- Northern California
- Colorado Rockies
- 1 Week in Quebec
- Southeast Coast
- Graduates' XC Trip
- NH Backpacking
- Martha's Vineyard
- Yosemite & Nevada
- Southern Alaska
- Colorado & Utah
- Canadian Maritimes
- Best of Utah
- Southern Loop
- Pacific Northwest
- Midwest & Rockies
- Los Angeles to NYC
- East Coast Trips
- RV Rentals
First Landing State Park, VA
Friday, August 20, 1999 - 12:30pm by Lolo
375 miles and 7.5 hours from our last stop - 3 night stay
First Landing is a wonderful park with an amazing amount of diversity in such a small area. One minute we were playing on the sandy beaches of the bay and the next we were biking through marshes with Spanish moss dangling from the trees. What a great place!
As in any arrival at a campground, our first order of business was the ever stressful selection of the "perfect" campsite. The boys and I immediately found a cozy one tucked into the forest, complete with a tree to climb. Herb, however, pooh-poohed our selection and continued circling slowly through the campground analyzing the pros and cons of each and every site. Finally, he backed into a site set against the low dunes of the beach from which you could see the bay and the Chesapeake Bridge and Tunnel right out the back window of the RV. Herb was in his gloating finest. I must say though that he does know how to pick a campsite. He doesn't ask for much out of these trips, but the one thing that he does insist upon is a great view at the end of the day, preferably of a sunset--and this one had just that.
It rained quite a bit during the night, but by the next morning the sun was shining once more. We set out on our bikes to explore the other section of the park across the highway. I had some big plans for the day that I didn't tell the boys about. I wanted to ride through the entire park and then exit at other end near the Virginia Beach strip. Then we could ride along the strip and play around on the boardwalk and maybe even swim in the ocean. Sounded like a great plan. The only problem was that the trip would be about 20 miles roundtrip and I had to figure out some way of getting Tommy, who was only 8 at the time, to do it with a minimal amount of whining. I could practically hear his favorite chant during times like this, "You're mother never made you do this when you were 8!" I would have to resort to bribery.
We crossed the highway and got onto the Cape Henry Trail, the only trail in the park that allows bikes. It must have rained much harder than we realized--the trails were very muddy with the occasional giant puddle. However, for 8 and 10 year old boys this was actually a positive. While Herb and I tried to gingerly maneuver our way around the puddles, the boys went flying through them. Soon they were almost unrecognizable under the mud that coated their entire bodies. For all our care, Herb and I didn't look much better.
This part of the park was so different than the beach side. There were swamps with bald cypress trees growing right from the tannin-stained waters, and Spanish moss hung from the branches overhanging the trails. It felt like we were much further south than Virginia. To get an even better look at these swamps, we parked our bikes and walked the 1 ½ mile Bald Cypress Trail, one of the most popular hikes in the park. The trail is really a boardwalk that crosses over a particularly beautiful section of a bald cypress swamp.
The boys were having such a good time on the ride that they didn't even realize how far we had gone. Eventually, the trail ended at a section of the park called the Narrows, a very pretty area at the edge of a bay. This was the end of the road, so from here we had to turn around are retrace our tracks. However, I had no intention of going back just yet. I still wanted to explore the boardwalk and ocean beaches along the Virginia Beach strip. Along the ride to the Narrows, we had noticed another park entrance that was on the eastern side of the park. We asked and found out that it led to 64th Street and then onto Atlantic Avenue, at the northern end of the strip. Tom started to squawk a little when he found we were trying to add mileage to this adventure. Andrew didn't seem to mind as much. He was content just knowing that his little brother was suffering more than he was.
We had already ridden over 6 pretty rough miles and Tom knew that he had to do the same on the way back. Adding miles to his trip was not exactly what he was looking for. That's when I reduced myself to enticing him with the pleasures that awaited him on the boardwalk, just a few miles away - ice cream, cotton candy, arcade games, gift ships, etc., etc. Well, it worked and soon his tired little legs were pumping with a mission.
Virginia Beach was much different than the shore areas we were used to in New England and the Jersey coast. There were high rises as far as the eye could see. I must say that I definitely prefer the more natural type beaches, but this one was kind of interesting for a change. After stuffing the boys with the promised treats, we settled down on the beach to relax for awhile. There must have recently been a sand sculpture contest because there were some truly amazing sand creations scattered along the beach--mermaids, seashells, intricate castles. I couldn't believe people could actually do this with sand.
The beach really was nice and the surf was very inviting. Besides, we could really use something to wash the splattered mud off of us. We must have looked like quite a sight. I'm not the bravest of body surfers and tend to hang out in that noncommittal zone where the waves break. Much to the boys' amusement, one knocked me down sending my sunglasses flying. Despite the loss of an expensive pair of sunglasses, it was great fun and quite refreshing. Also, it also took Tom's mind off the 10 mile bike ride still facing him.
The ride back wasn't that bad. I had bought some candy on the boardwalk, so we stopped periodically for sugar fixes along the way. I think at the end of it, the boys were both really proud that they had ridden so far. I'm pretty sure that 20 miles is the furthest that they've ever ridden in a day.
The next day we just spent at the campground beach. Since the beach was on the Chesapeake Bay, it didn't have the surf that we experienced the day before. However, it was still a lot of fun and very convenient--just a short walk from the RV through the dunes. The boys spent most of the day skimboarding across the shallow pools of water that were left on the beach by the receding tide.
This park really has so much to offer--definitely a place to come back to!
First Landing State Park is located in Virginia Beach at the tip of Cape Henry, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Chesapeake Bay. The name of the park was changed from Seashore to First Landing to memorialize the fact that this was the site where Captain John Smith first touched land before settling further up the river in Jamestown.
The park's 2,888 acres of marshlands, lagoons, forested dunes, and bald cypress swamps contain a unique mixture of northern and southern ecosystems. This is the furthest north that Spanish moss is found growing on trees.
The park is split into two sections by US 60. The smaller northern section is located on the Chesapeake Bay. It contains a beach (swim at your own risk) and a 235-site campground. Many of the sites have views of the Bay.
The majority of the park is located south of the highway and has a totally different feel from the section along the beach. It is bounded on the south by Broad Bay and on the east by Atlantic Avenue, along the Virginia Beach strip. Hiking and biking trails lace their way through the park. There are nine walking trails totaling about 19 miles. The most popular one is the Bald Cypress Swamp Trail, which goes along a boardwalk over the tannin-stained waters of a swamp where bald cypress trees stand draped in Spanish moss. The longer, less crowded Long Creek Trail meanders 5 miles through bird-filled salt marshes. The only trail open to bikers is the 6-mile Cape Henry Trail, which cuts across the park to the Narrows.
First Landing State Park location map