Take a Hike: Where to go leaf peeping around Cape Charles

Walking along the beautiful Bay beach is one of the most popular things to do in Cape Charles, but when fall arrives, walkers may be more interested in checking out the lovely local foliage. The leaves typically peak in October on the Eastern Shore, making it the perfect time to head out for a hike. Whether you’re craving a walk through the maritime forest or a more challenging trek across sand dunes, here are some of our favorite places to go hiking in and around Cape Charles.

Kiptopeke State Park

Located a few miles south of Cape Charles, Kiptopeke State Park offers more than five miles of low-key hiking trails through hardwood forests and bayside beaches. Observant walkers may be lucky enough to spot local wildlife like foxes, deer, and birds. Several of the trails follow the park’s extensive network of boardwalks. If you prefer to bike, rentals are available at the Kiptopeke camp store. Download the trail guide here to plan your route.

Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge

At the tip of the Delmarva peninsula, the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge is a major stopover point for migratory birds — and an excellent hiking destination. Walkers can discover a variety of habitats including maritime forests, grasslands, beaches, and tidal wetlands. A number of trails wind through the refuge including the Marsh Overlook Trail, featuring interpretive signs about the refuge, and the Bunker Overlook Trail, which explores the park’s military history.

Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve

This nearly 300-acre preserve is just a few miles up the road from Cape Charles, offering empty Bay beaches with a desert island vibe. After parking in the small lot, you’ll follow a path through the forest, over sand dunes, and onto the beach. Because it’s so remote, Savage Neck Dunes is a great place to search for shells, but keep in mind that ticks and mosquitoes can be a nuisance in the summer months, and parking is limited to only eight vehicles.

Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve

There are two walking trails through this 445-acre preserve, taking walkers through extensive salt marshes, forested wetlands, and woodlands. Magothy Bay is an important habitat for a variety of coastal species including many songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, turtles, crustaceans, and fish. Many birds also use the preserve as a stopping point during migration before crossing the Chesapeake Bay. Keep in mind that parking is limited, and there are no on-site restrooms or trash receptacles.

Brownsville Preserve Birding Trail

In Nassawadox, about 30 minutes north of Cape Charles, the Brownsville Preserve is the headquarters for the Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve. Here you’ll find a three-mile trail that meanders through the woodlands, offering the opportunity to spot an impressive variety of birds throughout the year. 

Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve

For a quick hike very close to the town of Cape Charles, the Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve is ideal. Part of the Audubon Lower Delmarva Important Bird Area, this 50-acre preserve is a significant stop for migratory birds along the East Coast of the U.S. Walkers can follow a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk through the preserve, which winds through the woods and ends at a bluff overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. Beach access is restricted from the preserve to protect the sensitive habitat.

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