It’s easy to escape into nature’s calm serenity in Virginia Beach. Thousands of acres are preserved throughout the region for the eco-tourist’s dream vacation. Hike, bike, surf, and explore the beautiful coastal environment and wildlife that make this area a national treasure.
First Landing State Park
First Landing State Park is where the English settlers first landed before they proceeded into the Chesapeake Bay and up the James River to establish Jamestown. Many visitors are surprised to see the majestic cypress trees that adorn the swampy areas of the park that sits on the Chesapeake Bay and edges the Atlantic Ocean. Within its 2,888 acres, you’re likely to see native yet unfamiliar birds and animals that make this park their home. Rent a cabin or pitch a tent and awaken to the sound of the waves meeting the shore or seabirds out for a morning meal. About 1.5 miles of sand with softer waves encompass this family (and dog) friendly beach.
First Landing State Park is Virginia’s most-visited state park and offers numerous activities and facilities to enjoy, from hiking and biking to picnicking, boating and fishing. The park boasts nine interconnected hiking trails that total 19 miles. Cyclists enjoy the 6.1-mile-long Cape Henry Trail, which is composed of packed sand and gravel so bicycles with thicker tires ride more easily. Helmets are always recommended.
To boat and fish, enter the Narrows area from 64th St. Parking, launching ramps and restrooms are provided. Kayaks and jet skis are available to rent.
The Chesapeake Bay Center features a Visitor Center, exhibit areas, camp store, gift shop and a 300-seat outdoor amphitheater. A LEED-Certified Trail Center features exhibits, meeting rooms and a gift shop.
The park is open daily 8am until dusk. The main entrance is off Route 60 (Shore Drive), a 10-minute drive from the oceanfront. There is also an entrance on 64th Street off Atlantic Ave.
An entrance fee plus additional boat launch fees apply. Visit
www.virginiastateparks.gov for prices or call 757-412-2300.
Red Wing Park
Just off General Booth Boulevard lies a city park that has some beautiful, natural appeal. The gardens of Red Wing Park typically amaze onlookers with their romantic landscapes that inspire wedding and engagement settings. The park also houses a beautiful tribute to Virginia Beach’s sister city, Miyazaki in Japan, with a traditional Japanese garden. Visitors can reflect on the world around them in the distinctive meditation building, and then stroll through the Reba S. McClanan Fragrance Garden to literally stop and smell the flowers. In the spring, Red Wing Park hosts Virginia Beach’s own Cherry Blossom Festival when the trees are at peak bloom. Outdoor devotees can also hike the grounds of the rest of this beautiful park, play volleyball, or let their dogs meet some new canine friends in the dog park.
False Cape State Park
Over 5 miles of completely unspoiled beaches await the extreme nature enthusiast at False Cape State Park. No vehicular traffic is allowed on this Virginia shoal that, after several miles, eventually becomes the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Once inhabited by Native Americans, and later the home to Virginia’s first life-saving station, False Cape can be accessed by foot, bike, boat, and by the park’s beach transporter. This is one of the last remaining areas of completely undeveloped natural coastline on the East Coast, so modern luxuries will not be found here but the beauty is worth the trip. The wildlife enthusiast may see everything from dolphins and sea turtles to wild pigs and egrets (and many, many other birds). Definitely bring mosquito repellant, and beware of snakes on land and rays in the water.
Back Bay National Wildlife Preserve
Adjacent to False Cape and south of Sandbridge is Back Bay National Wildlife Preserve. Whether it’s the thousands of birds such as snow geese and tundra swans that stop here during migration, or sea turtles returning home to nest, Mother Nature’s creatures are in abundance in Back Bay. Over 4,500 acres were preserved by the federal government for birds that critically rely on this area for a rest stop during their migratory journeys and also for safe havens to nest. Here, explorers can hike and bike through 8 miles of trails. And bird watchers will love the variety of species that are found in the dunes, forests, and marshes that make up this natural gem.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center
It may be man-made, but The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center certainly deserves to be mentioned as an eco-tourism destination. This state-of-the-art building, which is open for tours and serves as an environmental educational center, has become a stellar role model for environmentally friendly buildings around the world. Designed to be as “beneficial as a tree,” the Brock Environmental Center has reduced its carbon footprint by using turbines, solar power, waterless toilets and other environmentally friendly technologies resulting in a net zero energy consumption level. Those who are interested can even follow the center’s energy utilization in real time and see why it’s one of the four greenest buildings in the world by visiting cbf.org/brockdashboard. In addition, the facility conducts educational programs so future generations, through hands-on teaching methods, will continue to protect and restore not only the Chesapeake Bay but all of its waterways. Hopefully, through leading by example, the Brock Environmental Center will promote cleaner architecture and living on a global scale