Six Coastal & Bay State Parks You Need to Make a Beeline For

by Casey Higgins | Posted: May 28, 2015 | Updated: Feb 4, 2019

Comments: 19 Comments

When the temps creep up, the water’s where it’s at. Virginia’s State Park system is 38 parks strong, and there are six of them in the Chesapeake Bay/Atlantic Ocean vicinity (see the yellow points on the map below). These are perfect places to chill out and do so quite affordably.



Belle Isle State Park

Seven miles of Rappahannock River shoreline, plus access to two creeks makes Belle Isle a gentle water paradise for boaters and birders alike. In fact, wildlife enthusiasts will likely see blue heron, osprey, bald eagle, white-tail deer, and turkey along with amphibious friends.

Canoes, single and tandem kayaks, as well as motorboats and bikes are available for rent by the hour or day. Canoe tours are available in summer.

Will your stay be indoors or out? Full-service and primitive camping is available, as well as a bunkhouse and two houses. P.S. The houses would be perfect for your reunion or wedding.

The primitive camping is hike-in/boat-in for tent campers. There are only four of these sites and only four people are allowed per site. Learn More

ALSO SEE: Seven Northern Virginia State Parks for Summer Fun



York River State Park. Courtesy Photo.

One of the more environmentally significant state parks, York River is a designated Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Salt and fresh water mingle here, creating an incredible habitat for flora and fauna. No doubt, you’ll delight in the 30+ miles of hiking, mountain biking and bridle trails that allow you to get explore such a special place.

Both freshwater and saltwater fishing can be experienced here. Bring your range of tackle and bait to try the best of both worlds. Catches include catfish, croaker, striper, bluegill and largemouth bass. Crab are plentiful, too.

Canoes, kayaks, paddle boats and jon boats are available for rent, and canoe and kayak trips are offered in the summer. Of special interest are the moonlight trips!

York River is a day-use facility; there are no accommodations. If you’re interested in the camping experience, try Williamsburg KOA. It’s less than three miles away. Learn More



Chippokes Plantation State Park. Courtesy Photo.

Photo Courtesy of Eric Green Photography

Chippokes is the home of the Pork, Peanut and Pine Festival in July, and it’s also one of the Virginia state parks that has a mansion, which is open for weekend tours from April through October.

The farm at Chippokes has been active since 1619, making it one of the oldest continually farmed plantations in the United States. Do check out the on-site Farm and Forestry Museum.

Twelve miles of trails (including bridle trails) lead you around the grounds to places like the James River and the Saw Mill.

There are no designated river swimming areas, but you’ll love the Olympic size pool. Fishing is allowed with a Virginia fishing license.

Choose from two campgrounds or four cabins. Learn More

ALSO SEE: 13 Awesome Tent Camping Experiences in Virginia



Kiptopeke State Park. Courtesy Photo.

Captain John Smith stepped upon these grounds in 1608, and now it’s your turn.

A key stopover on the Atlantic Flyway, Kiptopeke is another popular destination for bird watching. In fact, the trails are named after feathered friends known to frequent the park. A key example is the Bald Eagle Boardwalk that leads to the Bluff Overlook. You’ll find several boardwalks meandering the marshes at Kiptopeke; don’t stray from them.

When it’s time to play, head to the beach! There’s a bathhouse there for your convenience.

When it’s time to sleep, you’ll find cabins, camp sites, lodges, rental RVs, and even a yurt to choose from. Learn More



First Landing State Park. Photo:

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The most popular (and most visited) of all 36 Virginia State Parks is First Landing. Its location is key. You can enjoy the sandy beach without the resort area environment that’s just down the way, and when you want to mix in some nightlife or entertainment, it’s all right down the road. It’s really the best of both beach worlds.

The ecosystem at First Landing is cool. You probably wouldn’t expect to find lagoons and cypress trees, but they’re there. Traverse the 20 miles of trails to find them. In addition, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center maintains a wet lab and aquariums on site.

If you’re wondering about the name of the park, it’s so named for the 1607 landing of English colonists prior to their push up the James River to establish Jamestown. Here’s a cool tale you can either love or argue: The world’s most well-known pirate, Blackbeard, hid in the interior waterways. But did he hide treasure while he was there? Hmm …

More Blackbeard Fun:

Back to First Landing …

The beach is available for swimming, but there are no lifeguards on duty; swim at your own risk. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent, if you’d like to experience the water from a craft. Fishing requires a valid Virginia saltwater license, but you can crab to your heart’s content without one.

Get comfortable in one of the 20 cabins or choose from full-service or primitive camp sitesLearn More



False Cape State Park. Courtesy Photo.

False Cape is truly one of the very special places in Virginia and indeed, along the East Coast. Though it shows Virginia Beach as its city address, you couldn’t feel farther from a city of that size.

Bordering Back Bay Wildlife Refuge and Currituck National Wildlife Refuge to the south (North Carolina), False Cape is only accessible by foot, bicycle, boat, beach transporter or tram, available through Back Bay.

By day, False Cape is an exceptional experience. Be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen (and maybe bug repellent). More than 15 miles of trails and six miles of pristine beach are paradise for those seeking solitude and a different side of nature.

Camping at False Cape is not for the weary or the newbie. Pack in your supplies for tent-only, primitive camping. There are only 12 sites and they’re available by reservation only. Consider it a #BucketList item for experienced campers who love the beach and wildlife. Also consider the distances from the parking area at Little Island City Park to the four camping areas:

  • 6.9 miles to Barbour Hill Bay and ocean sites
  • 8.7 miles to False Cape Landing bay sites
  • 8.95 miles to False Cape ocean sites
  • Map


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PhilBobbieChrisW.Bo HaleLinda Williams Recent comment authors
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Are small dogs allowed at any of the parks?

Bo Hale
Bo Hale
Linda Williams
Linda Williams

Absolutely love both First Landing and Kiptopeake both! Have never stayed overnight at First Landing but spent a week with my sons at Kiptopeake. Would hit either beach in a heartbeat if/when time and money would allow.


Let’s not forget Mathews County where you can explore creeks, rivers, and the Bay. Check out Chesapeake Bay Paddling Company.

Lisa Yeaw
Lisa Yeaw

Looking for wheelchair accessible trails … Have found Freedom Park in Williamsburg but would love to explore VA state parks … Any suggestions?