guidebooks, comprehensive guidebooks about a specific area and true outdoor adventure books. He has hiked, paddled and camped throughout Virginia from Cumberland Gap to the Eastern Shore..