National wildlife refuges offer us all a chance to unplug from the stresses of daily life and reconnect with our natural surroundings. Refuge trails, fishing areas and the Visitor Center are located at 4005 Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23456. Call (757)301-7329 if you have questions prior to your visit.
We hope these following tips will assist your plans for a visit to Back Bay NWR:
- Entrance fees are in effect April 1 - October 31. Visit or Entrance Fees and Passes page for details.
- During the summer months a hat, sunscreen and bug repellent will make your visit a success. Biting insects may be plentiful during a warm, wet summer.
- Water is extremely important! It is easy to become dehydrated while hiking, biking and wildlife watching. Bring plenty of water for all members of your party.
- There is almost always a breeze on the coast. Particularly in the winter, dress warmly and/or in layers to prepare for a chill breeze.
- Are you planning to hike or bike through the Refuge to False Cape State Park? From April 1 - October 31 either the East or West Dike Trail is open for hiking or biking. From November 1 - March 31 both the East and West Dike Trails are closed to minimize disturbance for wintering ducks, geese and swans. During this season access to False Cape State Park remains available by hiking or biking on the beach.
- Pets are not permitted on the refuge at any time, with the exception of service dogs. If you would like to take your dog to False Cape State Park you must enter either by boat (canoe, kayak, motor boat, etc.) or through the North Carolina border.
- Groups of 10 or more should contact the Refuge for an Authorization Letter.
- Swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and other non-wildlife-dependent activities are prohibited. Wildlife-dependent activities such as hiking, biking, nature/wildlife photography, fishing, wildlife observation, and kayaking/canoeing are encouraged.
- See the What We Do - Regulations page for further information about Refuge regulations.
Visitors can enjoy many recreational opportunities at Back Bay NWR. We hope you enjoy your visit, feel a connection with nature and come back soon!
In addition to the activities listed below, Back Bay NWR offers a variety of interpretive programs and special events throughout the year. Interpretive programs include tram tours through the refuge and adjacent False Cape State Park, fishing clinics, bird walks, summer camps for children and more. Upcoming events are posted in the Events section of the website and on the refuge’s Facebook page.
Visitor Center Hours are the following:
Memorial Day to Labor Day: Thursday - Sunday, 10:00am-3:00pm
Labor Day to Memorial Day: Thursday - Saturday, 10:00am-3:00pm
Seven trails and the Refuge beach are available for visitor recreation. Enjoy trails along Back Bay, through the refuge’s managed wetlands or to the beach to reach neighboring False Cape State Park.
Reese F. Lukei, Jr. Raptor Trail: Commonly referred to as the Raptor Trail, this is the most popular hiking trail at the wildlife refuge. Located directly behind the Visitor Center, this 0.4 mile (one-way) trail takes visitors through bald cypress stands, freshwater marsh, along a small pond and, finally, to viewing platforms overlooking Back Bay. Some visitors walk this trail multiple times each day – they see something different with each pass! The Raptor Trail is part of a system of trails in the Tidewater area honoring Reese Lukei., a long-time volunteer, raptor researcher and advocate for wildlife in our area. Reese was responsible for building the first editions of the hiking trails at the Refuge and instrumental in assisting refuges around the country with trail and viewing platform construction. Please see the Reese F. Lukei, Jr. Raptor Trail webpage for details on the other trail locations.
Sunset Point Overlook Loop: If you are looking for a short loop walk along the bay, the Sunset Point Overlook Loop is the trail for you. A raised boardwalk takes visitors on a 0.25 mile walk along Back Bay, with a viewing platform facing south and west into the bay itself. As the name suggests sunsets from this spot are beautiful.
Kuralt Trail: This is one in a system of trails at 11 national wildlife refuges and one national fish hatchery in the southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina region. The trail system is dedicated to Charles Kuralt., the radio and TV host of “On the Road.” His programming brought the beauty and mystery of national wildlife refuges to people all across the country. At Back Bay NWR, the Kuralt Trail consists of a 0.1 mile walk though shrubby trees to an overlook into a cove in Back Bay. If visiting in the morning look for bobcat tracks in the dew (or scat) on this trail. Winter is also a great time to look for ducks and swans from the viewing platform.
Seaside Trail: Two trails lead through the dunes to the beach at Back Bay NWR. The Seaside Trail is adjacent to the parking area and the quickest way to visit the Refuge beach. Visitors meander through marsh, shrubby trees and dunes on the 0.25 mile walk to the beach. Please remember to remain on the trail at all times. Dune systems are fragile and off-limits to all recreation activity. Additionally, the Refuge beach is open for wildlife-dependent recreation, such as hiking, biking, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography and shell collecting. Swimming, surfing and sunbathing are prohibited.
Dune Trail: The Dune Trail is located approximately 0.3 miles from the Visitor Center and parking area, down the beginning of the Dike Trail system. This is a raised boardwalk trail that leads visitors through the dunes and out to the Refuge beach. A platform is located halfway along this trail, providing a viewing opportunity of both the beach (through a break in the dunes) and the Back Bay. The Refuge beach is open for wildlife-dependent recreation, such as hiking, biking, fishing, wildlife observation, wildlife photography and shell collecting. Swimming, surfing and sunbathing are prohibited.
East Dike Trail: The longest trails at the Refuge are the East and West Dike trails. The East Dike Trail starts approximately three-quarters of a mile from the Visitor Center and parking area. Visitors may hike or bike along this trail all the way to False Cape State Park. The trail surface consists of gravel; road bikes and most hybrid-style bikes are not recommended. Both the East and West Dike Trails are closed from November 1 – March 31 to decrease disturbance to wintering waterfowl. From April 1 – October 31 either the East or West Dike Trail are open for visitor recreation.
West Dike Trail: The longest trails at the Refuge are the East and West Dike trails. The West Dike Trail starts approximately half a mile from the Visitor Center and parking area. Visitors may hike or bike along this trail all the way to False Cape State Park. The trail surface consists of gravel; road bikes and most hybrid-style bikes are not recommended. Both the East and West Dike Trails are closed from November 1 – March 31 to decrease disturbance to wintering waterfowl. From April 1 – October 31 either the East or West Dike Trail are open for visitor recreation.
Refuge Beach: Although swimming, surfing and sunbathing are not permitted at Back Bay NWR, the Refuge beach does provide recreational opportunities to visitors throughout the year. Surf fishing, wildlife watching, wildlife photography, shell collecting, hiking and bicycling (at low tide) are popular activities. Approximately three miles of beachfront are open year-round to visitors. The beach also provides access to False Cape State Park during the November 1 – March 31 closure of the East and West Dike trails. The northernmost mile of the Refuge beach, referred to as the “North Mile,” is off-limits to all recreational activities. This is the only stretch of undisturbed beach at the Refuge and is used by migratory birds and other wildlife as a resting and feeding location.
The Refuge trail map and Visitor Guide provided here for your reference.
Rules and Policies
Visitors are reminded of the following regulations:
- The refuge is open from one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset.
- Pets are not allowed at any time of year (effective April 1, 2011), with the exception of service dogs.
- Visitors must adhere to all signs.
- Swimming, surfing and sunbathing are not permitted on the Refuge beach.
- The use of motorized and non-motorized aircraft, including drones and kites, is prohibited.
- The North Mile and all dune areas are closed to public access.
- The beach vehicular ramp is closed to the general public. Pedestrian beach access is available via the Seaside and Dune boardwalk trails.
- With the exception of shell collecting on the beach, collection of any plant, animal or historic artifact on the refuge is prohibited.
- The Dike Trails are closed seasonally, November 1 – March 31 to fulfill habitat management objectives.
- Fishing is permitted in designated areas. A Virginia freshwater license is required to fish on Back Bay and in the D-Pool fishing area. A Virginia saltwater license is required for surf fishing along the Refuge oceanfront. Fishing licenses can be purchased through the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources at GoOutdoorsVA.com.
- Hikers and bikers must stay on designated trails at all times. Please note that the boardwalk trails are narrow and bikes should be walked along these paths (or left at the provided bike racks) to ensure the safety of all visitors.
- Commercial activities, such as commercial photography/filming and kayak tour operation, are permitted with Special Use Permits only.
- Metal detecting is not permitted at any time of year.
- Handling of wildlife is strictly prohibited for the safety of visitors and the safety of wildlife.
- Due to limited space in the refuge parking lot, trailers cannot be accommodated. False Cape State Park campers must park at Little Island City Park, just north of the Refuge boundary.
- Vehicles are not permitted past the Visitor Center and parking area, with the exception of vehicles with handicapped tags visiting the D-Pool fishing platform (two parking spaces are provided)
- Open fires are prohibited at all times.
- The consumption of alcohol on refuge property is prohibited.
During restricted COVID-19 operations the Visitor Center is closed. Passes are only available at the Fee Booth, Fridays - Mondays, 8:00am-3:30pm. Pass sales are available by appointment Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Please call (757)301-7329 ext.3106 to schedule a time to pick up your pass.
Several activities require Special Use Permits at Back Bay NWR. Commercial activities, such as commercial photography, filming and kayak tour operation, are permitted by Special Use Permit and when in line with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy. Special tram tours, weddings and conservation-related special events are permitted on a case-by-case basis. Fees for these activities are as follows:
- General Special Use Permits (group events, weddings): $35.00
- Special Tram Tours: $200.00
- Commercial Photography: $35.00 (see Commercial Photography section for further details)
- Commercial Outfitters:
- 1-5 trips/season: $20/trip
- 6-10 trips/season: $100/season
- 11-20 trips/season: $200/season
- 21+ trips/season: $300/season
Biological research and collection are also permitted when approved by refuge biologists and management. Please contact the Visitor Services Specialist at (757)301-7329 ext.3106 to inquire about Special Use Permits. Fees may apply.
There are two visitor areas at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The primary visitor area where you will find the Visitor Center, trail system, freshwater and surf fishing areas, photography platforms and associated kayak launch are located at 4005 Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, Virginia 23456. Visitors may also enjoy visiting the Horn Point Kayak/Canoe Launch, located on the west side of Back Bay at 1008 Horn Point Road, Virginia Beach, Virginia 23456. The Horn Point site is open April 1 - October 31.
The mailing address and Headquarters building for the wildlife refuge is located at 1324 Sandbridge Road, Virginia Beach, Virginia 23456.
From I-64 exit to I-264 East (Oceanfront)
Take Birdneck Rd. Exit 22
Turn RIGHT onto Birdneck Rd.
Travel approximately 3-4 miles to General Booth Blvd. (just past Seatack Elementary School)
Turn RIGHT onto General Booth Blvd.
Travel approximately 5 miles (After crossing London Bridge Rd., pay close attention to road signs.)
Turn LEFT onto Princess Anne Rd. (second light after London Bridge Rd; a 7-11 is at the corner)
Proceed straight (Note: Princess Anne Rd. becomes Sandbridge Rd.)
Follow Sandbridge Rd. until you reach the Community of Sandbridge
Turn RIGHT onto Sandpiper Rd. (at the Fire Station)
Follow Sandpiper Rd. approximately 4 miles (You will pass Little Island City Park on your left)
The entrance to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is at the end of Sandpiper Road. (4005 Sandpiper Road)