Backpack Planning – False Cape State Park

Barbour HIllYou’ll find this hidden gem of the Virginia State Park System located in the southeastern  part of the state. Part of the allure of False Cape is the challenge in getting there. The park itself is sandwiched between a remote section of the Outer Banks to the south and the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge to the north. The only ways to get to the park are:

  1. Hike in
  2. Bike in
  3. Boat in
  4. Tram in via the Terra-Gator

At a high level, here are the steps you need to take to plan for a successful backpack trip To False Cape.

False Cape is also one of our hiking challenges. To learn more about how to earn the patch below just click on the patch!

Step One – Reserve a campsite

There are four separate camping areas within the park each with multiple separate tent sites.  Two of the four areas are on the ocean side and two are on the Back Bay side of the park. To view the locations check out this map.

Please note that you must reserve a campsite ahead of time and you can only do it by calling Virginia State Park’s reservation line at 1-800-933-7275.

Step Two – Familiarize yourself with getting there

This means a few things. The first is figuring out how to drive to Little Island City Park. The start of your hike begins here. Even though you can drive another mile to the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge visitor center you won’t be able to park overnight there. All overnight parking is at Little Island City Park. There is a parking fee if you’re visiting between Memorial and Labor Day.

From Little Island City Park you’ll hoist your pack on your back and hike along the main road all the way to the Back Bay visitor center. Depending on the time of year your hiking options after this point may be limited. If your trip falls from November 1 through March 31 your only option to hike to the park is walking along 4 miles of sandy shoreline. I highly recommend coordinating your hike with low tide. It allows you to walk along the packed sand near the water. Be sure to keep an eye out for the Barbour Hill sign at the top of this article. This will be your clue to leave the beach and hike into the dunes toward the False Cape Visitor Center.

The remainder of the year you can opt for the beach route or hike along one of Back Bay’s main trails that leads to False Cape. The two main trails in Back Bay are East and West Dike trails. Typically only one of them is open at a time.

Hike In

Step Three – Have fun, you’re at False Cape!

Check out the Visitor Center! They have bathrooms and a small camp store if you’re looking for a keepsake. This is also one of the few locations where you can fill up on water so top off your water bottles. Be sure to get a snapshot of the buoy marker while you’re there!


Other things to do while on your backpack trip include swimming at the beach, visiting the Wash Woods Cemetery, and walking to the North Carolina border (a good 7 to 12 miles further depending on your campsite).

The Wash Woods Cemetery is the remaining remnants of a settlement that was eventually abandoned in the 1930’s.


When you’ve had your fill of False Cape you’ll hike out the same way you hiked in.

If you have any questions about this hike please feel free to ask and good luck on your adventure!

7 replies »

  1. I like False Cape, been there many times. Please keep your eyes open for venomous snakes, they’re everywhere and they blend in. You might see deer or wild pigs too.

  2. Do you know much about the NC border end?I have a reservation to camp here in a month but I can’t find much info on hiking in from NC and I’d like to bring my dog with me

  3. So sorry for the delay! Yep, I’m familiar with the NC end of False Cape. Where you will be leaving your vehicle? There are a few entry points. You can either enter via the beach are along a more remote road that is gated. You’ll have a decent amount of hiking in the sand until it turns in to a more established path. Do you prefer to hike along the beach or via the main interior trail? What sites are you planning to stay at? Any specific questions I can answer for you?

  4. Hi, thanks for the article! What do you know about the biking option? Is it paved?
    Do you recommend being on the bay or ocean side?

    • Hi stef, sorry for the delay in responding to this. Biking option is much the same as the hiking option as it follows along the same trails. Once you leave the Back Bay Wildlife Visitor parking lot the trail is entirely along a dirt road all the way to the campsites. I highly recommend the ocean side sites closest to False Cape Visitor Center. You’ll have the option of staying in the wooded area about 1/4 a mile from the beach or camping directly on the beach to catch the morning sunrise. If you do happen to stay on the bay side be sure to take in dinner along with the sunset over the bay.

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