Hike to Fossil Beach at York River State Park in Williamsburg

There’s something special about coastal hikes, like those you’ll find at York River State Park, which has numerous hiking trails near Williamsburg, Virginia.

Less than 20 minutes from the cobblestone, historic taverns and period costumes of Colonial Williamsburg, you’ll feel worlds away as you stroll along Fossil Beach.

Explore this 2,500-acre state park on horseback (BYOH – as in, bring your own horse), by boat or on foot.

More than 30 miles of trails allow visitors to explore wetlands, forests, beaches, ponds and rivers. You can even go mountain biking on many of the park’s trails.

Drop in a fishing line or your own watercraft into the park’s waters. Guided kayak and canoe trips will (hopefully) be offered again next year post-pandemic.

One way to get to know York River State Park is by way of an easy 2.3-mile loop hike that begins and ends at the visitor center.

You’ll step foot on both the Woodstock Pond Trail as well as the Mattaponi Trail, even on the soft sand on the shores of Fossil Beach.

Trail Stats
Length2.3 miles
Trail TypeLoop
Elevation Gain157 feet
Duration1.5-2 hours
TerrainMostly sand & gravel trails, plus a wooden boardwalk
Fee$5 per vehicle
Driving DirectionsClick Here

York River State Park

The trailhead for this loop hike is easy to find and thankfully the parking lot at this state park is massive. You should encounter no challenges finding a space.

Go inside the visitor center for hands-on interpretive displays, as well as for-purchase snacks, drinks and souvenirs, like the park’s iron-on patch.

The Woodstock Pond Trail picks up at the visitor center. A trail sign guides visitors parallel to the York River on a sand and gravel path down a small hill.

Woodstock Pond Trail

You won’t go far before you’ll want to pause for the seining beach (for fishing) on the left.

Step down 10 or so steps and walk a few dozen yards to reach this soft, sandy beach. Keep your eyes open for tiny fiddler crabs scurrying here and there.

Re-trace your steps to re-join the trail and turn left. In a few more steps you’ll see the freshwater Woodstock Pond on the right.

There are three fishing docks and several benches to accommodate visitors that want to fish and visitors that want to watch.

Woodstock Pond is the place to go fishing for largemouth bass and bluegill.

Mattaponi Trail 

At the .5-mile mark, turn left for the Mattaponi Trail. You’ll reach wooden steps that connect with a boardwalk trail over a delightfully scenic grassy marsh.

In a few more steps, you’ll reach a trail sign. Turn left. Then, an observation deck with a picnic table and a couple of benches. This is the Powhatan Overlook.

Fossil Beach 

You have arrived at Fossil Beach at the .75-mile mark. But first, keep your eyes open for a sign on the left letting visitors know what kinds of fossils they may find.

Many visitors come in search of sharks’ teeth (rare), but the most popular find is the Chesapecten Middlesex.

Every visitor is allowed to take home one fossil from the beach, which is not designated as a swimming beach.

Low tide is an excellent time to hunt for fossils on the beach. It’s also an optimal time for fiddler crabs to hunt for their own treasures along Fossil Beach.

You may also see them scampering in the tall grasses on the beach.

Once you’ve found the perfect fossil to take home, backtrack to the trail sign, then continue straight to stay on the blue-blazed Mattaponi Trail.

From here it’s a shady wooded hike along a dirt and sand trail. You’ll step on and over tree roots here and there so watch your step as you proceed on this trail.

At the 1.5-mile mark, turn right for the Woodstock Pond Trail. Before you turn, look right. You may not see much more than a small clearing and a large hole.

Henderson House

This is Henderson House. It’s actually the remains of Henderson House, or as one sign indicates, it’s an 1818 Historic House Foundation (a former plantation home).

As you approach the hole, you’ll see some foundation bricks and realize this is – rather, was – Henderson House.

There was also a geocache inside the foundation. This geocache was a plastic box filled with treasures, so it wasn’t hard to find (not that I was looking for it).

I later learned it may be part of a geocaching game set up by Virginia State Parks.

At the 1.9-mile mark, the trail intersects with the Beaver Trail. Keep walking past this trail to stay on the Woodstock Pond Trail.

In a few more steps, the trail intersects with the Mattaponi Trail. Stay left to continue on to the visitor center.

Hike Options

For a longer hike, add on the .5-mile (one-way) Beaver Trail. You can do this as an out-and-back hike from the Woodstock Pond Trail.

Or, once you reach the end, simply turn right to continue on to the visitor center by way of the Backbone Trail.

For a shorter hike, simply re-trace your steps and return to the visitor center once you reach Fossil Beach. This will make for an easy 1.5-mile out-and-back hike.

Wrap-Up Notes

From the parking area, it took me just over an hour to hike this loop, including stops to hunt for fossils and explore the remains of Henderson House.

For the win, reward yourself with an ice cream bar or treat from the cooler inside the visitor center. They also sell plenty of cold drinks.

Adjacent to the visitor center is a viewpoint for the scenic Taskinas Creek Estuary. This is a must before leaving the park.

Another popular trail, the Taskinas Creek Trail, is a four-mile out-and-back hike with sweeping estuary views.

York River State Park offers a fairly regular assortment of ranger programs, mostly on weekends. A popular one is called Fossil Frenzy. Reservations are required.

Kids will also love the two large playgrounds at York River State Park. If they still have energy to burn off, these are good spots for a break.

While in the area, here are a few more things to do in Williamsburg, including Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown and Busch Gardens.