Virginia Beach: Hiking Coastal Trails at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

I recently hiked all the trails at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach. To be fair, there are just four, and none are more than one mile.

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a beautiful coastal wildlife refuge, but it’s not without rules. As in, no swimming, no sunbathing and no pets allowed.

It’s a scenic refuge to explore. Even better, it’s just a stone’s throw from Sandbridge. The hiking trails are flat, easy and replete with spectacular views.

If you’ve got Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge on your mind, plan to explore the visitor center, then stroll one or more of these easy-going coastal hiking trails.

#1: Seaside Trail

The Seaside Trail starts at the front parking lot and allows for an accessible .4-mile out-and-back hike to the sandy, windswept refuge beach and the Atlantic Ocean.

The hike begins on a wooden boardwalk, guiding visitors through a freshwater marsh and alongside sand dunes. You will pass benches on the way to the beach.

Keep your eyes open for songbirds and seabirds, even mammals, like white-tailed deer and raccoons. You may also see reptiles and amphibians, like cottonmouths.

The wooden boardwalk ends after .1-mile, but then is replaced by a mesh walkway over the dunes to aid mobility-impaired visitors with beach access.

From the beach, simply re-trace your steps along the Seaside Trail to the front parking lot to complete this short breezy hike.

#2: Dunes Trail

The Dunes Trail is almost entirely accessible. The hike ends at an overlook, but you can also step down and trudge through the sand to reach the Atlantic Ocean.

This 1.0-mile out-and-back hike begins at the back of the front parking lot along a gravel service road (West Dike Trail). After .1-mile, you will reach a large trail kiosk.

Stay left for the East Dike Trail. At the .3-mile mark, you will reach the Dunes Trail. You’ll also see a bench and a bike rack. Turn left to ascend the boardwalk.

At the .4-mile mark, you will arrive at the wooden overlook, which allows you to see over the dunes to the ocean.

From here, it’s another .1-mile walk on sand to the beach. From the beach, re-trace your steps to return to the front parking lot.

For twice the hike, twice the fun, turn this hike into a 2.0-mile out-and-back hike by continuing on the East Dike Trail to the Wildlife Viewing Window.

The Wildlife Viewing Window is essentially an observation blind, allowing you to see wildlife (without them seeing you). There is also a restroom.

#3: Raptor Trail

The 1.0-mile hike along the Raptor Trail begins from a trailhead to the right of the West Dike Trail (the starting point for the Dunes Trail hike).

The Raptor Trail guides visitors through a delightful wetlands area, even alongside a small bald cypress swamp, on a mostly gravel trail.

There are several overlooks along the way with views across the freshwater Back Bay. At the .2-mile mark, turn right onto the Sunset Point Overlook Loop.

This short boardwalk trail wows with west-facing views that are just right for sunset. You’ll find a bench or two along the way to settle in for the views.

At the .4-mile mark, you will complete the loop and be back to your starting point. From here, turn right to continue on the Raptor Trail.

You’ll reach another bayside overlook at the .6-mile mark. Then, a wooden boardwalk leads you to the final overlook over the shimmering bay.

From here, re-trace your steps on the Raptor Trail to the trailhead. Bypass the turn-off for the Sunset Point Overlook Loop.

#4: Charles Kuralt Trail

The Charles Kuralt Trail begins at the back of the back parking lot at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. You’ll see a large trail kiosk.

This is the shortest (just .2-mile round-trip) and most accessible of all the trails. The entire trail is on a smooth boardwalk surface.

At the .1-mile mark you’ll reach a wooden overlook looking out over the coastal wetlands. Savor the views, then re-trace your steps to the trail kiosk.

What You Need to Know

To enter Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a daily entrance fee is required. It’s $5/car and $2/hiker or biker family or group.

If you have the America the Beautiful annual pass, you can flash it at the fee booth to waive your entrance fee. Overnight parking is not allowed at the wildlife refuge.

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is the gateway to False Cape State Park. It’s four miles from the wildlife refuge to the state park visitor center.

There is no charge to bike or walk to False Cape State Park on the East Dike Trail or West Dike Trail (only one is open at a time). You can also take the open-air tram.

The tram fee is $8/adult. In the spring and fall, the tram runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The tram departs at 9 am and returns to Back Bay at 1 pm.

In summer, the tram runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Call the park at 757-426-7128 to make reservations.

From False Cape State Park, you can hike on several hiking trails, including the Marsh Ridge Trail and Barbour Hill Trail, as well as to several coastal overlooks.

Consider taking the tram into the park, then walking back to Back Bay. Or vice versa. Walk in, then take the tram on the return. You can also camp on the beach.

Note that the tram continues on from the visitor center to a historic site called Wash Woods. However, a one-mile out-and-back walk to the site is required.