A Walk on the Wild Side

As the winter months reach an end, new opportunities for fun, low-cost recreation in Virginia Beach emerge.

Of course there is Virginia Beach’s Oceanfront scene, a hot spot for both locals and tourists when temperatures start to rise, but if you are making the trek to the Oceanfront, you could also consider traveling a few miles farther down Shore Drive to First Landing State Park for your warm-weather adventures.

First Landing State Park is Virginia’s most-visited park, drawing in visitors with numerous trails to hike and bike, well-kept campgrounds and even a beach.

The Oceanfront can be a great place to spend a sunny day, but unless you pack your meals and park down the strip to avoid the lure of shops and high parking fees, that can put a dent in your bank account. A day visit to First Landing State Park, offering beach access and scenic trails, is only $4 on weekdays and $5 on weekends.

Do more than just visit, but experience nature on one of First Landing’s 10 trails. Visitors can immerse themselves in the wilder side of Virginia Beach, exploring the cypress swamps, bays, marshes and the animal life within.

Each trail is marked with a difficulty level of easy or moderate to help hikers assess which trails will best fit their personal needs.

For those looking for a shorter adventure, the easy trails (marked with a circle) range from half a mile to a mile in length and, according to the park, “are easily accomplished by all users, including the elderly and those with physical or mental disabilities.” The moderate trails (marked with a square) offer a longer trek from one to seven miles in length. According to the park, “healthy people can accomplish the trail with little risk of injury or fatigue.”

At the heart of First Landing State Park’s trails is the Trail Center. The Trail Center is open from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily from April through October. Here visitors can find information and maps for each of the park’s trails. There is also a display available to give visitors a view of the wildlife they could experience before they hit the trails.

Visitors looking for a day of leisure can spend their day soaking up the sun at First Landing State Park’s Chesapeake Bay Beach.

A perk of the Chesapeake Bay Beach is that it typically remains uncrowded, especially in comparison to the Oceanfront during the height of tourist season.

First Landing has placed four boardwalks that lead onto the beach between the parking area and the waterfront to not only provide ease of access for its visitors but also to protect the plant life within the dunes that separate the park from the beach. In order to further preserve the nature at Chesapeake Bay Beach, the beach is not regularly cleaned, which means you are more likely to find seaweed or other debris along the shoreline.

“This is going to sound really childish, but I really love picnics when the weather gets nice,” says senior Kaitlyn Upton. First Landing State Park offers a well-shaded picnic area among the trees. The picnic area is also in close proximity to the park’s playground, so whether you are young or young at heart, you can have your fill of food and fun.

Upton hasn’t visited First Landing State Park in years but has fond memories of the park. “”My grandparents used to have a trailer and they’d travel around to different state parks and stay in them and help work them,” Upton said.

Overnight stays at First Landing State Park range from $24 to $32 per night for campsites, with options of primitive-style sites without water or electricity or regular sites that have water and electric hookups. Each site also offers its own private picnic area and is within walking distance from bathhouses with hot showers, bathrooms and dishwashing sinks.

For more information on the adventures that await you at First Landing State Park, you can visit its website at www.first-landing-state-park.org, contact the park by phone at (757) 412-2300, or visit the park itself. No matter what adventure you choose to pursue at First Landing State Park, they ask that you take only pictures and leave only footprints in return.

Miranda Fein

(Photo: Brent Hoard | Courtesy)