I know, I know….this is my photography blog…why am I writing a series about camping? Well, I happen to find solace getting lost in the outdoors. It renews my creativity and helps me find a fresh view of the planet I live on. I have to admit, I haven’t been camping since the birth of my daughter. (We are currently planning Sadie’s first overnight trip to the great outdoors this fall.) This post isn’t about camping with a baby as I don’t currently have this expertise, but I will be sharing my knowledge of camping in the Hampton Roads area and nearby so that maybe you can find something you’ve been missing with a night (or two…or hey, why not five) under the stars. Although we don’t live close to the mountains (if only, if only) there are plenty of scenic locations that are located within a hour drive or less. I’ve spent plenty of time (pre-baby) scoping them out, mastering what to bring to make it an enjoyable experience and figuring out how to set expectations for the good/bad qualities of each camping location.
I’ll start with my all-time favorite location, False Cape State Park. As you hike away from the tourist sprinkled Sandbridge beach into Back Bay Wild Refuge, with each step you’ll start feeling like you’ve left Virginia Beach and found your way into a deserted island. It’s obviously not literally an island, but I do feel like I’m on Surviver when I make it into camp after the 6 mile hike from the parking lot for overnight visitors. Because it’s only accessible by boat, bike or foot, this place is never busy. (You’ll be bringing everything you need to camp in and out VIA a backpack, a wheelbarrow with sand tires, or if you’re lucky by boat .) I even went on Labor Day two years ago and spent the entire day exploring, I counted a total of 4 people once I crossed the border of Back Bay Wildlife Refuge into False Cape.
There’s a total of twelve campsites, six by the ocean and six by the bay. Don’t expect anything fancy (unless of course, you bring some yummy lobster bisque in a canteen to heat up on your tiny camping stove). You won’t have to dig a hole when you go to the bathroom, but you will be visiting cute wooden outhouses with absolutely no frills. There is potable water available at three locations but you must bring containers to transport it to your site. I’m sure it sounds like A LOT of work, but with the right planning it is completely worth it. There’s plenty to discover and explore. There’s an abandoned community called Washwoods, with the remnants of an old graveyard and church steeple. Even a ship wreck you can hike to and see when the tide is low. It’s also the only location in VA that you can camp on the actual beach (all other beach campsites require you to be behind the dunes). When you can fall asleep at night under the multitude of stars with the sound of the waves crashing a few yards from your tent….not much beats that.
- You won’t have to worry about tourists cramping your style. Even if your fellow campers are from out of town, they won’t be wearing any “BRO, DO YOU EVEN DUBSTEP?” t-shirts. Hello peace and quiet, and if you’re up for it….skinny dipping in the ocean.
- Starry nights, no light pollution to worry about.
- Camping right on the beach.
- Wildlife galore. Birds a plenty. Oh and don’t worry, those aren’t baby boars with mama boars nearby…just harmless feral pigs.
- Cheap, it’s something like 11 bucks a night.
- Think of the calories, you’ll burn wearing that backpack on that 6 mile hike.
- Sunrises over the ocean, sunsets over the bay…within a easy hike to both.
- No distractions like electrical outlets and cell reception.
- Can we talk about the views?
- If you love history, you’ll love the wealth of all that this area has to offer.
- Sorry s’more & burnt hotdog lovers, no campfires. Camping stoves only.
- It requires planning in advanced. Reservations must be made ahead of time.
- If packing light isn’t your thing or you don’t own a boat…you won’t enjoy the 6 mile trek past Back Bay Wildlife Refuge into the park.
- No pets. Since it is right next to the wildlife refuge, your dog might find an endangered snack…
- Wildlife galore. Where there is prey, there are predators and parasites. In the summer, you have to only worry about the cottonmouth snakes and be prepared to spray down with a heavy duty bug spray. Be proactive and aware of your surroundings at all times.
- The weather can be extreme since you have two bodies of water on both sides. (This is why Washwoods is abandoned.) If it rains, it pours. If it’s calling for a windy day…expect the gusts to put a damper on your beach camping, you’ll end up finding refuge behind the dunes. Trust me, I went last November and it stormed 2 of the 4 days I was there.
- If you do hike in, you must do so during the daylight hours. As Back Bay Wildlife Refuge requires you to be out by sunset.