Hidden Outdoor Spots and Trails in Hampton Roads

Fall is upon us! With the leaves changing and cooler temperatures, it is hard to resist the desire to be outdoors. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of life is important to those outdoor adventure seekers. Did you know that we have some of the best nature spots right here in Hampton Roads? That’s right – hidden amongst the urban settings of Norfolk and the suburbs of Chesapeake, Virginia Beach and Suffolk are some of most beautiful outdoor trails in Virginia. Here are some of our favorite places to find adventure for the day with family and friends.

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
3120 Desert Rd, Suffolk, VA 23434

With more than 111,2000 acres of wetland forest, the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is a perfect place to spend the day outdoors. The refuge, established in 1974, features the 3,100 acre Lake Drummond at its center, providing a place for visitors to enjoy fishing, canoeing, and kayaking, as well as  many structured activities for guests. Don’t have a way to enjoy the water? No problem – canoes can be rented at Chesapeake Campground on Route 17. The main trail, which is 8.5 miles long and runs along the Dismal Swamp Canal, is open from sunrise to sunset for hiking, biking, horse owners, walkers, joggers, and boat owners.

Wildlife is in abundance here and includes a diverse range of species. In springtime, visitors enjoy seeing over 220 different types of birds and celebrate Migratory Bird Day with workshops and guided tours. In Summer, butterflies are frequently observed as there are at least 65 species on the refuge. The snow geese and tundra swan migrate to Lake Drummond in Winter and are a spectacular sight. Visitors of the refuge often see black bears and river otters as well as many deer. A day spent here is truly a day spent in the wild!

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge/False Cape State Park
4005 Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23456
4001 Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23456

Have you ever driven to the very end of Sandpiper Road at Sandbridge Beach? If you haven’t, here is what you will find there – a 9,200 acre habitat with beach, dunes, freshwater marsh and woods! Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge sits on the southern coast and provides visitors with an up close look of a wide assortment of wildlife, including geese, swans, ducks, deer, foxes, and even sea turtles in the summer. The scenic trails through the refuge marshlands provide ample space for fishing, hunting, bicycling and hiking.

Looking for more fresh air? Just a bit further south, False Cape State Park sits between Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the Atlantic Ocean. This park has no public access for vehicles and can only be reached by foot, bicycle, beach transport, boa, or the tram from Back Bay. In this park, visitors can camp, hike, bike, and kayak through the beautiful outdoors and truly feel immersed in the natural undeveloped environment. Camping is permitted year-round by reservation and can only be done in tents as it can get intense! At False Cape there are 4 campgrounds a significant distance apart. Camping here should be reserved for more experienced outdoor adventurers! For more information, check out the camping guidelines.

First Landing State Park
2500 Shore Dr, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

A registered National landmark, First Landing State Park is named for the historic landing of the first 3 ships of colonists in 1607 on their way to settle in Jamestown. With a storied past, the park’s history includes tales of Blackbeard’s temporary hideout from Navy ships, the presence of merchant mariners and military ships in the War of 1812, and Union and Confederate patrols during the Civil War. The 2,888 acre park, built in 1933-1940, features 20 miles of trails and 1.5 miles of beach front. Open from 8 a.m. to dusk, admission to the park is $4 per vehicle on weekdays and $5 on weekends. Guests can enjoy hiking, fishing, boating, swimming, and biking for just a few hours or the whole day. Designated picnic areas provide an ideal spot to sit together and enjoy the great outdoors. Biking is allowed on the 5.9 mile Cape Henry Trail running through the center of the park, but guests can enjoy a total of 9 diverse trails by foot.

For nature lovers, First Landing is a great place to see unusual habitats. The stunning maritime forest, swamps and lagoons bring rare plants and wildlife together in Virginia Beach. Visitors will be surprised to see the lush green leaves of the summer in the hills and low-lying areas of the park. Camping is available from March 1 through December in various site sizes, ranging from small tent camping sites to larger locations with water and electricity hookup for RVs. Twenty onsite rustic cabins, located on the beachfront side of the park, can be rented year round.

Chesapeake Arboretum
624 Oak Grove Rd, Chesapeake, VA 23320

You might not notice it unless you look hard enough – the Chesapeake Arboretum is located in central Chesapeake near Battlefield Blvd. N and spans across 48 acres. Dedicated in 1996, the Arboretum is home to a 3.5 mile trail system that weaves through a beautifully natural setting.

An 18th century farmhouse serves as headquarters of the Arboretum, located at the beginning of the trail. Visitors enjoy free parking and can pick up a trail map on their way in to explore the grounds. Highlights of the trail include the clear water stream, the scenic views of the lake, and lush greenery home to wildlife. Enjoy a self-guided tree walk with the labeled trees of the Arboretum. This is a lovely, quiet place for families with children to explore nature in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Chesapeake.

Elizabeth River Trail
Elizabeth River Trail, Norfolk, VA 23510

The Elizabeth River Trail is a 10.5 mile long path that runs between Harbor Park Stadium and Norfolk International Terminals. A perfect place for walkers, runners, and bicyclists, the trail incorporates Norfolk’s varied history over 11 sections. With Norfolk’s best views and historic sites, this path makes for a great adventure.

Stretching along Norfolk’s iconic waterfront, the trail begins at Harbor Park. Moving along the water, visitors pass the Waterside Marina, Town Point Park and Nauticus, then through the historic Freemason neighborhood (check out all those amazing homes!) Fort Norfolk is next – the last remaining harbor-front fort authorized by George Washington in 1794. Want to see the beautiful Hague? Take the Sentara Loop to detour the trail through Ghent, which aligns with the original trail to continue through Chelsea and West Ghent. The last stretch of the Elizabeth River Trail goes through the neighborhoods of Lambert’s Point, the stunning campus of Old Dominion University, the picturesque waters of Larchmont-Edgewater, all the way to the end of the trail in Lochhaven by the Hermitage Museum and Gardens – a great place to see changing outdoor art exhibitions.