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The Virginia Shoreline

Run and swim with the horses on the beautiful Virginia coast

The eastern shore of Virginia is a long strip of land that stretches 70 miles south from the Maryland border and separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Chesapeake Bay. This region of the Old Dominion State has maintained its wild and untouched feel, reminding visitors of days when pirates sailed off the shores of untamed lands.

To get there from the mainland, take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel from Hampton Roads out to the peninsula, where coastal adventures await visitors.

Wild Island

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To get a sense of the area’s wide-open spaces, check out the Virginia segment of Assateague Island, which lies parallel to the Virginia Shoreline, stretching north and south on the Atlantic. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge occupies much of this barrier island, and herds of wild horses roam freely along the shores. Despite its untamed nature, Assateague Island still bears some compelling human imprints.

The Assateague Lighthouse is open weekends for tours (with expanded hours during July and August), and it can be accessed by a walking-biking trail. The original lighthouse was built in 1833 and replaced by a larger one in 1867. The beacon’s lights can be seen 19 miles out to sea, as it remains an active navigational aid. Though its first light was a candle lantern, today’s lighthouse is outfitted with twin rotating electric lights that flash in tandem.

Ponies in the Water

Every July, more than 40,000 spectators line the shores of the Assateague Channel to watch around 150 ponies swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island to the west. The 90-year-old Chincoteague Pony Swim is held during slack tide, when no current is present, giving the miniature ponies the easiest possible passage across the water. The event is part of the area’s longstanding horse trade. Before the swim, so-called saltwater cowboys round up wild horses that roam free in Assateague, then herd the mammals to the island’s western shore. After the horses are coaxed across the channel, they’re taken to auction.

Chincoteague Adventures

You don’t have to be a prospective pony shopper to enjoy Chincoteague Island, situated in the Chincoteague Bay between Assateague Island and the Virginia Shoreline. And unlike the ponies, you don’t have to swim to get there—a bridge links the island with the Virginia Shoreline.

With a population of only about 3,000, the island boasts a small-town feel and relaxed pace of life. Seven miles long and three miles wide, the island packs a lot of recreation possibilities in a relatively small space. Fishing, biking and hiking are plentiful on the island, and more adventurous souls and try hang gliding (accompanied by a professional hang-gliding pilot, of course).

Shoreline Fun

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Along the Virginia Shoreline, visitors can have their pick of good times. Directly west of Chincoteague Island is Wallops Island, home to the Marine Science Consortium. The field station’s programs teach guests about marine life and the Wallops Island ecosystem through interactive programs for children and adults. Wallops is also home to NASA’s primary facility for suborbital research programs. The Wallops Flight Facility visitor center hosts free public education programs as well as weekly activities, and it is an ideal viewing site when rockets are launched.

Prefer paddling to planes? Visitors can take a canoe or kayak out on the water for a slow-paced tour along the Virginia Seaside Water Trail. Essentially 100 miles of day-use paddling routes, the trail’s 37 water courses stretch between Chincoteague Island and the Virginia National Wildlife Refuge to the south of the peninsula. North and South Raccoon Island are the recommended for beginner paddlers.

Train to the Cape

Located on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay on the west side of the Virginia Shoreline peninsula, Cape Charles delights visitors with its resort feel and small-town charm. Cape Charles was established in 1884 to serve the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Cape Charles Museum and Welcome Center offers a compelling window into this area’s past. Watch the 4-foot-long model locomotive as it traverses its loop track. The museum also houses artifacts from the formation of the Chesapeake Bay crater, models of sailing ships and archival photographs from the town’s development projects.

Though the trains have long gone, traffic continues to come to Cape Charles in waves of tourists seeking oceanside relaxation and fun. Cape Charles boasts a fantastic beach, and the southern end is adjacent to a public pier for saltwater fishing and watching boats sail through the Chesapeake Bay.

Enjoy a guided horseback ride through a 150-acre waterfront farm along wooded trails, or hit the links at Bay Creek Resort, marking the first time golf greats Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus designed courses for the same club.

For More Information

Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism

757-331-1660

www.esvatourism.org

 

Virginia Tourism Corporation

800-847-4882

www.virginia.org