Ragged Island: A Refreshing Coastal Hike Near Newport News, Virginia

My quest to hike the best coastal trails in Virginia continued last week, leading me to Ragged Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Carrollton.

This 1,537-acre coastal refuge in Isle of Wight County is located across the James River Bridge from Newport News. It sits up against the lower James River.

You’ll find unspoiled wetlands, wooden boardwalk, coastal pines and reeds, even small beaches. It was not buggy, but I did use insect repellant. 

I found this hike on AllTrails, but it appears many hikers turned back before the two beaches. Keep your eyes open for teeny-tiny crabs scurrying beside the trail.

Trail Stats
Length2.3 miles
Trail TypeOut-and-Back
Elevation Gain7 feet
Duration1.5-2 hours
TerrainA mix of gravel, grass, sand & wooden boardwalk
Driving DirectionsClick Here

Ragged Island WMA

The parking area for this hike is next to the James River Bridge on the Isle of Wight County side of the bridge. There’s room for at least a dozen cars.

I was the only hiker this day and noticed several trash bags placed at the trailhead as well as a hand-written sign encouraging hikers to pick up their trash.

Since I’d noticed several comments on AllTrails about trash that had washed ashore, I brought gloves and a trash bag to do my part to keep the trail clean.

The trailhead is easy to find. It’s just to the left of a large trail kiosk. The trail is neither marked nor named, but it’s fairly simple to follow.

Your best bet is to go at low tide. From what I’d read, some sections of the trail closest to the water can become hard to traverse when the tide comes in.

Ragged Island Hike 

The trail begins as a mostly gravel trail through some coastal pines. At the .2-mile mark, turn left onto a wooden boardwalk.

Before you go on, peer out into the brackish marsh. You will see hundreds of tiny crabs popping into and out of holes, hunting for low tide treasures.

Continue on the boardwalk cross the tidal marsh. At the .4-mile mark, you will reach a small fishing pier as the wooden boardwalk ends at the James River.

Step onto the sand. You may need to carefully jump as the steps were broken on my visit. From here, you can walk along the water or on a reed-lined trail.

James River 

In some areas of the trail, the reeds can definitely be pared back. Thankfully, there are plenty of sections where you can step out closer to the water to continue on.

At the .8-mile mark, you’ll reach the first of two sandy beaches. It’s kind of oasis-like since it just seems to appear out of nowhere.

Sit down and enjoy a snack or a sip of water. From here, you may wonder whether to continue on through the reeds, but the second beach is waiting.

At the 1.0-mile mark, you will arrive at the second sandy beach, which wows with really cool dead trees with roots that appear to have grown out of the sand.

Here you’ll also find the only shade on the entire hike. You can see Newport News off in the distance, as well as the James River Bridge. It’s very relaxing.

The trail ends at the end of the second beach, at around the 1.1-mile mark. Here the reeds are quite dense and you can tell that this is the end.

From here, I took my plastic gloves and trash bag out of my backpack. I picked up cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles and various other pieces of trash.

I filled an entire kitchen-size trash bag with trash, but I didn’t think it was as bad as some of the comments made the situation out to be on AllTrails.

You could tell that the trail is picked up from time to time, if only because of the comments on AllTrails. I was more than happy to haul some trash away.

Wrap-Up Notes

From the parking area, this hike took me nearly 90 minutes. This includes time spent collecting and carrying away trash from the hiking trail.

Access to all Wildlife Management Areas in Virginia requires visitors to have a $4 daily access permit. You cannot buy a permit on-site.

There are exceptions. For example, if you have a valid hunting, fishing or trapping license, or a valid boat registration, you do not need to have a daily access permit.

You can buy a daily access permit online (listed under “Special Licenses”).

Daily permits are also sold at select DMVs, grocery stores, sporting goods stores and gas stations.

Eager for more fun hiking trails? Check out my favorite hikes near Williamsburg, Virginia.