False Cape State Park – Virginia Beach

Nestled between Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, False Cape State Park is one of the last remaining undeveloped areas along the Atlantic coast. It is the southernmost Virginia State Park. As the former home of Native Americans, the historic Wash Woods community and Little Island Coast Guard Station, False Cape honors the hardy souls who made a living from the sea.

False Cape is not a cape at all. The name comes from the days of wooden ships first coming to Virginia from Europe. Ships trying to reach Cape Henry to enter the Chesapeake Bay often mistook False Cape for Cape Henry. This mistake led to numerous ships running ashore off the coast of False Cape. Due to this mistake, some of the first Europeans to settle at False Cape were survivors of this grounding.

This unique park – among Virginia’s least visited state parks – is primitive and has few facilities. If you are in the Virginia Beach area, this state park is definitely worth a visit.

Location: 4005 Sandpiper Rd., Virginia Beach, VA 23456 (~ 164 miles from Fredericksburg/2h 52 m drive & ~20 miles from Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach/40m drive)

  • This address is for Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge as you need to park here to access False Cape State Park. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1938 to protect and provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds.

Hours: Sunrise – Sunset/Visitor Center is open 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Cost: FREE

Parking: There is no parking at False Cape State Park. You must park at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. A $5/car entrance fee applies from April 1 – October 31. $2 bicycles or pedestrians. If you have a National Park Pass, parking is FREE. There is no overnight parking. Overnight campers at False Cape State Park may leave cars at Little Island City Park.

Click HERE for a False Cape State Park trail guide.

Webpage: False Cape State Park

If you are not biking, hiking, or canoeing into the park, YOU MUST MAKE A TRAM RESERVATION. No personal vehicles are allowed into the park. All Tram Tours require a reservation. Please call the park office at 757-426-7128 to make your reservation. The tram leaves at 9 a.m. from the parking lot at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and returns around 1 p.m. The tram only holds approximately 24 passengers so make your reservation early. Make sure that any information you are getting about the tram and False Cape State Park is coming from False Cape State Park. When we went in May 2021, some ladies wanting to take the tram got incorrect information from the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge site. They did not think that they needed a reservation. They thought the tram ran on a first come, first serve basis.

Tram Information: The tram travels through the wildlife refuge and into False Cape State Park. The tram gives visitors a chance to explore the park’s Barbour Hill area and Wash Woods historic site.

  • Hours: From Memorial Day-Labor Day, the tram tour runs on Monday evenings and Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday mornings. The morning tours are 9 am – 1 pm. The evening tours (5:30-8:30 pm) do not include a guided hike. You will be able to watch the sunset over Back Bay on the evening tours.
  • Cost: $8 per person
  • Masks must be worn on the open-air tram. (This can be a little uncomfortable when it’s hot outside.)
  • Bring water, sunscreen, snacks and bug spray. The Visitor Center does have bug spray wipes available for free.
  • The tram makes two stops at the Visitor Center where there are nice restrooms.
  • Learn the history of this area on this tour.
  • You can be dropped off at the Visitor Center to explore False Cape State Park on your own for approximately 2 hours. The tram will pick you back up at the Visitor Center on its way back.
  • If you continue on with the tour, the tram will take you to the Wash Woods church and cemetery site for a guided hike (1-mile round trip). The tram will make additional stops at sites along the way.
  • More information about the tram tour can be found HERE.

Visitor Center Information:

  • Nice restrooms
  • Free bug spray wipes
  • Small gift store and interpretive exhibits
  • During your first stop if you have children, pick up a False Cape State Park Jr. Ranger booklet and pencil. Your children will have time to finish all of the activities while on the tram tour.
  • On your return trip to the Visitor Center, return the booklets so your children can have their books signed. Then they will be sworn in by taking the VSP Jr. Ranger Oath and receive their Official Jr. Ranger Badge.
    • Ages 5-7 complete 4 activities
    • Ages 8-10 complete 7 activities
    • Ages 11 & up complete 10 activities

Hiking/Biking into False Cape State Park via Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

  • National Wildlife Refuge’s interior trails are open for hiking & biking April 1 through Oct.31
  • The refuge trails are closed Nov. 1 through March 31. Access to the park at this time is restricted to hiking or biking along the beach or by boat.
  • It’s a 4-mile one way trip from the Back Bay Visitor Center to the False Cape State Park Visitor Center.
  • Back Bay has East Dike and West Dike trails that lead to False Cape State Park. Only one of those trails is open at a time. Pay attention to refuge signs indicating which trail is open.
  • Dogs are not allowed into Back Bay National Wildlife. Pets of any kind are not allowed. If you want to bring a dog into False Cape State, you’ll have to boat in or enter through North Carolina.

Camping at False Cape State Park:

  • Reservations are required.
  • Primitive camping is allowed at designated sites only.
  • Overnight campers at False Cape State Park may leave cars at Little Island City Park
    • 3820 S. Sandpiper Road, VA Beach

Wash Woods Environmental Education Center:

This former hunt clubhouse located directly on the bay offers a myriad of possibilities for ecological studies. The center can accommodate day visitors or 26 people overnight. A minimum 2-night stay is required. The center offers a kitchen, restrooms, shower, meeting room, library, AV equipment and lab. Call the park for details.

Our visit to False Cape State Park:

I was excited when I read about False Cape State Park. We were going to be in the area on a Friday, so I called the Monday before to see if I could get us scheduled for a tram tour. Before Memorial Day tours were only being offered on Fridays and Saturdays. And, before May 28th, only 9 people were being allowed on the tram tours. Thankfully, I was scheduling for Friday, May 28th–the first day that 24 individuals were being allowed on the tram. What a relief!

We stopped at a local bakery to grab some donuts before heading to Bay Back National Wildlife Refuge. Liz’s Bakery, 1375 Oceana Blvd Ste 140 Virginia Beach, VA 23454, has been open since October 2018 as part of Liz’s Country Kitchen on Oceana Boulevard in Virginia Beach. The bakery is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays.

We really didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at Bay Back National Wildlife Refuge. We never went inside the Visitor Center as we had only a few minutes before we needed to line up for the tram. We were told to be there 15 min. early. Instead we quickly walked around a short boardwalk that had views of Back Bay.

Only 24 guests were allowed on the tram. We ended up leaving ten minutes late as we had to wait for a few stragglers. Our park ranger shared some interesting facts about the area as we drove to False Cape. She pointed out various wildlife along the way. We had a couple of bird enthusiasts on our tour and they were clicking their cameras at every chance. We had a 15-minute stop at the Visitor Center. This was a great pit stop for restrooms or just to get out and walk around. At this point guests can choose to stay on the tram or get off and spend the next two hours on their own. Everyone in our group decided to stay on .

From here we headed on to the Wash Woods Church Site. It is here were we got out of the tram and went on a short 1-mile (round-trip) walk to the actual church and cemetery site. Here we also saw the remains of a church steeple (now enclosed). Today, a small cemetery is all that remains of this resilient community, which was was home to 300 people. Along the trail we saw a few turtle nests that had been destroyed. The park ranger gave us a short but interesting history of the area and of the Wash Woods Community.

We headed back to the tram and had a stop at Tripps Cove. It was here that we saw a large osprey’s nest. A few of us walked along the pier to get a closer look at the nest. After getting back on the tram, we had one more stop before we arrived at the Visitor Center. This was at the oldest live oak on the property. It’s said to be at least 800 years old. The kids were allowed to climb on it. Then we headed back to the Visitor Center for another 15-min. stop.

At the Visitor Center Numbers 5 & 6 handed in their Junior Ranger books and were sworn in as False Cape State Park Jr. Rangers. Then we headed back to Bay Back National Wildlife.

Before leaving Bay Back National Wildlife, we decided to take a short hike on the Seaside Trail (0.25 m) to the Atlantic Ocean. The nice mobi-mat made it easier to get to the beach. After staying in Virginia Beach all week, it was strange to see a pristine beach with absolutely no one else. We were really hoping to see a sea turtle or two. No such luck. We were told that sea turtles nest on the refuge beach May through August.

Before heading back to the Fredericksburg area, we stopped at Whiskey Kitchen for lunch. They are known for their HUGE pub pretzels. Yummy!

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