For a delightful coastal hike through a migratory songbird habitat, look to the Beach Trail at Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve in Cape Charles, Virginia.
This 1.3-mile out-and-back hike on Virginia’s Eastern Shore highlights three restoration zones: coastal grassland, coastal shrub and maritime forest.
It’s okay to wear flip-flops or sandals on this hike. In fact, the last .2-mile is soft sand, so you’ll be thankful to have skipped the sneakers or hiking boots on this trail.
The Beach Trail, which leads to a sandy beach, is one of three trails at Savage Neck Dunes. The other two short trails are the Field Loop and the Woodland Loop.
|Elevation Gain||16 feet|
|Terrain||Mostly dirt, grass & sand|
|Dog-Friendly||Yes, on a 6 foot leash|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
Arriving at the Trailhead
A small eight-car parking lot for Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve sits alongside Savage Neck Road, a country road that divides up local farms.
It’s easy to miss, too. We drove right past the lot at first, but thankfully spotted it once we turned around. Parallel parking is not allowed on Savage Neck Road.
There’s a large kiosk at the front of the parking area. The trailhead for all three trails is just to the right of the trail kiosk. You will see a trail marker, too.
The First Steps
The hike begins on a grass trail through a meadow. This is the coastal grassland section and is made up of perennial grasses for nesting birds, like sparrows and quail.
At the .1-mile mark, you will have the option to turn left onto the Field Loop. For the Beach Trail, continue straight ahead to enter the coastal shrubland.
This section is replete with wax myrtles. This fast-growing native shrub (3 to 5 feet in a year) produces small berries. These trees provide plenty of food and perches for birds.
At the .2-mile mark, you can turn left for the Woodland Loop, but continue forging ahead on the Beach Trail. In a few more steps, you will arrive at Custis Pond.
Custis Pond is a 4.6-acre freshwater pond. It’s also one of the only naturally occurring interdune ponds on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Keep your eyes open for green tree frogs and southern painted turtles. There are three interdune ponds in the preserve. The other two are on the Woodland Loop.
At this point, you enter a mixed maritime forest with deciduous, coniferous and broadleaf evergreen trees. Coastal pines dominate this forested section.
The trail becomes sandy as you traverse the maritime forest. The closer you get to the beach, the more sandy the trail becomes. You may want to take off your shoes.
At the .6-mile mark, you can turn left for a short walk on a boardwalk trail to the Dune Overlook for a look at a secondary dune ridge that parallels the shoreline.
This dune ridge runs alongside the shoreline for one-mile and features some of the highest elevation points on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Re-trace your steps to the Beach Trail, then turn left to continue on to the beach. As you approach, you will see a sign educating about the rare northeastern beach tiger beetle.
The tiger beetle is so rare that it can now only be found at two sites outside the Chesapeake Bay. They are vulnerable to any kind of beach sand disruptions.
You will arrive at the beach at the .7-mile mark. The water from the Chesapeake Bay is shallow and gentle. Enjoy the calmly lapping waves.
The white sand beach is littered (in a nice way) with weathered driftwood, largely on the north end. Some of the driftwood appears to grow right out of the sandy beach.
Walk north on the beach and you will spot an adorable tiny home with mad west-facing views. The sunsets here must be beyond spectacular.
There are at least three other homes past the tiny home. What a perfectly relaxing beach getaway. I didn’t see the tiny home on Airbnb, but I’m going to keep looking.
Enjoy your day here on this largely secluded beach in Cape Charles, then re-trace your steps to the parking area for Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve.
From the parking area, this Coastal Virginia hike took less than an hour, but it would be easy to spend all afternoon exploring and relaxing at this coastal natural area preserve.
A word to the wise is to wear insect repellant. Our repellant of choice is Sawyer’s Picaridin Insect Repellent. It’s a lotion and oh so worth it.
Post-hike, order up a scoop or two at Brown Dog Ice Cream in the Cape Charles Historic District. It’s definitely the best, and oh so delicious. Yum-o.