Nestled between Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, False Cape State Park is one of the last remaining undeveloped areas along the Atlantic coast. As the former home of Native Americans, the historic Wash Woods community and a Coast Guard life saving station, False Cape honors the hardy souls who made a living from the sea. The park offers an opportunity to experience nature in a unique, primitive setting. Be prepared for weather conditions. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and insect repellent. False Cape features guided kayak trips, primitive camping, interpretive programs, hiking and biking trails, and six miles of pristine Atlantic Ocean beach. The park is accessible only by foot, bicycle, beach transport, tram or boat. There is no public vehicular access. Tram transportation is available April 1 through Oct. 31 through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where there is an entrance fee. Between Nov. 1 and March 31, access to the park is restricted to hiking or biking along the beach, by boat or by the park's beach transporter, the Terra-Gator. To make reservations for the beach transporter, call 800-933-7275.
The Back Bay Restoration Foundation operates a tram (PDF) that leaves from the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (4005 S. Sandpiper Rd. in Virginia Beach) and travels through the wildlife refuge. The trek allows visitors to explore the park for two hours in the Barbour Hill contact station area or ride farther to False Cape's Wash Woods area. This area has a church site and cemetery. The tram provides a round trip ride and is not available for overnight guests. Overnight guests must either hike or bike through the refuge, or canoe or boat in. Both day use and overnight visitors are advised to read all warnings regarding visiting the park to learn what is expected and about preparation. All visitors must follow refuge regulations while on refuge property.
Dawn to dusk. Those hiking to the park through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge must be out of the refuge by dusk.
From Interstate 64, exit on to Indian River Road East. Go 13 miles, then turn left onto Newbridge Road, then right onto Sandbridge Road. Next, turn right onto Sandpiper Road to Little Island City Park. Parking fees required Memorial Day to Labor Day. Day use only parking also is available at Back Bay Wildlife Refuge.
From First Landing State Park and oceanfront, turn east onto Shore Drive (Route 60); follow Pacific Avenue to General Booth Boulevard, then left on Princess Anne Road and then straight onto Sandbridge Road. Turn right onto Sandpiper Road to Little Island City Park. Parking fees are required from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The park's latitude is 36.593813. Its longitude is -75.886521.
Drive Time: From Virginia Beach's oceanfront to Little Island city parking lot is about 40 minutes.
Note: Groups of 10 or more are required to obtain a special-use permit from Back Bay Wildlife Refuge two weeks in advance of trip.
The tram for False Cape operates from April 1 through Oct. 31 on a first-come, first-served basis. Call the park at 757-426-7128 for more information.
3,844 acres. Beach Size: 5.9 miles of beachfront, extending to North Carolina line.
Primitive camping year-round. No cabins. The park does not offer same day reservations. For information on availability of overnight accommodations, particular park amenities or to make a reservation, you can reserve online or call (800) 933-PARK. Click here for park fees.
Because False Cape is very primitive and has unusually restrictive access, reservations are not available online. For safety's sake, please take the time to carefully read and follow the information below.
False Cape State Park camping - Camping is permitted year-round, but reservations are required. Same-day reservations aren't taken for False Cape. Campsites at the park are in four distinct areas - Barbour Hill Bay, Barbour Hill Ocean, False Cape Landing Bay and False Cape Landing Ocean - which are separated by significant distances. For camping information, contact the Customer Service Center at 1-800-933-7275.
The park accommodates primitive camping, tents only, and offers 12 sites. A maximum of four people are allowed on each of sites 1-9. Sites 10-12 allow six people per site for groups of 12 or more (groups of 12 or more campers are required to be assigned to the area comprising sites 10-12). Drinking water is available in three locations, all in the Barbour Hill section - near the contact station and near the two camping areas there. False Cape Landing campers must bring their own containers to transport water from the water source. Water not suitable for drinking is available in each camping area. Carry everything in and everything out. There are several pit (i.e., non-flushing) toilets. Open fires are not permitted; camp stoves may be used for cooking.
Campers should also be aware that groups of 10 or must get a special-use permit from the refuge at least two weeks in advance of their trip. There's no vehicular access to this park. Passage by foot or bicycle only, and only during daylight hours, is allowed through the refuge. Vehicular access through the refuge and False Cape State Park is prohibited, and violators will be prosecuted for trespassing.
Distances to False Cape campsites from Little Island City Park: Little Island City Park to Barbour Hill contact station, 6.2 miles; Little Island City Park to Barbour Hill Bay or ocean sites, 6.9 miles; Little Island City Park to False Cape Landing bay sites, 8.7 miles; Little Island City Park to False Cape ocean sites, 8.95 miles
False Cape Reservations: All campers must receive their confirmation letter and information packet before camping here. Please take the time necessary to read the information you receive. False Cape is an unusual and potentially unpleasant place for those who are unprepared. If there is not enough time for receipt of the packet by mail, campers must arrange to have the information faxed or emailed to them. Check with local companies that accept incoming faxes for the public (i.e., Kinkos, some hotels/motels, etc.), if necessary. No exceptions. All overnight guests must bring two copies of their confirmation letter. One must be placed on the dashboard of their vehicle; the other clipped to the site marker.
False Cape has four primitive campgrounds.
Rental rates for cabins and camping vary by season, offering and park. Rates are subject to verification by DCR's state parks reservations staff (1-800-933-PARK). First determine the season, which varies by park, then the rate. Click here for park fees.
Hiking, bicycle trails, self-guided trails. Five trails, including the Barbour Hill self-guided interpretive trail, total 15.3 miles. They are available for hiking, biking and exploration. The park’s location on a barrier spit allows visitors to observe beaches, dunes, maritime forests of oak and pine, wooded swamps, marshes and the bay all in one visit.
Visit the Explore Virginia Outdoors website for enhanced maps and video tours of False Cape's trails.
There are no designated swimming areas.
Fishing - Freshwater and saltwater fishing with a valid Virginia fishing license. Boats - Motorboats permitted.
None - no horses allowed.
Click here for the park's trail guide.
Two tables, near contact station at Barbour Hill.
The Wash Woods Environmental Center can accommodate day visitors or 20 people overnight. The center offers a kitchen, restrooms, shower, meeting room, library, AV equipment and lab.
Be sure to stop by the visitor center in the Barbour Hill area to learn about the park's history and events. There's also a small gift shop there.
None at this park.
None at this park.
Wash Woods Environmental Center: Located directly on the bay, the center offers a myriad of possibilities for ecological studies. The center can accommodate day visitors or 20 people overnight. The center offers a kitchen, restrooms, shower, meeting room, library, AV equipment and lab. Call (757) 426-7128 to arrange for your educational experience.
Note: False Cape State Park and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge are closed from the first Saturday through the second Saturday in October each year for the Game Management Program (Hunt).
Consider a ride in the Terra Gator or tram.
Astronomy, bus tours, birding hikes, night hikes, canoe trips and seining programs. The park also offers special programs in conjunction with Virginia Marine Science Museum, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Click here to view all parks' events, festivals, workshops and interpretive programs.
In the 1800s, False Cape gained a reputation as a shipping graveyard. The area got its name because its land mass resembled Cape Henry, luring boats into shallow waters. One of the area's first communities, Wash Woods, was developed by survivors of such a shipwreck. The village's church and other structures were built using cypress wood that washed ashore from the wreck. From the turn of the century until the 1960s, False Cape was a haven for a number of prestigious hunt clubs, which took advantage of the area's abundant waterfowl. The park's Wash Woods Environmental Education Center is a converted hunt clubhouse. A 1966 study of Virginia's outdoor recreation resources recommended that a substantial ocean beachfront be made available for public use on the Atlantic Ocean south of Virginia Beach. The development of the park began with the purchase of approximately 4,300 acres of land.
Join the Friends of False Cape State Park. The nonprofit, citizen group provides voluntary help to DCR for the preservation and conservation of the park. The group educates the community about park offerings and supplies funds, materials and labor for special projects. Its success depends on those who appreciate the outdoors and wish to preserve this special place. Members enjoy special friends-only events throughout the year. Learn more about the group by calling or emailing the park.
Virginia State Parks are great places to discover and reconnect with the wild world. Bring a camera and share your captures with the world. But please don't disturb or get too close to the animals. The park is, after all, their home. Here are a few recent natural encounters others have had at False Cape State Park.
View all wildlife encounter photos from False Cape State Park.