Back Bay - Flatwater Paddling

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The Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a sanctuary for both wildlife and paddlers alike. The reserve includes a thin strip of barrier island coastline along the Atlantic Ocean as well as wetland areas on the west back of the Back Bay.

Written by

Suzanne Loring


0.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

13.0 miles


2 of 5 diamonds

You sometimes have to deal with strong wind and tides, but there is very little boat traffic.

Time To Complete

0 hours


All Seasons

Dog Friendly


Fees Permits


$5 per vehicle

Land Website

Back Bay Information



What's better than a paddling trip to explore a wildlife refuge? How about one where no motorized boats are allowed? You will really enjoy the peace and quiet and see more birds that just about anywhere in this bay between the barrier islands and inland wetlands. You can choose to explore islands, the sandy beach dunes, inland freshwater marshes or the tannic water between the two.

What Makes It Great

Established in 1938, the Back bay National Wildlife Refuge was created to provide a habitat for migratory birds in a critical segment of the what’s known as the Atlantic Flyway. The refuge was nearly doubled in size in the 1980s to keep development from encroaching in the natural space, and the protected land now is at more than 9,250 acres. The expansion helped eliminate the runoff from fertilizers and chemicals that had been polluting the Back Bay, and as a result the amount of both vegetation and bird species has increased.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the refuge, wildlife habitats on the property include beach, dunes, woodlands, and freshwater marshes. Birds continue to be the most prominent wildlife on display, with thousands of tundra swans, ducks, and Canada geese taking home in the reserve during the fall/winter migration season. You’ll also find recovering species like the bald eagle and brown pelican, in addition to osprey, sandpipers, willets, gulls, and terns, just to name a few.

The refuge is also a nesting ground to the threatened loggerhead sea turtles, which return to the Back Bay from late August through May. Because they are an endangered species, the nests are protected and the hatchlings are seen safely to the ocean.

Outside of the boat, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge features more than eight miles of scenic trails, a visitor’s center, and interpretive programming. Outdoor facilities are open from sunrise to sunset, and the visitor’s center is open from 8 am. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the weekends.

There's no camping in the refuge, but you can spend the night at the nearbyFalse Cape State Park. Just remember that you need to leave the refuge by sundown and cars may not be left overnight. The boat launch is narrow, but right next to the parking lot and an easy way to put-in. Only man-powered boating is allowed, so you’ll be impressed by the quiet, and often alone in the vast area of water and wetlands.

Who is Going to Love It

Nature lovers who like to explore the marches in peace and quiet. Bird watchers will love the chance to spot new species, and any paddlers should enjoy the unique ecosystem.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

To the refuge, take I-164 east toward Oceanfront. Take exit 22 to Birdneck Road and turn right. After about 3 miles, turn right on General Booth Boulevard. Travel five miles, and after crossing Nimmo Parkway, turn left at the next traffic light onto Princess Anne Road. At the next light, veer slightly to the right to stay on Princess Anne Road. Turn left on Indian River Road and follow that until a stop sign. Turn left on N. Muddy Creek Road and follow it for 1.3 miles. Finally, you’ll turn left on Horn Point Road and follow it to the canoe/kayak launch site.

Clickhere to find more information on the rules and regulations of the refuge.

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Back Bay

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, 4005 Sandpiper Road
Virginia Beach, VA, 23456
36.688219, -75.922949

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