Hiking is always a fantastic activity to add to your weekend plans, but there’s something magical about hikes near the shores. From the ocean to the bay, with lakes in between, getting your hike on near some of Virginia’s bountiful bodies of water is the perfect way to spend your weekend trip.
If you’re looking for educational travel, Virginia’s water-adjacent trails offer some excellent opportunities to learn about the nation’s history as you hike through what were the sidelines of the Revolutionary War. There are also plenty of opportunities to learn about nature, with some of the most breathtaking natural preserves anywhere.
Here are several different hikes that bring you close to Virginia’s various beaches, bays, and shores.
The Chincoteague to Assateague Island trail is a 10.4-mile loop trail where you can walk, bike, or drive. While dogs aren’t allowed, you’ll be sure to see plenty of wildlife on the Chesapeake Bay. The hike is considered an easy route so be prepared to encounter lots of foot traffic on your adventure.
The Beachfront Backpacking trail is a 15.7-mile out-and-back trail that’s challenging. If you’re not in the mood for hiking with other hikers, this is the trail for solo trekkers. If you’re into birding or fishing, this is also a popular spot. Again, dogs are not allowed on this trail.
Yorktown’s Riverview Landing is a scenic one-mile out-and-back easy walk. It brings you through town by the York River where you’ll get a history lesson or two: you start the walk at the Yorktown Battlefield and end at the American Revolution Museum of Yorktown.
The Yorktown Beach and Battlefield is a 10.5-mile loop that’s considered a moderate workout. There are some elevation gains, where the trail takes you up to about 279 feet. Yorktown Battlefield is the site of the last battle of the Revolutionary War. You will pass through a few historic battlefields and by the Monument to Victory and the Nelson House.
The Savage Neck Dunes trail is located on a 298-acre nature preserve that offers the opportunity to get lost in nature. It’s the perfect place to learn about the Chesapeake Bay and maritime forest communities and birdwatch for migratory songbirds. Interestingly, it has a vast population of Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetles. The beach is open daily but has no public restrooms or on-site staff—make sure you’ve packed a picnic lunch that you clean up after yourself. Make sure you check the tide tables as well, as the shoreline is only accessible immediately after low tide. Bug repellent is advised.
The Mutton Hunk Fen Natural Area Preserve is on the seaside of Accomack County. The protected acreage is on Gargathy Bay and is a sea-level fen, an open, freshwater wetland that’s one of only four in Virginia. There are two walking trails: one to the Bay and the other along White’s Creek.
There are plenty of places to walk in Kiptopeke State Park. Located on the Atlantic flyway and adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay, you’ll see plenty of birds and wildlife on one of the park’s nature trails. If you want to make it a weekend, there are bunkhouses, cabins, and yurts—as well as spots to hook up your RV.
The Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve is a .9-mile easy hike that winds its way through the preserve. It’s a quick hike in a minimally trafficked area so prepare for a solo trek. The hike takes you to a boardwalk along the Chesapeake Bay beach, but swimming is not permitted.
Use Irvington as your home base and head to the nearby Dameron Natural Area Preserve, a 316-acre plot of protected land on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, along the Chesapeake Bay. There is public access and walking trails through the preserve, where hikers will tour through the marsh and the Bay on a boardwalk. There is also a viewing platform where birds can be spotted. You can bring a “hand-carry” boat (think kayak or canoe, or something you can fit on top of your car) and launch for a quick paddle around the Bay.
Another hiking destination near Irvington is Belle Isle State Park, a hiker’s paradise that is thoroughly bisected with trails. There are out-and-backs, loops, and even treks for you and your horse. With canoe-in campgrounds by Mulberry Creek, there are plenty of opportunities to catch some water views while you work up a sweat.
Osmanthus Trail is a hike through the cypress swamps. The 3.2-mile easy hike takes foot traffic through the freshwater cypress swamps on a boardwalk footpath. While hiking in a swamp might not sound appealing, this trail has breathtaking views of the coast and the shoreline.
The Cape Henry Trail is a former railroad corridor that was built to connect Cape Henry to Norfolk. It’s a 7.5-mile stretch from the city into First Landing State Park. In the park, you have access to a range of maritime landscapes, from cypress swamps to salt marshes. There’s plenty of access to fishing areas but the sandy shorelines make this park less accessible.
The Voorhees Nature Preserve trail is a moderate 4.5-mile trail on preserved land along the Rappahannock River. The trail is considered moderate and will bring you through the tributary to the Chesapeake to see Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and migratory birds. Bring your binoculars but leave the dog at home.
A quick jaunt on the Potomac River Beach’s .2-mile out-and-back trail is perfect for beachcombing, treasure hunting, or fishing. Use caution when kayaking or canoeing; swimming is not permitted.