Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Detailed Trip Report

This is the full detailed trip report for the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you’d like to read just the Fast Facts on the area, please view our article on the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Fast Facts.

The Park

Back Bay is a 9,000+ acre National Wildlife Refuge located on a barrier spit between the Atlantic Ocean and Back Bay in southeastern Virginia Beach, Virginia. Habitats on the refuge include the beach, dunes, woodland, farm fields, and marsh.

The plethora of wildlife in the refuge is astounding. Thousands of snow geese, Canada geese, and a large duck population call Back Bay home, especially during the late fall. Several man-made impoundments, or small lakes, have been created to enhance this habitat for water fowl.

Back Bay is home to other wildlife, such as sea turtles, piping plovers, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, egrets, blue herons, brown pelicans, deer, feral pigs, snapping turtles, fox, snakes and many, many others.

Back Bay is a bird watchers dreams come true. I saw more different types of birds in one out and back hike than I have ever seen anywhere on this planet. On the west side of the refuge, the birds tend to be more land based birds, while on the east side more shore birds and water fowl.

If you are into wildlife photography, this is the place for you. There are several locations in the refuge where blinds have been built for that specific purpose.

If you are all about the hiking part of the hike, the ups and downs, and winding around; this hike is going to bore you to tears. The hike itself is pretty self explanatory. Look at the Park map, pick a road, and start walking. The refuge trails are basically gravel roads around and in between the borders of the 3 square impoundments, or small lakes. When I say gravel, I’m not talking crush and run. Please wear GOOD shoes. You’re going to need them. My recommendation for this hike is to bike on the interior trails and hike on the beach. Make sure you have a comfy bicycle seat.

There are no awe inspiring landmarks on the interior trails. Back Bay is flat and full of wildlife.

Enjoy it for what it is.

The beach at BBNWR is awesome. It is about 6 miles long from North to South. The first mile is closed to humans as it is a refuge within the refuge for loggerhead turtles and endangered shore birds, such as the piping plover. The southern 5 miles is for the most part a deserted beach. You will probably see less than a dozen people on the entire 6 mile beach, except at the boardwalks near the Visitor Center.

As this beach is off the beaten path, not a big tourist attraction, and no beach sweepers clean it up every day, driftwood and shells are plentiful. This means that any lost or cast away, manmade items such as soda bottles, beach balls, Styrofoam coolers, etc. have also washed up on the beach. Do the refuge a favor. Along with your shelling container, bring a trash bag and fill it up before you leave.

There is NO swimming or sunbathing allowed on the beach.¬†However, you can wear the skimpiest bikini in your wardrobe and walk the beach. You may also sit on the beach and read a book or eat your lunch. Just don’t bring your beach umbrella.

Surf fishing is allowed at Back Bay. Be sure to call or stop by the Visitor Center to get the low down on the rules and regulations BEFORE you cast your line. Commonwealth of Virginia Salt Water Fishing License is also required.

Our Recommendations

Make a weekend out of it.

Day 1 – Bike the interior gravel roads, explore the park, and enjoy the wildlife and photo opportunities. Camp overnight in False Cape State park in the Barboursville camping section, located at the southern boundary of Back Bay. RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED! Again, see the False Cape State Park website for specifics.

Day 2 – Hike/Bike the beach at low tide and enjoy a deserted beach and shelling.

Bring plenty of water and/or containers. You’re going to need them! Water is only available at the BBNWR Visitor Center, FCSP Contact Station, and at the Barboursville campsites.

A huge thank you to trail review contributor Lee Inman for submitting this report. Watch out for more reports in the future coming from Lee and also be sure to visit his own site at Spudpage.