Everyone knows where Virginia Beach is. Thousands of people from the east coast visit every summer for vacation and even more visit the Outer Banks in North Carolina. But between the two destinations is a little piece of land owned by the Virginia State Government called False Cape State Park. False Cape is one of the last remaining pieces of land that it undeveloped on the east coast. Six miles of beachy shores that are only accessible by foot, bicycle, boat, or tram (offered by the State Park).
For the second year in a row, Jake and I backpacked nine miles in to the secluded campgrounds of False Cape; but this year we brought our roommate, Frank, and Jake’s parents (who biked in with trailers). We were a little worried that we might not be able to make the trip this year, as hurricane Matthew caused some pretty bad flooding to the Outer Banks and the southern Virginia beaches. But luckily, the water had receded enough for us to make our trip.
We parked our truck at Little Island State Park which is a little south of Sandbridge, Virginia (if you decide to take this trip, be sure to leave a copy of your reservation in the windshield). From Little Island, we backpacked the 0.4 miles to the entrance to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where we continued another 1.3 miles to the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
Leaving from Little Island State Park
***You can click on most of the picture to enlarge them throughout the post***
In 1938, 4,589-acres (and later expanding to 9,250 acres) were dedicated to the many migratory birds to provide a resting domain free of fertilizers and chemicals from ground runoff. You can see a full list of the birds and other animals that migrate to Back Bay as well as information regarding the land on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services webpage. Back Bay is also the last area where motor vehicles are allowed and the refuge closes at dust, including the parking lot. If you are backpacking through the refuge make sure you do not park here, but back at Little Island State Park. They are also very strict about people being in the refuge after dust, so be sure that if you plan on walking/biking through to False Cape that you plan enough time that you are through the refuge before it gets dark.
Walk to and Through Back Bay
We continued on through Back Bay making stops along the way to take pictures, drink water, and document our trip. After roughly an hour, we reached the entrance to False Cape State Park. The entrance to the park is where we also stopped at one of the nation’s millions geocaches, which is basically like a treasure hunt.
About a mile further is the False Cape Visitor Center. We stopped to take a break here as there are bathrooms and a little shop where you can buy snacks and souvenirs.
Fun Fact: False Cape is the southern most State Park in Virginia.
We grabbed a few snacks, then set back on the trail for two more miles where we finally reached our campsites. There are two areas where you can reserve sites, on the sound side and the ocean side. We reserved two sites on the ocean side, mainly because each site we reserved, also reserved us a site right on the beach. Our sites were nestled under the trees, which kind of resembled canopies.
False Cape Visitor Center
Hike to the Camp Sites
We unpacked and set up our tents, then walked out to the beach. The great thing about October on the beach is it isn’t painfully hot. At night it can get a little chilly, but during the day it is perfect weather. The even greater thing about the beach at False Cape is you can look down the beach in both direction and not see any other people. It’s basically like having your own private beach; it’s quiet, the sand isn’t littered with trash, and you have all the space you want to spread out on. Also, the sunsets are absolutely breathtaking here.
Since open fires aren’t allowed (aside from a stove if carry one in), we cooked our dinner on a Coleman stove. Jake loves to prepare backpacking meals, so they are usually super light, and normally prepared a couple days ahead of time. Some of the meals are freeze dried, or the ingredients are dry in general. But typically everything we bring meal-wise is pretty lightweight. Because Jake’s parents brought trailers, we were able to bring heavier things that we wouldn’t normally be able to carry in our packs.
Additionally, because we can’t have open fires, headlamps are needed at night, and boy does it get dark out there. There is no light pollution, and no light period; you can barely see your hand in front of your face. If you go out of the beach a night you have an incredible sight of the sky.
The next morning after breakfast, Jake’s dad and I rode the bikes (one with a trailer) to the visitor center to fill up on water. The visitor center has clean water that does not need to be filtered, however once you get to campsites 7-9 and 10-12 you need to bring a filter as the water is not drinkable. Word to the wise, if you decide to make this trip be sure you bring enough water, have a way to filter your water, or plan on huffing it to the visitor’s center if you run out (which is a two mile hike/ride, one way). Also, even after filtering the water it will have a metallic taste, so we brought some MiOs water enhancers to help with the taste.
After we returned, the boys (Frank, Jake, and Jake’s dad) decided to go fishing on the beach. While they stood around and waited for a bite, Jake’s mom and I decided to ride the bikes down the beach three miles to the North Carolina boarder. One neat thing about the beaches being so undisturbed here, is the sand is hard enough to ride a bike on.
Fun Fact: Driving on the beaches on the Virginia side (including False Cape and Back Bay) is strictly prohibited. However, you will find that a few trucks seem to be breaking the rules, and drive back and fourth from the North Carolina boarder down to Sandbridge. This is because some of the homeowners in Carova (also known as Corolla Lite) have grandfathered access to the gate and are permitted to drive the beach.
Fun Fact: Even though the beaches of False Cape and Back Bay are prohibited to drive on, when Outer Banks residents and visitors need to evacuate for a hurricane, the fence is opened as an emergency evacuation route.
Once we reached the North Carolina boarder, we crossed through the fence, and made our way to the sand roads of Carova. I had never really been exploring in this part of NC, but I had heard that the roads are unpaved, which they were. Paved roads were another ten miles down the beach. We got off the beach, since we could no longer ride our bikes in the disturbed sand as it was not hard anymore from so many walking or riding over it. Back in the neighborhoods we were able to ride our bikes, although many of the roads were still flooded from hurricane waters so we had to walk the bikes around.
It was so nice and peaceful riding around Carova, and we even found ourselves some wild horses. They were beautiful, and seemed to be use to people stopping and taking picture of them, but I was still cautious as we passed them.
We rode around for about another hour then decided to head back to False Cape. The ride back was a little bit more difficult as the tide had come in and covered up most of the harder sand. Once we got back to our camp, we made some lunch, and headed back out to the beach. I will say, if you decide to take this trip, bring something to occupy yourself with. The boys obviously brought fishing gear, and Jake’s mom and I brought books and magazines to read on the beach. There is not much to do, but being able to relax is always a nice treat.
Although the boys didn’t catch much, Jake’s dad did manage to catch a shark, which was pretty neat. They released him back into the water. The rest of the day we laid on the beach (too cold for sunbathing though) and relaxed. Since we went in October the water was a bit on the cool side, so if you want to enjoy False Cape to sunbathe and swim, go in the warmer months. We like to go in the fall so the hike in is not as warm.
Once the sun was below the horizon, we headed back to our campsite while we still had some light and made dinner (another pre-made meal by Jake). We stayed up for a little while, but ultimately decided to go to bed after dinner. It was a little chilly out and of course it was pitch black aside from our headlamps. We heard many coyotes this night as well, kind of creepy in a way, but really cool too!
The next morning we were up with the sun, ate breakfast, and packed up for our hike out. Our packs were no where near as heavy as the year before thanks to Jake’s parents bringing the trailers, which made for an easy hike out. Jake’s parents headed out taking the trails we came in on, but we hiked out on the beach, which was beautiful!
As always, our trip to False Cape State Park was incredible! And we are most definitely making this a yearly trip!
Below in a slideshow of a good portion of our pictures from 2015 when it was just Jake and I…