Facility 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. 

Entrance Fees

An entrance fee is required at Back Bay NWR from April 1 – October 31, 8:00am-6:00pm. The Refuge also participates in the America the Beautiful Federal Recreational Lands pass program and the Federal Duck Stamp program. Passes are available at Refuge Fee Booth from April - October, Fridays - Tuesdays, 8:00am-3:30pm. Additionally, passes are available year-round at the Visitor Center (year-round) located at 4005 Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23456. If you plan to purchase a pass November - March please call (757)301-7329 ext. 3106 to ensure staff availability during your visit. The Refuge is able to accept cash or check only.

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is one of approximately 100 national wildlife refuges participating in a fee collection program under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA). This Act gives federal agencies the ability to charge entrance fees on their lands. Eighty percent of all collected fees go directly back to the station to improve the visitor experience. The remaining twenty percent is distributed among other stations which do not have a fee program, allowing improvement of visitor facilities in those locations.

Payments may be made in cash or check only. The passes sold at the Refuge are the following:

  • Daily Vehicle Entrance - $5.00
  • Daily Hiker/Biker Entrance  - $2.00
  • Groups (20 people or less) - $25.00
  • Groups (over 20 people) - $30.00
  • Back Bay NWR Refuge Annual Pass - $15.00
  • Federal Duck Stamp - $25.00 (entrance to any national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
    A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

    Learn more about national wildlife refuge
  • America the Beautiful Senior Pass - $80.00 for lifetime pass; $20.00 for annual pass
  • America the Beautiful National Annual Pass - $80.00 
  • America the Beautiful Military Pass - Free for Active Duty Service Members (see below for further information)
  • America the Beautiful Disabled Access Pass - Free (also available at Refuge Headquarters, located at 1324 Sandbridge Road - call 301-7329 to schedule a pickup time)
America the Beautiful Military Pass Details

Current U.S. Military personnel and their dependents who present, in person, a U.S. Department of Defense CAC identification or DD Form 1173 (dependent identification) and are in the following military personnel classifications are eligible for this pass:

  • Current members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard
  • Dependents of current U.S. military members (with DD Form 1173)
  • Retired members of the Armed Forces
  • Veterans of the Armed Forces
  • Gold Star Families
  • U.S. Military Cadets
  • U.S. Active Reservists (Do not need to be deployed)

The following individuals/groups do not qualify for the interagency Military Annual Pass:

  • Foreign military members (including those stationed in the U.S. and have a CAC card)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employees
  • Public Health Service (PHS) members
  • Inactive U S Reservists
  • Civilian military contractors
  • Civilian military employees
  • U S military veterans
  • U S military retirees
Commercial Photography

Commercial photography on the refuge requires a Commercial Special Use Permit. Interested photographers can contact the Visitor Services Specialist at (757)301-7329 ext.3106 to obtain a Permit. Permits are valid for one year from the date of issue and cost $35.00, payable by cash or check.

Night Surf Fishing

Night surf fishing permits may be obtained for the month of October. Night fishing permits go on sale in mid-September and are valid October 1-31. They cost $35.00, cash or check. Fishermen must show a current fishing license and photo ID to obtain a permit.