About the Refuge

About the refuge

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established on June 6, 1938 as a 4,589-acre refuge to provide feeding and resting habitat for migratory birds. It is a critical segment in the Atlantic Flyway. As the metropolitan area of Virginia Beach began to grow in the 1980's, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pursued a land acquisition program to double the size of Back Bay NWR in order to protect the watershed from harmful development. Since 1988 the Refuge has grown to over 9,250 acres, protecting critical habitat for wildlife. The Friends of Back Bay was instrumental in gaining approval for the expansion and obtaining $24 million of funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase land from willing sellers within the acquisition boundary. The expansion provided a buffer against development, thus reducing erosion and runoff of fertilizers and chemicals that pollute Back Bay. As a result water quality has improved, there has been a marked increase in the amount of submerged aquatic vegetation and the numbers of ducks, geese and other waterbirds have increased. 

Back Bay NWR includes a thin strip of barrier island coastline typical of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as upland areas on the west bank of Back Bay. Habitats include beach, dunes, woodlands, agricultural fields, and emergent freshwater marshes. The majority of refuge marshes are on islands within the waters of Back Bay.

Thousands of tundra swans, snow and Canada geese and a large variety of ducks visit the refuge during the fall/winter migration. Refuge waterfowl populations usually peak during December and January. The refuge also provides habitat for other wildlife, including such threatened and endangered species as the loggerhead sea turtle, piping plover and recently recovered species like the brown pelican and bald eagle.

Back Bay NWR provides over eight miles of scenic trails, a Visitor Center, interpretive programming and, with advance scheduling, group educational opportunities. These amenities are located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, immediately south of Sandbridge beach at the southern end of Sandpiper Road. Additionally, a seasonally open kayak/canoe launch facility, Horn Point, provides a spot on the northwest side of Back Bay to kayak, canoe, fish and enjoy a scenic view of the bay.

Outdoor facilities are open daily dawn to dusk. The Visitor Center hours are 8:00 A.M. - 4:00 P.M. Tuesday - Friday, 9:00 AM - 4:00 P.M. weekends. The Visitor Center is closed on Sundays and Mondays, Labor Day through Memorial Day, Mondays only Memorial Day through Labor Day and on federal holidays, except Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day. The Horn Point Kayak/Canoe Launch is open from dawn to dusk, April 1 through October 31.

Download Brochure

Directions and Contact Info

From General Booth Blvd. turn east on Princess Anne Road. Continue to Sandbridge and turn right on Sandpiper Rd. Follow 4 miles; the Refuge is located at the end of Sandpiper Road.

Physical Addresses

Visitor Center
4005 Sandpiper Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23456

Horn Point Kayak/Canoe Launch
1008 Horn Point Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23456

Mailing Address and Refuge Administrative Office

1324 Sandbridge Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23456

Phone: (757)301-7329